K-State Sports Extra: Mike Kuhn

By Zach Zaborny

The sounds of pads crackling and whistles blowing this Saturday at K-State's annual Purple/White game brought smiles to the faces of the Kuhn family as they remembered the days of when Mike was on the giving end of one of those devastating blows to an opponent.

When Mike graduated from Kansas State University in 1971 after playing three years on the Wildcat football team, he left as one of the greatest defensive ends in school history.

Sadly, after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Kuhn passed away in the fall of 2008. Although he is no longer living, the impact he had on Kansas State and the Wildcat fan base as a whole, will stay around forever.

Growing up in Manhattan, Kansas, Kuhn played several sports, and after transferring to Manhattan High School during his sophomore year in 1964, he began his first full season of football. Before he transferred to Manhattan High, he suffered a broken arm while at Lucky High School and was unable to play. Due to being a transfer student, Kuhn was required to sit out his sophomore season at Manhattan High, but once his junior year arrived, he was finally able to take the field. After playing two years of high school football, Kuhn earned all-conference honors, all-area honors, second team all-state honors and was named offensive, defensive and team MVP during his senior year. As if football wasn't enough for Kuhn, he also ran one year of track and played two years of varsity basketball, where he was named to the all-conference team and finished his senior season as the team leader in field goal percentage. Academically he graduated with scholastic honors and was named to the scholastic honor roll during all three years he attended Manhattan High School.

Once he finished dominating the field at the high school level, it only seemed appropriate that Kuhn would do the same thing at the collegiate level. Since he was from Manhattan, it came as no surprise when Kuhn became a student at K-State in the fall of 1967. To Kuhn, playing at Kansas State was something that he just seemed destined to do. Every student-athlete who plays a sport at K-State fills out a questionnaire that is permanently filed in the Sports Information Department. When Kuhn filled out his questionnaire in September of 1967, under the section that asked for any scholastic or athletic honors won, he ended that portion by writing, "I used to sell popcorn and peanuts in the stadium that I will be playing in now."

During his three years as a member of the Wildcat football team, "Kuhn Dog", as he was called by everyone who knew him, dominated the defensive end position. Although he never made it to a bowl game with the Wildcats, Kuhn was part of a team in 1968 that did something that wouldn't be done again for 33 years. During his sophomore year, the Wildcats shut out Nebraska in Lincoln, beating them 12-0, something K-State wouldn't do again until 2003. At the completion of his senior season in 1970, Kuhn would earn several honors: second-team All-American, first-team All Big Eight Conference and two time Big Eight Conference defensive player of the week. He also went onto play in the Blue-Gray Game and the All-American Bowl in the spring of 1971. When he left K-State, he held the record for blocked kicks in a game and season with two, and the record for blocked kicks in a career with four. Today he still holds a share of all three of those records.

One of Kuhn's teammates at K-State was current Kansas State assistant coach Mo Latimore, who remembers Kuhn as someone who was determined and hard working.

"He was a good player, very good. He was strong, physical; a very, very emotional guy and a very enthusiastic guy. He played with a big heart," Latimore said.

After he graduated, Kuhn went on to have a summer tryout with the Dallas Cowboys but was cut after only a few days. Still wanting to continue football, he ended up playing two seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but got cut during his second season. In 1974 he spent a few weeks in the World Football League as a member of the Detroit Wheels, but after suffering a dislocated shoulder a few weeks into the season, he returned to Manhattan in October of 1974 where he remained until his death.

For someone that spent practically his entire life in Manhattan, Kuhn made great contributions to the city and K-State even after his football playing days were over. He would first return to Manhattan and become a part-owner of Kite's Bar and Grill in Aggieville, and eventually, would end up becoming full owner for a few years. He would also give back to Manhattan High School through supporting and following of their athletic teams and even helping with radio broadcasts for the football team.

According to Kuhn's brother Steve, K-State and the city of Manhattan have had huge impacts on the entire Kuhn family for generations.

"Kansas State, along with growing up in Manhattan, has given our family a sense of belonging to one of the greatest extended families there is in the world. All of us have followed sports, gone to bowl games, and have belonged to our local KSU booster programs," Steve Kuhn said.  "It is truly a part of our heritage...a way to describe ourselves."

Aside from both Kuhn brothers attending K-State, other family members that have attended the university include their sister Karen Kuhn, and Mike's children, sons Ryan Kuhn and Taylor Kuhn, and daughter Katie Kuhn, who is married to Jon Wright, a former tight end for the Wildcats. Several members of the Kuhn family that attended K-State have been involved with Greek life, while Mike Kuhn's mother was a housemother for Phi Kappa Theta fraternity and still resides in Manhattan today.

For someone that left a lasting impact on so many people, Kuhn's nephew Todd Satalowich may have said it best about his Uncle's love for the Wildcats and everything Kansas State.

"One of my lasting memories will be about one month before his death when we all went to a Kansas State game together. All through chemo and radiation therapy he was still going to the games to cheer them on.  When we entered the stadium, people left and right would shout his name and say hello.  From fans, to stadium workers, everyone," Satalowich said.  "He was at home there."

Maybe a few stadium workers at this past weekend's game still remember Mike Kuhn; or maybe one of them will be the next Mike Kuhn.