Before Jake Waters began the journey home following a victory at Oklahoma last week, he winced in pain as he spoke with family and friends outside Memorial Stadium.
Normally, it would have been a euphoric time for the senior Kansas State quarterback. On this occasion, he was too sore to fully enjoy the victory’s aftermath.
Such was the toll his body endured fighting through the pain of an injured left shoulder to close out a game that sent the No. 11 Wildcats (5-1, 3-0 Big 12) to the top of the conference standings. Waters took an awkward hit at the end of a 53-yard run in the third quarter and required treatment in the locker room to remain on the field, but he didn’t miss a single offensive series, finishing with 276 total yards and three touchdowns.
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He was in obvious discomfort the whole way. Yet, when K-State coach Bill Snyder asked if he was in too much pain to run certain plays, Waters insisted he could “do it all.” When reporters asked him if it was difficult to finish the game, he shook his head.
“I was good,” Waters said. “Nothing was going to take me out.”
Waters did not attend this week’s news gathering, but Snyder said he wasn’t limited in practice.
“He responded fine,” Snyder said. “That goes along with what I was saying: He is a tough young guy. He came out fine.”
The performance brought back memories of former quarterback and current assistant Collin Klein playing through broken bones and walking off the field with bloody arms.
“Jake showed so much toughness,” K-State receiver Curry Sexton said. “You can’t say enough about it. He was hurting, kind of Collin Klein-esque. He was out there and he was banged up, but he was able to make enough plays to help us win. That was big-time. ... He was able to go out there and tough it out. I think that will gain him a lot of respect, not so much from our team, because we already respect him, but nationally.”
His recent play should help, too.
With 1,431 passing yards, 371 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns, Waters is having a strong senior season.
But he has been at his best in conference games, completing 66 percent of his passes for 754 yards and six touchdowns on top of rushing for 294 yards and four touchdowns. All without losing a turnover. He is averaging producing 349.3 yards of total offense a game, which ranks second in the Big 12 behind TCU’s Trevone Boykin, and 3.3 touchdowns. In Big 12 games, he also leads the conference in passing efficiency.
Not bad for a guy who played hurt last week.
Question is, can Waters continue to play effectively if he has lingering pain in his non-throwing shoulder? When Klein led K-State to the Cotton Bowl as a junior and then to a Big 12 championship as a senior, he fought through nearly every injury imaginable. He went weeks without practicing, but never missed a game. And he always produced.
With Klein as his tutor, Waters will certainly know how to proceed if his health is less than 100 percent.
“Jake hasn’t had any iconic pictures of him bleeding everywhere yet, but he is just as tough (as Klein),” linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “He prepares well and goes out there and just competes. It doesn’t matter who hits him or how hard they hit him, he is going to line back up and be a leader for our offense.”
To that end, Waters seemed more concerned about staying motivated for Saturday’s game against Texas than his shoulder following the Oklahoma win.
“It’s huge depending on how we react,” Waters said. “We can either pat ourselves on the back and think we are some great team or we can get back to work.”
Waters felt pain lifting his arms minutes later, but it didn’t matter. He had already proved how tough he was.
If need be, he appears ready to prove himself again.
“He showed a lot of toughness,” cornerback Morgan Burns said. “He showed a lot of heart. As a quarterback taking some of the hits he took, to keep getting back up and make the throws that he made with the pressure he had on him, I am just proud of him. I wouldn’t have any other guy leading this team than Jake Waters.”