Vic Koenning knows about success. A team co-captain on the 1982 Kansas State squad that went to the school's first-ever bowl game, Koenning has amassed an impressive resume as a defensive coordinator during his 18-year career and comes off an unprecedented four-year stretch of defensive dominance while at Clemson. Through it all, the 49-year-old Koenning said he has remained grounded and offers a story to illustrate as much.
"My dad brought me up to be that type of guy," Koenning said as the K-State media day event on Aug. 7. "I was the type of guy where I was a pretty good player and might score three touchdowns and have 15 tackles in a game, but I'd go home and get critiqued on the two of three things I didn't do.
"At the time, I was like, 'Gawd dang, how about a little credit?' The whole thing about it is that your parents are smarter. As I look back on it, that drive to always try and get better did me a service. I learned to appreciate my parents for that."
While at Clemson, each of Koenning's four defenses from 2005-08 finished in the top 25 in scoring, total and pass efficiency defense -- something no other defensive coordinator accomplished at Clemson. Last season, Clemson led the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranked No. 9 nationally in allowing just 16.6 points per game. The unit also finished No. 12 in pass defense, No. 11 in pass efficiency defense, finished eighth nationally in interceptions and No. 16 in total defense.
"I don't get overly hyped with success," Koenning said. "If we have success on the field, I expect for us to have success."
Koenning enters as one of a few K-State assistants that never served under Bill Snyder during his first tenure.
Asked whether he knew what to expect when he accepted the position of co-defensive coordinator, Koenning said, "I'm naïve about a lot of things, but I wasn't completely naïve about that."
"You know what? It's an honor to be on his staff. Every day I see why I decided to come here and try to learn from him because this opportunity -- it might be a fleeting opportunity in a few years or whatever, because you never know how long he's going to coach or what he's going to do -- is an opportunity. I just got to work with Tommy Bowden, who is a lot like his dad (Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden), so I've got an opportunity to work with a Bowden and learn a whole bunch from him and how they go about doing things and now I'm with Coach Snyder. I don't see myself at Penn State, but (with Hall of Famer Joe Paterno) there are three of the best icons in this profession that I've had the opportunity to be around.
"Larry Blakeney is as fine a person and he's a Pat Dye guy and I had a chance to have some of that rub off. That, to me, is what it's about, learning from great people. It's absolutely a daily blessing and honor to be on this staff."
Stewart looks to move past 'frustrating' start to career
First, there was the freshman season. Defensive tackle Xzavier Stewart, who expected to redshirt, was called into duty in a 49-32 loss against No. 6 Missouri in Week 11. He started the next game, a 45-29 loss at Fresno State to end a 5-7 campaign.
The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Stewart made the most of it. He entered determined to make an impact last season. Stewart finished with three tackles in three games.
"It was frustrating just because of my situation, but you've got to work past that," Stewart said. "You've got to forget about the past. I'm looking forward to this future, though. I'm looking forward to these two years being the best two years I've had instead of the worst two years I've had. It's all a process. It's all about eliminating mistakes and problems and being in situations where you can help, man, and being a better player. I'm on it."
"Man, they told me when I got here that college was going to fly past," he said. "I didn't look at it like that. I thought it was going to be a long process but I'm a junior. I've got two more. Hopefully, I make a great impact to help the team. We don't want to have a losing season no more."
Banks shines in early workouts
In his second season as a Wildcat, senior Brandon Banks has already made quite a name for himself, being named last year's Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, and in the early days of fall camp, the 5-foot-7 Banks seems to be picking up right where he left off in 2008.
Despite everything that has changed inside the program over the past six months, it would seem some things are left untouched.
"I'm always watching Banks in practice," K-State running back Keithen Valentine said. "It's been a year, but I still think it's wild. He always breaks something big. With his speed, he always breaks something big. He's already been doing it again."
It seems as though this year, the speedy wideout will have a few extra chances to show off his big-play prowess. Banks has been fielding punts during early workouts, and despite what he calls a "competitive environment" the senior will likely handle the bulk of the return duties for K-State in 2009.
"Right now, I am (the return man, but there are some other people competing out there," Banks said. "Either way, the competition is helping us be the best special teams we can be."
Harper already wrestling with expectations
University of Oregon transfer Chris Harper, who has already been tabbed by many fans as the frontrunner to lock down the Wildcats' quarterback position in 2010, is on campus and working with K-State's scout team while he redshirts this season to comply with NCAA transfer rules. Even with a long rode of practice ahead, however, the Wichita, Kan., product seems as confident as anyone when it comes to his ability to take over the job when he is cleared to play in games.
The sophomore admittedly fits the "traditional' Bill Snyder quarterback mold, after all.
"I'm definitely a dual-threat type of guy," Harper said. "If a defense bites, I can kill them with my legs."
He's acutely aware of the lofty expectations. Harper knows that the moment he made the choice to enroll at K-State, he was dubbed the future of the program. It's not something the sophomore seems entirely comfortable with now, just weeks after arriving on campus, but says the coping with the pressure, like anything else, is a process.
"A lot of people are excited," he said. "Hopefully, I can live up to what (guys before me) did. I've still got to compete with a lot these quarterbacks too and they're not too bad."