By Corbin McGuire
Once a week for the past nine years, K-State's locker room has received an extra occupant: The Governor's Cup. It's tradition to display it in the locker room the week of the Dillons Sunflower Showdown.
The Wildcats have owned the trophy since November 7, 2009, when they defeated Kansas, 17-10. Including that game, K-State has now won nine in a row in the Sunflower Showdown and outscored the Jayhawks 382-130 during that stretch.
This span of dominance has seen the Wildcats possess the in-state rivalry trophy during three different governors' terms. A K-State win on Saturday, when the Wildcats host the Jayhawks at 11 a.m., on FSN, would guarantee K-State to possess it during a fourth governor's term, as Laura Kelly, who won Tuesday's election for governor, will be in office by the next Sunflower Showdown.
"Keeping the trophy here is huge," K-State center Adam Holtorf
said. "It's sitting down in the locker room right now. It's sat in the locker room every week we've played KU since I've been here. It's huge to be able to keep that here in Manhattan."
"I saw it (Monday) and I was just kind of thinking about it. We've had that for so long that it does mean a little bit more," added junior receiver Dalton Schoen
. "We don't want to give that up."
For most of the Wildcats, the motivation to win this game is engrained in them from their past. Nearly half of K-State's roster is from Kansas, with 57 Wildcats coming from within the state. Some grew up in purple-dominant areas. Others, like Schoen, remember being outnumbered by blue-and-red.
"Growing up a huge K-State fan my whole life and growing up in the Kansas City area where it's predominantly KU fans, it kind of seemed like it was me against everyone else in my school growing up," he said. "So now to be here and be part of the rivalry is pretty special to me."
For the 60-plus other Wildcats, they had to learn what the rivalry was about. Senior right tackle Dalton Risner
, from Wiggins, Colorado, said he "really didn't get why it was such a big deal" when he first arrived. Now, he feels like Schoen — a lifelong Kansan.
"I got my license from Kansas now. It's a rivalry game for me as well. I think I kind of became Kansan at heart, and it's a big game for all of us," he said. "We know a lot of guys on the team. We see the KU kids all the time. We're all from Kansas, we want to own the state of Kansas, and it's just a big game."
"It's tough for out-of-staters to understand what's going on at first," Schoen added. "Luckily, we have a lot of Kansas guys on this team, so I feel like everyone kind of realizes and buys into it. It's just bragging rights for the whole year."
This year's game, the 116th
edition of the Sunflower Showdown, means a little bit more for K-State and Kansas. Both enter it 3-6 on the season with three games left, requiring each to win out to become bowl eligible. Only one will have that hope still intact after Saturday.
"Everybody realizes that," Holtorf said, "realizes the challenge that presents, and is attacking the work with a great level of effort and high attitude, in terms of trying to correct everything we can to make that possible."
Risner knows it's possible. He was the starting center for K-State in 2015 when K-State sat at 3-6 with three games to play and won out to continue the program's bowl streak, which now sits at eight in a row. On Monday, Risner said he told this team about that 3-0 run to end the 2015 regular season and what it took, which wasn't any movie-like speech or out-of-nowhere emergence from one specific player.
"I said, 'There wasn't a reckoning. There wasn't a big speech. There wasn't a player that changed the whole wave of the season.' We started off 3-0, were 0-6 in the Big 12, and we continued to do what we were doing — we continued to work in practice, we continued to be disciplined, we continued to be focused, we believed in each other and we didn't have any outliers,'" Risner said. "We continued to do what we did. And I told them that's what we have to do this year."