A roster that pushed for a national title and won the Big 12 started seven junior college players this season, all on defense, and has a total of 29 such transfers on the roster.
Kansas State, a spot below the Ducks in the BCS standings at No. 5, doesn't see much reason to change its approach to recruiting.
The Wildcats got this far because they stayed true to an identity of uncovering talent in creative places and coaching the heck out of it. Kansas State athletics director John Currie said his 73-year-old coach, Bill Snyder, has to be on the short, short list of all-time coaches when it comes to evaluating talent.
If this year's 11-1 record attracts more five-star guys, the Wildcats will take a look at them. Doesn't mean they'll be impressed.
“I will recount the four- or five-star so-called recruits that we've gotten here over the years -- might have been maybe two,” said co-offensive coordinator Del Miller, who has been a Wildcats assistant off and on for 13 seasons since 1989. “They weren't successful for us. But we've had a whole lot of three stars that are playing in the NFL right now. You need to make your own rankings.”
Redskins receiver Brandon Banks was a three-star junior college receiver who thrived at K-State. Packers receiver Jordy Nelson was leanly recuirted out of high school.
The Wildcats defense ranked first in the Big 12 in scoring defense thanks to junior college contributions from first-team Big 12 defensive lineman Meshak Williams and second-team linemen Adam Davis and Vai Lutui. Even Lott Award finalist Arthur Brown is a collegiate transplant; the Wildcats linebacker transferred after two lackluster seasons at Miami.
K-State's penchant for transfers is borne out of necessity and creativity. Luring top recruits to Manhattan, Kan., (America's playground) is an arduous task. The state has an efficient junior college feeder system that makes it easy to recruit these players. Currie said roughly 20 percent of Kansas State's student body began college elsewhere.
By finding athletes who were either overlooked or underdeveloped in high school, Kansas State reaps the benefits of hungry, motivated players with two years of good experience. The coaches must find a way to make it all work.
Junior college players are perfect for supplementing an already strong roster, not for saving it, co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said.
“They have to come in and be around a really strong group with a lot of leadership,” Dimel said. “They've watched these guys who know how to work and can say, ‘This is what you do to be successful at a BCS school.' They fall right in. Other programs, they try to bring them in to fix the problem, and there's no core. Now the leadership is not there and all of a sudden there's no leadership on the football team.”
Because of this, Kansas State isn't afraid to redshirt a junior college player. Four of the roster's 29 junior college players have redshirted.
Junior college players come to Kansas State for one reason, Malone said.
“When you come here, it's all about football,” Malone said. “Manhattan is smaller, and it's not really too many social distractions going on compared to bigger, higher-name schools.”
The Wildcats have players “coming from pretty much everywhere,” said Brown, who calls joining Kansas State a “humbling experience.” Brown is a former five-star recruit out of Wichita who logged 17 tackles in two seasons at Miami.
Two years and 209 tackles later, Brown credits Kansas State's value system for his budding career.
“Coach Snyder emphasizes that in every way,” Brown said. “That came at the right time for me.”