Manhattan Special teams at Kansas State are ranging from record-breaking to ruinous, from game-changing to gruesome.
On the favorable end of the spectrum stands Brandon Banks, all 5-foot-7 of him. Making use of textbook blocking, the slippery little senior set a Big 12 record against Tennessee Tech on Saturday with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. He became the 12th man in NCAA history to take two kickoffs all the way back in one game.
On the other end — so far back on the other end he’s barely visible — stands Josh Cherry. Six times in the first four games, the junior place-kicker has trotted onto the field to attempt a field goal. Five times, he’s trudged away in failure.
Apparently, however, Kansas State’s 1-for-6 kicker is secure. There are no other candidates for the job.
So what’s a coach to do?
“Just keep trucking. Keep rowing the boat,” Bill Snyder said Tuesday. “That’s what you do. I’ve put my faith in him. Let him keep hitting them and try to work it out fundamentally.”
So far the Wildcats (2-2) have not been harmed by having just about the coldest kicker in the country. But with Big 12 play beginning this week against Iowa State in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, an inability to get three points could become critical.
While Banks was drawing national attention to himself in the 49-7 victory over Tennessee Tech, Cherry was missing from 36 yards.
“The one he missed was wide right,” said Snyder. “But it went right where he hit it. He lined it up that way, approached it that way, hit it that way. Now, we just have to get his aim better.”
Snyder says the ability is there.
“I think he’s capable. He hit all of his extra points If he wasn’t capable, we wouldn’t ever attempt a field goal again. But he’s capable. Sooner or later, it will fall in place.”
Things began falling into place for Banks last year. A junior college transfer, he had a 98-yard kickoff return against Nebraska and was fifth in the Big 12 with 1,049 yards receiving.
But he’s had a little trouble adjusting to a new quarterback. Carson Coffman does not deliver the ball with nearly as much velocity as did Josh Freeman, who went on to become a first-round NFL draft pick.
But in between kickoff returns last week, Banks did hook up with Coffman on a 64-yard catch-and-run that set up a TD.
“I think I did need that kind of game going into Big 12 play,” Banks said. “It just boosts my confidence up a little bit.”
Coffman admits he hasn’t been as effective throwing to Banks as Freeman was.
“There’s a lot of different factors involved with it,” said Coffman. “We really haven’t called that many plays downfield. I think that’s been a little bit of it. But we’re developing a little more chemistry. We know he’s capable of making those plays and he finally came out and did it.”
Banks’ two returns combined for 183 yards, a single-game record for Kansas State. But what most impressed Snyder was the part most fans didn’t notice.
“Brandon did a nice job returning kickoffs. But as I said after the game when I viewed it happen, the first kickoff return really was very much a team effort. Everybody performed the way they were supposed to,” he said. “They were execution correct, assignment correct and it really was a pretty play to watch. It’s kind of like you draw them up on the chalkboard.”
One of the blockers making the play look pretty was linebacker Alex Hrebeck.
“It’s easier said than done. It takes hard work and paying attention to the details of the fundamentals of the game on the kickoff return,” Hrebeck said.