Two Kansas State players that will be counted on for significant production in the fall recently received fortuitous news. Now the Wildcats hope fate continues to shine their way this weekend. On Monday, coach Ron Prince announced wide receiver Deon Murphy is now listed as a junior while junior running back Keithen Valentine learned later he was one of nine players to earn a scholarship as K-State prepares for its season opener against North Texas on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Murphy, the top returning receiver, is listed to start but will be a game-time decision by the training staff for the 6:05 p.m. kickoff after he had 57 catches for 605 yards and five touchdowns and earned Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors last season.
Prince, who enters his third season, said K-State officials discovered the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Murphy had "another year of competition that he had not used."
"If I get another year with Deon," Prince joked, "Who knows what will happen to the hair that I do have left."
"In all seriousness, it'll be terrific," he continued. "That'd be outstanding. He's a very good player and loves football. He and I have already spoken about this and what that means. Obviously, we'll play the season that we have here and try to do the very best with it and then we'll worry about next year when next year gets here. That's the information I received and it's a positive."
Prince said he learned of Murphy's newfound status "about six or seven days ago."
Murphy, who appeared for interviews showing no visible signs of injury, said he learned about his fate through academic advisors, adding, "It's not a bad thing at all."
"People thought my clock started when I first started school," Murphy explained, "but I was a part-time student. I wasn't a full-time student. I had some personal issues way back then and ended up taking a semester off, then got back into football and back into school."
Murphy said started his college education by enrolling as a part-time student at Hutchinson Community College before he took a semester off. Murphy said he then attended Blinn (Texas) Community College the following spring as a full-time student, then Houston Community College as a part-time student before he went to Coffeyville Community College, where he helped the Red Ravens to a No. 13 national ranking and a 7-4 record in 2006.
"(The process of gaining another year) really wasn't any of my concern," he said. "It's not going to change me as a person or as an athlete. I'm just going to go out there and do my thing, regardless."
Asked whether he might decide not to use his senior year of eligibility, Murphy insisted, "I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to it."
Murphy eyes the possibility of putting his name in the school record book.
"You know, I've thought about that," he said. "There could be more records to break."
Junior quarterback Josh Freeman was pleased upon learning of Murphy's additional year of eligibility.
"(Murphy) is about two or three years older than me, but he's my age on the field," Freeman said. "I'm excited. Deon is a great player. We don't talk much about records but he's a guy that can definitely go out and make the plays."
Valentine, a 5-foot-11, 192-pound running back, arrived at K-State last January as a walk-on junior from Mississippi Delta Community College. After a standout spring, including a 104-yard rushing outburst in the spring game, Valentine continued to impress coaches and teammates during fall camp.
Prince announced on Monday that Valentine, who is listed as the No. 1 running back this week, earned a scholarship.
"Watching the combination of his experience and ability to run, but also his ability to run to daylight (is impressive)," Prince said. "He has good vision and also his ability to run with power, to me, is one of the small little things good running backs know how to do when it's needed and appropriate. He's a very shifty runner and has all of those things he demonstrated in training camp."
Valentine didn't learn of his scholarship until he was informed of his fate by reporters.
"I'm happy now that I got the scholarship," he said. "That was part of the goal, to earn a scholarship, but the big goal was to come here and to play big-time football."
Prince said Chris Bamberger, Jack Reed, Heath Alexander, Adrian Stryker, D.J. Fulhage, Stephen Harrison, Gabe Ganz and Pete Yemm earned a scholarship as well.
Prince did announce some bad news for a handful of players, though.
"We have a couple guys that are beat up a little bit," Prince said. "Alesana Alesana and Deon Murphy are questionable. They'll be game-time decisions. Ben Liu and Dee Bell are doubtful for the game. Josh Berard and Kendrick Matthews will be out and Josh Berard will be out for the season.
"We've got some guys where some of those are game-time decisions. Those are things we'll find out Thursday from the training staff as to how they feel."