Two of Kansas State’s best defensive players received extremely high praise from college football expert Phil Steele today. On his website, Steele named linebacker Arthur Brown a first team All-American at mid-season and defensive tackle Ray Kibble a third team All-American.
Their honors represent a drastic turnaround for both players.
A year ago, Kibble struggled to do much of anything while making 30 tackles in 13 games. He also had considerable trouble in the classroom. As a senior, he is one of K-State’s most important players. He has made 15 tackles (including two for loss and one for a sack) and is looking good academically.
Meanwhile, Brown has gone from making 17 tackles in two seasons at Miami to leading K-State with 38 tackles through five games as a junior. He is a legit difference-maker and is playing like one of the best linebackers in the nation.
How did they do it? There are many reasons, but both Brown and Kibble credit Bill Snyder for their growth. When the K-State coach came out of retirement to lead the Wildcats for a second time, many wondered how well he could connect with young players. At the age of 72, there is quite an age difference between them. But Brown and Kibble are proof that the gap is not too wide.
“I really watched him a lot, and he helped me carry out my duties,” Brown has told me of Snyder. “He helped me become the player I am today.”
When Brown came to K-State, Snyder approached him about changing his personality.
From a feature I wrote on Brown last week:
“He wanted me to step up and really take charge and take responsibility in my role on the team,” Brown said. “He wanted me to contribute in a way that would really help the team come together.”
It was a difficult request. Brown had always been the guy who sat in the back row during team meetings. Asking him to lead was like asking him to learn a new sport. But Snyder was there for him.
During his transition year on the scout team, Brown got to know his teammates. Without getting on the field during games, he had to find other ways to help. That meant talking.
“I definitely felt the progression last year,” Brown said. “Just being able to sit back and watch and contribute in a different way without participating on the field really helped a lot.”
Sounds like they got along pretty well.
Now check out Kibble’s story. Coming into the season, both Snyder and Kibble were worried he wouldn’t be able to play. His grades were bad, and if he didn’t improve them he would have been academically ineligible.
Snyder called Brown into his office for a “heart-to-heart.” Kibble agreed he could do better, and said he went back into Snyder’s office almost every day for guidance.
His grades got better, his work ethic improved and his on-field performance soared.
“He was just telling me to keep pushing,” Kibble said. “… I was nervous and I was just thinking about being kicked out of school. Coach Snyder really helped me through it.”
I talked to ESPN college football analyst Rece Davis earlier this week for a story I wrote on quarterback Collin Klein. During the conversation, I asked what he thought about the job Snyder has done this season.
Clearly, he thinks Snyder has a strong connection with his players, too.
“He’s magic,” Davis said. “Apparently history tells us there is one person who can make that program highly successful and he is that person. They’ve named the stadium after him. They’ve named the road after him. They need to keep naming things after him. What he has done is unbelievable.
“To do it once was one of the greatest turnarounds in college football. Certainly they weren’t in as bad of shape as they were coming back, and who knows what the rest of the season holds, but just to get Kansas State to this point speaks volumes about the Hall-of-Fame type career Bill Snyder has had. It’s been remarkable.”