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Archive for Saturday, November 2, 2002

Sproles sprinting past opponents

Kansas State running back next test for struggling KU defense

November 2, 2002

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When a Division I college football program defeats its only in-state rival nine years in a row, you can probably guess which team wins the recruiting war inside the state lines.

Kansas State listed 58 players from Kansas high schools on its preseason roster 22 more than Kansas.

When the Sunflower State rivals meet for the 100th time today at Memorial Stadium, no Kansan will pose more of a threat to the Jayhawks than former Olathe North standout Darren Sproles.

"He had a tremendous high school career," said KU safety Zach Dyer, an Olathe South graduate. "In college, so far he's done a really solid job."

Sproles, who finished his prep career with 5,230 yards and 79 TDs, is just getting started in college.

The running back was a two-time all-league, all-state and all-metro selection at North. He was USA Today's player of the year in Kansas after rushing for 2,485 yards and 49 TDs in 2000, helping the Eagles finish 12-0 and win their fourth Class 6A state title in five years.

As a true freshman, Sproles played in six games last season and carried the ball only 28 times. Four other Wildcats had more rushing yards than his 210, but his average of 7.5 yards per carry showed signs of what was to come.

Sproles rolls

"He is a fun, young guy to have on your football team," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "Obviously, he is an excellent player.

"You see the things that he does with his elusiveness and quickness that he possesses that make him a very fine talent. But what I like about him is his diligent work habits and his toughness. I like his sense of team. I like all those intrinsic things about him. I think those things really bring his talents front and center. There are a lot of people with that talent, but don't play quite as well as Darren."

The sophomore has carried the ball 136 times for 859 yards and eight touchdowns for the 14th-ranked Wildcats (6-2, 2-2 Big 12). His 124-yard performance in last week's 44-10 victory at Baylor was his fourth straight 100-yard game.

"His forte is his quick change of direction," Dyer said. "He's extremely fast. He can make plays where it looks like he's going to get tackled, and he shifts out of there pretty quick."

That shiftiness also has served him as a receiver and return man. Sproles enters today's game with 1,089 all-purpose yards. All that yardage comes in a relatively small package. Sproles stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 170 pounds.

"He's not a very big guy, but he's quick," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "He's strong. He's a powerful guy. You have to wrap him up. You have to gang tackle him. He gets yardage after the first hit, the second hit. He's a fine player. He has our respect. We know we have to do a good job of getting a lot of helmets on him and wrapping up or he'll make it a long day."

Matching up

Sproles' elusiveness could cause problems for the Jayhawks (2-7, 0-5), who are weary after playing nine games without a bye week and tackled poorly in last week's 36-12 loss at Missouri. KU ranks last in the conference and 115th out of 117 Division I schools in rushing defense, allowing an average of 248.2 yards a game.

K-State, meanwhile, ranks second in the league and ranks 11th in nation with an average of 247 rushing yards per game.

Snyder has plenty of weapons at his disposal with quarterback Ell Roberson leading the way. The sophomore averages 78.4 yards rushing and 123.3 passing.

"When he has the ball in his hands, he can make some positive things happen," Snyder said. "He can make some bad plays become better plays. He is still trying to progress as an accomplished passer."

Defense never rests

Kansas State's defense isn't too bad either. The Wildcats limited Baylor to minus-37 yards rushing last week on 32 carries. KSU has held three opponents to less than 200 total yards.

The Wildcats lead the league in rushing defense and rank fourth in the nation, holding foes to an average of 76.4 yards. The 'Cats also rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense at 13.4 points per game.

That's not good news for a KU team that ranks 11th in the league and 78th in the country in scoring with a 24.6-point average.

"Their guys know what they're doing and they play hard every single snap," Mangino said. "They get after it, and that's a tribute to their head coach."

While some have wondered about the health of the rivalry after nine straight KSU victories, Kansas State's 58 Kansans won't overlook the Jayhawks.

"I think for the Kansas guys, it will help us get real excited about the game because it is the other state school and it's another school a lot of guys could have gone to," said starting free safety Jesse Tetuan, a red-shirt freshman from Topeka Hayden who wasn't heavily recruited by KU. "For the Kansas guys I think it is a bigger deal."

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