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2013 Senior Class is One to Remember
And today, K-State football's 27 seniors will say goodbye to Bill Snyder Family Stadium as they play before family, friends, classmates, neighbors and fans for the final time.
This group, among the most successful groups of seniors in Wildcat football history, has been led by All-Big 12 selections Ty Zimmerman, John Hubert, Cornelius Lucas and Tramaine Thompson.
It's seen big personalities from guys like Tre Walker, and it's also seen selfless sacrifices from quiet leaders like Blake Slaughter.
"I think they're better than good," head coach Bill Snyder said about this season's seniors. "It's always emotional, regardless of which class it happens to be, but there's some awfully good youngsters in this class. I'm awfully proud of them and will certainly miss them."
Slaughter is one of only two players in the Wildcats' senior class who played as a true freshman during K-State's 6-6 (4-4 Big 12) 2009 season (the other is Torell Miller, who redshirted in 2010 when switching positions from defensive back to wide receiver). While others - Thompson, Lucas and Hubert to name a few - took a redshirt that first year, Slaughter's redshirt season came in an entirely different manner.
He took one for the team and redshirted last season, what would have been his final year as a Wildcat, so he could help his team out this season when they need him the most.
Now, after five years with the program and a breakout senior season where leads on the field with a team-high 79 tackles, Slaughter hopes fans remember him as a guy who really loved the K-State football program.
"I'd want them to remember that I was tough, that I cared, that I was a guy who was going to play tough and was going to hang in there," Slaughter said. "A guy that was going to do what he could all the time and who really cared about this program."
This senior class made its first big mark during the 2010 season when K-State went 7-6 (3-5 Big 12) including a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl - K-State's first bowl game in four years.
The 2010 season was Zimmerman's first year with the program, and as a true freshman, he earned freshman All-American honors after starting 12 games and totaling 74 tackles. The Junction City, Kan., native's career has only progressed since then, and this season he was named to the preseason All-Big 12 team and is a candidate for numerous accolades, including the Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Jim Thorpe Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
The following season, this group of seniors helped the Wildcats to a 10-3 year and trip to the Cotton Bowl.
Improvement continued as the 2012 season ended with K-State capturing the Big 12 Championship with an 11-2 overall record and an 8-1 mark in Big 12 play as the Wildcats earned a trip to Tempe, Ariz., for the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
Hubert earned First Team All-Big 12 honors last season after back-to-back 900-plus rushing yard seasons his sophomore and junior years, and so far this year, he has recorded 784 rushing yards. Hubert's 2,729 total career rushing yards put him at fourth in school history behind Ell Roberson (2000-03; 2,818 yards).
Though this season started out like none would have liked, these seniors never backed down.
"This group never gave up. If you want the definition of never giving up, this senior class is the one to look at," senior Mark Krause, who transferred from Missouri Southern in 2011, said. "There were so many chances for us to throw in the towel this season, and not a single one of us did."
Going in to today's game, K-State is sitting at 6-4 (3-3 Big 12), and has secured life in the postseason with a bowl berth.
It has been the best season turnaround at K-State since 2001, where the Wildcats turned a 2-4 start into a 6-6 record to finish the season.
If K-State wins its final two games, this season will be one among the biggest turnarounds in Big 12 history.
And that's all because of the senior leadership.
"They're huge to this program," sophomore Glenn Gronkowski said about this year's senior class. "When they came, they're really the ones that turned this program around. Some of them, when they got here, things weren't going too good, so they helped turn this program back around and get it where it's going, and they definitely mean a lot to us."
Though they say the emotions of Senior Day won't mess with their performances on the field, there's no doubt the seniors' recognition before the game will be a special moment for both the players and their families.
"It will definitely be emotional. My parents will be there, so I'm excited about that," Slaughter said. "I'm excited to see them and hopefully hand my mom some roses. I think (it'll be special) for my parents just because of how much they have sacrificed for me to be here and how much love and care they've had for me over the years. It's just going to be a special time."
"I hope it's a wonderful day for them," Snyder said, "and I hope it's a wonderful day for their families who will be here as well. They deserve good things to happen and I certainly hope they do."