November 24, 2013
By Kelly McHugh
For the first time in a decade, the 2003 Big 12 Champions were back together in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The 30-plus former Wildcat football players who were able to make the trip back to Manhattan for the reunion were introduced on the field after the first quarter of yesterday's K-State football game.
"It's cool being back. Any time I come Manhattan, and especially when I come around here, I get this nostalgic feeling," All-Big 12 offensive linesman Ryan Lilja said. "My wife went to school here too, so it's great to be back. It's great to come here and see a bunch of guys I haven't seen in 10 years."
It was a magical season. The 2003 Wildcat football team went 11-4 (6-2 Big 12) and secured the program's first Big 12 Conference Championship since 1934 with a 35-7 Big 12 Conference Championship game win over the then No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners.
"I feel old," All-American linebacker Josh Buhl laughed, "but besides that, it's a great thing to be honored and come back for a game. It's good to see everyone, reunite, a lot of these guys I haven't seen in almost 10 years. It brings back memories of just our camaraderie as a team; the fun that came with the championship that we won."
For All-American Nick Leckey, seeing his former teammates makes him remember just how great his 2003 team really was.
"You share so much with these guys, but when you're young you don't take advantage or think too much about it," Leckey explained. "But the further you get away from it, the more the memories just kind of come to life. It's an experience like no other - you spend so much time with these guys at such a young age, such an impressionable age, that it's just cool seeing them again. When you get older you realize, man, these guys are awesome. It feels like that environment again, you kind of get back into your old habits and routines when you see people. It's really cool."
One of the greatest seasons in Wildcat history, the 2003 K-State football team was led on the offense by quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles.
While neither Sproles nor Roberson were able to make the reunion, Sproles sent a special message to his Wildcat family over the video board at yesterday's game. The current New Orleans Saints star running back talked about that season and how special his teammates were to him those years.
For many, the reunion was the first time they had the opportunity to check out Bill Snyder Family Stadium's newest addition: the West Stadium Center.
"I am so impressed. I saw pictures on Twitter and I saw one picture where it was the old press box and then the new, and I was amazed," Leckey said. "It's beautiful and John Currie, his staff and everyone, all the donors who were apart of it, really did a tremendous job, it's great."
While yesterday wasn't Lilja's first time in the West Stadium Center, he said it has been exciting this season to check out just how far the program has come in the past 10 years.
"It was unreal, and I've been to a lot of football games," Lilja said. "My wife has been to a lot of stadiums too, NFL stadiums, and she was like 'This is better than anywhere.'"
After his years with K-State, Lilja went on to play five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts (2004-09) where he helped pave way for the Colts' 2007 Super Bowl XLI win, before playing two seasons (2010-12) with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 2003 football team marked a special era for K-State Football, and though a decade has gone by, these former Wildcats will never be forgotten in the hearts of so many K-State fans.
LOCKETT'S RECORD BREAKING PERFORMANCE
Despite a 41-31 home loss yesterday to the Oklahoma Sooners, junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett tore through the K-State football record books.
His 278 receiving yards broke the single-game record, which he set earlier this season against Texas after recording 237 yards. He is now tied with former wide receiver Jordy Nelson (2007) as the only Wildcat to record two 200-plus receiving yards games in their career.
Along with his exceptional receiving game, Lockett totaled 162 yards on kickoff returns, putting him at a record breaking 440 all-purpose yards. Lockett's 440 all-purpose yards pushed him ahead of Darren Sproles, who recorded 351 total yards vs. Louisiana Lafayette in 2004.
Lockett now has 1,760 kickoff return yards - breaking another school record - and his three receiving touchdowns tied for the single game record.