September 11, 2006

Special teams looking like good old days

Bill Snyder's football program at Kansas State featured two core philosophies that eventually eluded his most recent teams. First, speed would always be a vital trait of the Snyder's Wildcats. Second, K-State would excel in special teams play. Those two factors allowed Snyder's program to close the gap on opponents and eventually surpass those rivals, but they were also foundations that eroded in Snyder's program the past two seasons.

As the speed dwindled and the special teams scale began to tip in the direction of the opposition, K-State began to lose more than win. The deterioration was obvious and the results disastrous. Losing sight of those principles may have most led to Snyder's unexpected retirement following the 2005 season.

Enter Coach Ron Prince, who picks up the program Snyder built over the last 17 years. It should come as no surprise that Prince immediately recognized that K-State lacked needed speed to compete in the Big 12 and that the Wildcats were also getting beat in special teams.

After two games, it's apparent that Prince's attention to those aspects of K-State football team has led to not only more team speed, but the type of old-school special teams play for which Snyder's team became nationally famous. Much of the credit must go to the constant attention of new special teams coach Tim Tibesar, but it's about players taking pride in special teams and executing assignments.

In week one, it was Yamon Figurs returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown against Illinois State and game two witnessed Justin McKinney returning the opening kickoff against Florida Atlantic 88 yards to give K-State a 7-0 lead just 18 seconds into the game. Both times, K-State's blockers hardly allowed the defenders to get a whiff of the speedy Figurs and McKinney as they raced toward the end zone.

"I was very pleased with special teams kicking game to start the game," Prince said. "We think on an ongoing basis that is something we're going to have to do with the kind of team that we have. We want to be explosive in that area of football."

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