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By Mark Janssen
PHOENIX, Ariz. - Kansas State's coaching staff isn't into picking "surprise" players, but if really pressured, the name of Cornelius Lucas would most certainly come up in the conversation.
So, are you a "surprise," Cornelius? "I wouldn't say that because I knew I had this in me."
Out of New Orleans, La., Lucas redshirted in 2009, had a few snaps in 2010, and a few more in 2011. But he never started, and never played at his home of offensive tackle when the game was on the line ... until this year when he started every game and became a first-team All-Big 12 performer at left tackle.
"It's just been a process," said Lucas. "Awards like that have always been my aspiration, but it's just taken working toward it every day."
Lucas admitted that perhaps his "drive to excel" wasn't what it should have been before because there were fixtures on the line ahead of him.
"It wasn't right, but I knew I wasn't going to play on Saturday so maybe I didn't put enough into it," said Lucas. "This year I had guys in front of me leaving, so I knew the door was open ... .it would be up to me. My motivation to play and practice harder went way up."
Of the 6-foot-9, 324-pound Lucas going from a non-factor in 2011 to a first-team all-conference player in 2012, line coach Charlie Dickey said, "He became committed to those '16 Goals' that coach has set. He decided he wanted to be a great player. You know, it takes time to grow, get stronger and learn the offense. With Cornelius, it's been a process. He's always been committed, but it's been a process."
Offensive coordinator Dana Dimel added of Lucas, "He's a guy who runs real well, plus is so long and he's athletic as heck. The light finally turned on for him, plus his strength and coordination caught up with his body. He has a huge top end."
That huge top end includes a frame that would certainly attract the attention of NFL scouts from Miami to Seattle, and New York to LA.
"I hope that's in my future, but right now I just want to finish things right here (Fiesta Bowl). I'm having a great time at K-State and want to finish with a great senior year next year," said Lucas. "I'm hoping for much bigger and better things."
Lucas said he heard and read the questions about the offensive line being suspect prior to the start of the season, but in his words, "We used that doubt in us as fuel rather than being detrimental."
CHIPS AND DIPS: Lucas said he played the entire 2012 season at 320 pounds, but quipped, "I haven't weighed in for a while and I've been eating a lot of those chips and dips down here (Tostitos Fiesta Bowl), so I don't know what I weigh today."
'CATS HEALTHIER THAN EVER: Not only will Ty Zimmerman be able to play at safety, but also returning to action at 100 percent will be offensive guard Nick Puetz.
K-State offensive run game coordinator Dana Dimel says that a full cast of seven offensive linemen will be ready to play. That's Cody Whitehair and/or Tavon Rooks at RT, Keenan Taylor at RG, B.J. Finney at C, Boston Stiverson and/or Nick Puetz at LG, and Cornelius Lucas at LT.
CONGRATS TO MO: Kansas State defensive line coach Mo Latimore will be inducted into the Hutchinson Community College Hall of Fame next month.
Latimore first attended Hutch out of high school in Byron, Ga., prior to attending Kansas State in 1970 and 1971.
FIGHTING ARTICHOKES?: K-State offensive line coach Charlie Dickey has been given a hard time this week as the Wildcats are practicing at Scottsdale Community College, where he attended in 1981 and 1982.
The reason? Well, the school's nickname is the "Fighting Artichokes" and their colors at that time were pink and white.
Dickey swears, "I never had to wear a pink uniform."
Today the school colors are listed as green and gold, but Artie the Artichoke remains as the school's mascot.
KUDOS TO DICKEY: Declining to say where he started, Dickey says he's lost over 120 pounds in the last year.
"I started up there pretty good," Dickey would only say of his original weight. "Nothing like that is easy, it was just healthier eating, doing away with the sweets ... and I love sweets ... and working out every day. During the holidays I've cheated some, but I'm also working out every day and I'm feeling great."
HOW THEY RANK: Kansas State, 11-1, ended the regular season No. 5 in the BCS poll, No. 7 in the Associated Press and No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Oregon, 11-1, closed the year No. 4 in the BCS, No 5 in the Associated Press and No. 3 in the USA Today listing.
VS. THE PAC-12: K-State has had only limited success against teams from the Pac-12 going a combined 27-60-1. That includes a 20-45-1 record against former Big 8/12 rival Colorado.
K-State and Oregon have never played.
ON TODAY'S AGENDA: On the New Year's Day schedule will be a host of team/coaches meetings, an early-afternoon practice, and a team dinner.
Curfew and lights out will be 11 p.m., or one hour earlier than the past couple days.