SE: Blue Collar Work Ethic Keys Success of NFL Wildcats

Jordy Nelson helped open the 2011 NFL season on Thursday night with a TD reception.

Sept. 9, 2011

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By Mark Janssen

You’ve heard the claims, and maybe even assumed them to be true on what it takes to make it to the National Football League.

You need to be from a big school and from metropolitan areas in the states of Texas and Florida helps; you need to have four to five “stars” behind your name on recruiting lists; and for certain, you need to be considered scholarship-worthy.

It was interesting this week to read through the list of current graduates of the Kansas State football franchise that are today on teams in the NFL.

There are a total of 15, which includes a pair of 11-year veterans in Ben Leber at St. Louis and Rock Cartwright with Oakland, plus Jon McGraw, who is with the Kansas City Chiefs and set to enter his 10th year in the NFL.

Leber was a Parade All-American out of high school in Vermillion, S.D., but was not a high-profile recruit, while Cartwright and McGraw begged their way onto the Wildcat roster as walk-ons. Most recently, Jordy Nelson, set for his fourth season in Green Bay, fits into the same mold, while Salina Central High School product Terence Newman was awarded the final scholarship of the 1998 recruiting class.

To those, and the total of 20 walk-ons who have earned starting status in the Snyder coaching era, he says, “They weren’t recruited by many schools because they didn’t fit the standard player profile, but they definitely fit ours.”

Also interesting is this fact. Of the 15 NFLers, six came from the state of Kansas, or the Kansas City metropolitan area. Of those, McGraw and Nelson came from Riley, population 900.

Of McGraw and Nelson, and the likes of small-town Kansas products who came before them as Mark Simoneau and Brooks Barta of Smith Center, Snyder said, “We were looking for mild-mannered guys who led by example.”

While Texas and Florida have been the hotbeds of Kansas State recruiting, only Cartwright and Jeromey Clary are native Texans, while Daniel Thomas is the lone representative from the state of Florida.

The other six NFLers came from North Carolina (Brandon Banks), California (Zac Diles and Reggie Walker), Connecticut (Rob Jackson), Oregon (Jeron Mastrud) and South Dakota (Leber).

At the time of Snyder’s retirement in 2005 there were 30 NFL draftees dating back to 1999. While the community college transfer stole many of the headlines during that time, 20 of the draftees came from the high school ranks.

Today, it’s the same. Of the 15 current Wildcats in the NFL, nine came from the prep ranks and six from the community college avenue.

“We have taken great pride in our evaluation process,” said Snyder. “That in itself is the essence of successful recruiting and at the same time, the most difficult element.”

Also of note is this fact. Of the 15 former ‘Cats in the NFL, only Nelson, Sproles, Newman and Thomas were ever decorated with first-team All-Big 12 honors. Ryan Lilja garnered second team honors, while Banks and Leber were third-teamers. The other nine were never considered for elite national status during their collegiate careers.

In fact, only eight of today’s professionals earned first- or second-team All-Big 12 recognition: Banks, Clary, Leber, Lilja, Nelson, Newman, Sproles and Thomas. That means the likes of Cartwright, Diles, Josh Freeman, Jackson, Mastrud, McGraw and Reggie Walker were never even considered the best in their respective conference.

Oh, and this note: K-State has had at least one player taken in the NFL Draft in each of the last 18 years. That is the second-longest string among Big 12 schools.

Wildcats in the Pros
Brandon Banks,    Redskins, WR, 2 (years in NFL); Rock Cartwright, Raiders,    RB, 10; Jeromey Clary, Chargers, OL, 5; Zac Diles, Buccaneers, LB, 5; Josh Freeman, Buccaneers, QB, 3; Rob Jackson, Redskins, LB, 2; Ben Leber, Rams, LB, 10; Ryan Lilja, Chiefs, OL, 8; Jeron Mastrud, Dolphins, TE, 2; Jon McGraw, Chiefs, S, 9; Jordy Nelson, Packers, WR, 4; Terence Newman, Cowboys, CB, 9; Darren Sproles, Saints, RB, 7; Daniel Thomas, Dolphins, RB, R; Reggie Walker, Cardinals, LB, 3

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