No one needs to remind Deante Burton and Terrale Johnson of the importance Kansas State football fans place on winning the Sunflower Showdown.
They learned about that as young kids.
“Growing up in Manhattan, all you hear about is K-State, K-State, K-State, KU, KU, KU,” said Johnson, a senior right tackle. “You hear all about the rivalry all the time. It does motivate me.”
How could it not?
“People always tell you, ‘K-State doesn’t lose to KU in football,’ ” said Burton, a senior receiver. “That’s just something that doesn’t happen. I definitely don’t want to be a part of the team that lets that happen.”
The Wildcats have put a hurting on the Jayhawks since Bill Snyder arrived at K-State in 1989. Kansas owns the series lead 65-43-5, but K-State has won seven straight and 20 of the past 24, mostly by big margins.
Snyder values winning the Governor’s Cup as much as a Big 12 championship, and that mentality has rubbed off on players, students and fans in Manhattan.
Burton and Johnson, who both played for Manhattan High before they became Wildcats, can attest. So can fellow locals Winston Dimel and Jason Lierz. For them, this game simply means more.
That is part of the reason Burton chose K-State over out-of-state schools like most of his high school friends. Sure, a new experience was alluring. But it couldn’t match the support system he already had in place.
“Staying home was the best decision I ever made,” Burton said. “I will never regret that.”
When he hears teammates talk about buying plane tickets for a trip home, he reminds them that he can walk to his home. No one on K-State’s roster gets more laundry done.
“It’s really special,” Burton said. “Not a lot of guys get to play in their hometown. That is something I have been blessed enough to be a part of. It’s going to be weird that my fourth- and third-grade teachers won’t be able to watch me play anymore.
“Not a lot of guys get to say that, but I have been truly blessed to have all those people that are close in my life that have helped me stick it out with me, through all the highs and lows.”
The former drop-prone receiver has become one of K-State’s most sure-handed targets as a senior and has made 26 catches for 379 yards and a touchdown.
He leaves K-State as a 1,000-yard receiver, and a leader on an improving offense. But he hopes to top the 510 yards he posted last season.
Johnson hopes to keep paving the way for big rushing numbers. K-State’s offensive line has received praise from national experts this season, particularly on the right, where Johnson has teamed up with tackle Dalton Risner to create big holes.
Few thought Johnson would start at K-State when he began his college career at Hutchinson Community College. Even when the Wildcats recruited him in junior college, he seemed to favor options in other states. But he chose to return to Manhattan and is now a full-time starter.
Playing against Kansas adds extra sizzle to senior day for Burton and Johnson.
Both will leave K-State as accomplished players, and it will be hard for them to say goodbye. But they are too focused on beating their in-state rival to think much about farewells.
“A lot of people are ready for us to get the win,” Johnson said. “You hear it all the time, ‘We’re K-State, we need to beat KU.’ It means a lot, not just to us, but the fans out here, too, pretty much everyone in Manhattan.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas at Kansas State
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Other story lines
1. RUN WILDCATS RUN: K-State has rushed for 200 or more yards in four consecutive games, their longest streak since 2003. Can the Wildcats keep the good vibes going against the Jayhawks?
2. SENIOR SENDOFF: This will be the final home game for 24 K-State seniors. Together, they have won 29 games in four seasons and have reached bowl eligibility in four consecutive seasons.
3. BOWL WATCH: The Wildcats appear in the running for the Cactus Bowl or the Texas Bowl, but they can push their stock higher with closing wins against Kansas and TCU. Two more victories would likely give them a fourth-place finish in the Big 12.