K-State concludes the 2016 season in the Texas Bowl. The Cats face off against the Aggies of Texas A&M in Houston on Wednesday the 28th at 8:00 p.m.
Come join the @PowercatGameday crew before the game at @3rdFloorHouston for the live broadcast of the biggest pregame show in the Big 12 starting at 4 p.m. If you aren’t making the trip, make sure to tune into the show on KMAN or stream the show live.
Offensive Player of the Year:
John: QB Jesse Ertz
It’s a tough call for me here between the offensive line and Ertz, but let’s give the signal caller some love. I know there were plenty of Ertz doubters early in the season, but he has been very steadily mentally and physically all year and helped mold the identity of the offense. He’s only 55 yards away from a 1,000 yard rushing season and his 5.94 yards per carry this season is fourth all-time in K-State history for someone at any position. The biggest thing that sticks in my mind is how much of a dip the offense took when he was out of the game. The Oklahoma and Kansas games come to mind immediately in that department. To me, those made it clear just how much he means to the offense.
Cole: The entire offensive line
I’m cheating here because I’m not naming a single player but rather an entire position group. The Wildcats’ offensive line had arguably the biggest question marks coming into the 2016 season, and they answered the challenge, helping pave the way for the highest yards-per-carry average by a K-State rushing attack in school history. If I had to pick a single player from the line, which is difficult to do, I’d say Dalton Risner, who made the switch from center to right tackle and has been terrific on the edge.
Stanton: QB Jesse Ertz
After seeing what the offense looked like last year without Ertz, it’s clear that he’s as much of a key to making this offense go as any. Battling through multiple injuries throughout the season, he never missed a start and steadily improved every week. He has a chance finish the year with over 1,000 on the ground and, with a victory, complete the season winning 6 of the last 7 and 9 wins overall.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Unanimous: DE Jordan Willis
Willis emerged this season as a dominant force in the Big 12, nabbing conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. The senior has been one of the best defensive ends in college football this season. Not only has he tied the school record for sacks in a single season with 11.5, he has also been terrific against the run. Willis has 26.0 career sacks, landing him 3rd on the All-Time K-State record list. He needs 2.0 sacks to pass Nyle Wiren in 2nd place and 4.0 to take sole possession of 1st over Darren Howard.
Special Teams Player of the Year:
John: WR Byron Pringle, WR Dominique Heath, and CB DJ Reed
I’m sort of cheating here by including all the return men, but I didn’t feel like it was fair to separate them all out. Both Heath and Pringle each had return TDs during the season. Pringle wound up leading the Big 12 in kickoff return yardage, but got passed up by DJ Reed late in the year. Reed had one of the biggest returns of the season himself with the 76-yarder against Baylor when the Bears were making a late push. As usual, the Wildcats return unit was stellar no matter who was back there.
Cole: LB Trent Tanking
I thought I was going off the grid here by picking Tanking, but Stanton also had the same thought. This award typically goes to a returner or place kicker, but Tanking has been tremendous in special teams coverage. I love to watch the former walk on run down the field on the kickoff team, as he typically decleats one of the guys trying to block him.
Stanton: LB Trent Tanking and LB Colborn Couchman
Tanking leads the team in special teams tackles and is a strong contributor on the return units. He has been punishing opposing returners all season long. Colborn Couchman has quietly put together another excellent year on all the special team’s units. He and Tanking have been anchors for K-State’s top ranked special teams units throughout their careers.
Assistant Coach of the Year:
Unanimous: Charlie Dickey
Dickey has taken an offensive line that had a combined total of less than 20 starts and turned them into a dominant force. One of the biggest question marks in the off season was turned into one of K-State’s most significant strengths. Dickey once again took an inexperienced unit and developed them rapidly. With much of the line returning next year, the future is bright for this group.
Most Improved Offensive:
John: WR Dominique Heath
Heath quietly led the Wildcats in receptions this year with 41 and was a valuable asset when the offense started to change due in part to Jesse Ertz’s shoulder issues. Midway through the season we saw a lot more short, down the line passes and most of those seemed to go to Heath. He’s on his way to becoming a Tramaine Thompson clone (which is a very good thing).
Cole: OG Terrale Johnson
Johnson has been a road grader at right guard for K-State’s offensive line. He has turned himself into an NFL prospect, in my opinion.
Stanton: WR Dominique Heath
Heath made strides this year in his understanding and knowledge of opposing defenses. This was most apparent in his comfort level when catching bubble screens with his back turned to the defense. Throughout the year he displayed an ability to run to where defenders were not in situations where he had little to no time to read the field after he caught the ball. This ability comes from a maturity of knowing where the defenders will be through film study and pre snap scans of the field. This year we saw a young player improve his game mentally, resulting in increased production.
Most Improved Defensive:
John: LB Elijah Lee
There are a lot of options here, but let’s make sure Lee gets his due. You could easily tell Lee was going to be a stud from the moment he stepped on the field in 2014, but he really put it all together this year. Lee was a consensus 1st Team All-Big 12 pick and even got a vote for defensive player of the year from one of the coaches. Barring injury, he’ll hit the 100 tackle mark in the Texas A&M game. He’s an ideal linebacker to be able to handle the spread offenses that K-State sees week in and week out in the Big 12.
Cole: DE Jordan Willis
This probably sounds strange considering Willis had nine sacks last season and was solid. But he has taken his game to another level this season in both defending the run and pressing the quarterback.
Stanton: S Kendall Adams
A young player who K-State knew they would need to rely on this year has solidified himself opposite Dante Barnett. He has made large strides from last season and has a bright future ahead of him.
Newcomer of the Year:
Unanimous: CB D.J. Reed
So many options to choose from here as D.J. Reed, Reggie Walker, Alex Barnes and Scott Frantz are all viable choices. But Reed has been a great, late find on the recruiting trail. The sophomore has terrific ball skills and has really solidified the spot opposite Duke Shelley at corner. Reed saw a lot of passes thrown his way as the lesser known of the two commodities K-State had at cornerback this season. He wound up leading the league in passes defended (18) and helped the Wildcats triple their interception total as a team from a year ago by snagging three of his own. Not only that, but he showed how physical he can be in stopping the run. It might surprise you to find out that he was third on the team in tackles with 66. With more of the spotlight initially on Cal transfer Cedric Dozier this offseason, Reed wound up being a steal for the Wildcats in the recruiting process. Reed has the potential to be a lockdown corner over the next two seasons.
Breakout Player of the Year:
Unanimous: RB Alex Barnes
The freshman rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games late in the season, the first running back to do so since John Hubert in 2013. Barnes has the potential to be do some very special things if he continues to progress over the next couple of years. His ceiling is very high.
John: RB Charles Jones
I’ve got to give Jones some credit for his attitude during the running back carousel that was 2016. He’s a senior who was a starter two years ago on a nine win team, and he had to take a back seat at times to a freshman and sophomore depending on who had the hot hand. When K-State turned to Jones, he was still pretty effective. He ended up with 577 rushing yards on 110 carries, an average of 5.2 yards per rush. Jones has also consistently been the most reliable back in passing situations because of his hands and pass blocking ability. I know we all wanted to see more Alex Barnes, but Jones played his role very well throughout the year.
Cole: TE Dayton Valentine
Going off the grid here a bit. Valentine is essentially an offensive lineman playing as a tight end in K-State’s offense. The sophomore has only caught a couple passes in his young career, but he has been a very good blocker for the Wildcats.
Stanton: S Dante Barnett
Barnett returned from a season ending injury in the first game of 2015 to lead the K-State defense. While he has flown under the radar, due to modest individual statistics, his impact on this year’s defense has been invaluable. Barnett’s experience and leadership permeated through the entirety of the defense and improved everyone’s play around him. Dante deserves more credit than he has been getting for the success of the defense this year.