Sideline Report: Sam Ponder Returns to K-State
During both the 2009 and 2010 season, Ponder worked with Fox College Sports and spent numerous Saturdays in the Little Apple covering K-State games.
"I practically lived here that season," Ponder said with a laugh as she stood in the Vanier Football Complex with her ESPN colleagues on Wednesday afternoon. The group was waiting to meet with K-State head coach Bill Snyder to talk about Thursday evening's matchup with the Auburn Tigers.
Five years ago, in 2009, Snyder had just made his return as the Wildcat head coach after his brief retirement. It was an exciting time for K-State and an exciting time for reporters like Ponder to cover the Wildcats.
"The thing is, we kind of sensed this program's growth was happening with Coach coming back," Ponder said. She looked out the window toward the new West Stadium Center. "He was doing things the right way, he obviously knew how to do it - he wasn't just someone who was throwing darts and hoping something stuck - so I knew (growth) was going to happen, but I think the cool thing to see is that they've maintained that same sense of family. All the foundational stuff is still there, they're just adding to it instead of blowing it up and starting over."
Now, after spending the past three seasons with ESPN, Ponder has seen her fair share of college towns. From coast-to-coast she's visited college towns large and small.
However Ponder said there's just something special about Manhattan.
"A lot of times what you sense when you're in these towns is, they're similar in size, but you can always tell where there's extreme pride outside of football," Ponder explained. "This is one of those places where you can sense that. For the people who live here and go to school here, it's not just 'Oh we love our football team,' there is that, but it's all the other aspects of what it's like to live in Manhattan and go to K-State. There is so much pride here."
And along with that pride, comes that K-State family feeling the people of Manhattan, Kansas, and the students of the university know so well.
"I think a lot of programs try and replicate what Coach Snyder has done here in terms of the 'family' atmosphere," continued Ponder. "You hear that in recruiting all the time, coaches talk about how it's a family, but this is one of the only places where, even if no one said that word, you would still feel that way.
"The first time I walked into Coach's office, it was almost overwhelming how many family pictures there are because that's what it's about for him. You almost don't even necessarily need to say the word, you can just sense it, and I think you notice that everywhere around here."
A life-long college football lover now working on the sport's highest platform, Ponder said she enjoys any opportunity she gets to work back in the Midwest.
"The cool thing for me is, I've worked for ESPN for the last three years, but before that I worked in the Big 12 and I grew up in the, then, Pac 10," she concluded. "It's weird to say, but in a way, even though I work for ESPN and everyone kind of talks about the SEC bias and the East Coat bias, I love it whenever the Big 12 or the Pac 12 has the chance to show what their environments are like."
And despite a nail-biting loss to the Auburn Tigers on Thursday night, showcasing the electric environment of Bill Snyder Family Stadium was exactly what the K-State faithful did.
Ponder wasn't the only one impressed with the Little Apple. Here is a look at what other national media members thought about their visit to Manhattan this week:
Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs), CBSSports.com college football writer
"Hadn't been to Little Apple in a while. Totally impressed from Bluemont to Aggieville to The Bill."
Joe Schad (@schadjoe), ESPN college football reporter
"Really impressed by crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium last night. One of great student sections."
Stewart Mandel (@slmandel), FOXSports.com college football writer
"Really enjoyed my time in Manhattan. Great people, underrated college town."
George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder), USA TODAY college football writer
"K-State's student section is fantastic, the atmosphere is great."
Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) ESPN.com Big 12 writer
"Enjoyed being back in Manhattan this week. Appreciate all the hospitality from the good people there. Can't wait to return."