December 20, 2013
By Kelly McHugh
For K-State football, the 2013 season saw its share of ups and downs.
A season made up of a little bit of everything - bitter losses, record-breaking individual performances and last-second wins - the team found it within itself to create its own destiny despite what those outside of the Vanier Sports Complex may have said about the Wildcats after a 2-4 start.
Finishing the season with a 7-5 overall record (5-4 Big 12), 2013 will go down among the best turn-around seasons in Big 12 history and the best ever for the K-State football program.
It seems like years ago, doesn't it? K-State Athletics celebrating the opening of the brand-new state-of-the-art West Stadium Center complete with an 11-foot brass statue of Bill Snyder.
Yet, though the day began in celebration it ended in despair with K-State dropping its home opener to none other than North Dakota State University.
'Hang in there, we will come back,' was the message the team seemed to relay to its fans.
But questions remained. Could the dual threat quarterback system work? Where was John Hubert, last season's talented running back who rushed for only 23 yards against NDSU? Can this young defense hold its own?
Though the Wildcats went on to defeat both Louisiana and UMass at home, opening its Big 12 season with three straight losses to Texas, No. 20 Oklahoma State and No. 15 Baylor - which ended up being among the best teams in the Big 12 - kept critics talking and fans wondering.
But the Wildcats' Big 12 losses were all so close... fourth-quarter close. A morale victory, perhaps, but in the Wildcats' 35-25 loss to the Bears, K-State held this year's Big 12 Champs to almost 30 points under its season scoring average. Though they weren't wins, the team proved it was growing, and with that, showed the nation the 2013 season would only continue to go up.
Against Baylor the K-State defense shined, and defensive leaders, such as senior linebacker Blake Slaughter and junior defensive end Ryan Mueller, began turning heads.
Slaughter went on to finish the regular season with 103 tackles, leading K-State and were the fourth-most in the Big 12, and earned second-team all-conference honors.
Mueller finished the season with 11.5 sacks to tie the school record and went on to earn First Team All-Big 12 and Second Team All-American accolades while also being named Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Though the season seemed like it was dwindling away after its shaky 2-4 start, a solid defensive effort played a key role in the Wildcats' four-game winning streak against West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU.
On the offensive end of the ball, records were broken - no, shattered - by wide receiver and kick returner Tyler Lockett.
Lockett broke K-State's single-game receiving yard record twice - once when he caught 13 balls for 237 yards against Texas and later against Oklahoma by recording 278 yards.
Along with his exceptional receiving game, Lockett totaled 162 yards on kickoff returns against the Sooners, putting him at a school-record record breaking 440 all-purpose yards, the fifth-most in FBS history.
Also writing his name in the Wildcats' record book was senior John Hubert. Perhaps the perfect way to cap off his final regular-season career, Hubert rushed for a career-high 220 yards in K-State's final regular-season contest against the Kansas Jayhawks. Hubert, who is sitting at 968 yards, is only 32 yards short of his long-time goal of 1,000.
For those skeptical of the two-quarterback system, sophomore quarterback Daniel Sams led all quarterbacks in the Big 12 in rushing yards with a total 784 yards while junior quarterback Jake Waters was second in the Big 12 (to Baylor's Bryce Petty) in passing efficiency.
While the two may have spent the season as competitors fighting for the starting quarterback position, nothing but brotherhood shined through to those watching saw Waters and Sams as great friends sharing hugs and high-fives after every offensive drive regardless of who led their team on the field.
And who could forget sophomore place kicker Jack Cantele's 41-yard field goal in the Wildcats' 33-31 victory over TCU? You could feel the tension in Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 16 as Cantele stepped on the field to take the kick with only three seconds left on the clock. The celebration after he drove in the winning field goal was a moment the team won't soon forget.
Though this season may have started out like no one would have hoped or expected, no one can argue that it hasn't been an exciting year to be a Wildcat. The hard-working Wildcats came back and dug deep within to hang on to their postseason life. It stuck to its "intrinsic values," as Bill Snyder calls them, of hard-work, self-discipline, responsibility, consistency and leadership - to name a few - and will now prepare to take on Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the program's fourth consecutive bowl game appearance.
So after all of that, perhaps Slaughter sums up the season best:
"At the beginning of the year, we talked about caring, whether or not this team cared, and we showed the world that we do care. We showed the world that we're going to fight back and continue on. That we care about each other and we are willing to do whatever it takes to make this season special. So to start that way, and to finish this way, it's special to me."