Kansas State University

Nick Marshall leads No. 5 Auburn for Thursday showdown at No. 20 K-State

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. The Associated Press

Jake Waters and Nick Marshall have never met, but their names are intertwined.

Kansas State football coaches have known everything there is to know about both quarterbacks for more than two years. Rewind the clock and take a peek at the Wildcats’ 2012 recruiting board and you will find Waters and Marshall at the top.

Bill Snyder wanted a junior-college quarterback capable of replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, and he knew the targets. That Waters is leader of K-State’s potent offense and Marshall leads Auburn’s powerful attack is a testament to the Wildcats’ scouting abilities.

K-State nearly landed both of them. What a position battle that would have been.

Still, it will fun to watch them go head-to-head Thursday when No. 20 K-State hosts No. 5 Auburn in one of the most anticipated nonconference games of the season. Their paths will finally cross.

“It’s a great story,” said Garden City Community College coach Matt Miller, who coached Marshall in junior college. “Nick’s top two schools were Kansas State and Auburn. K-State was probably in the lead at one point, but he chose Auburn and developed into the great quarterback he is today. Jake has obviously been great for K-State. I’m expecting lots of points.”

If the game turns into a shootout, Waters and Marshall could be the main reasons.

Waters, of course, is a gifted passer who showed he can run the ball in a gritty victory at Iowa State. He already has won 10 games as a starter. Marshall is one of the fastest and most athletic quarterbacks in the nation, but he is also a capable passer. He helped Auburn reach the BCS championship game last season.

Some recruiting background on both:

K-State was one of the first major programs to offer Waters a scholarship while he was helping Iowa Western Community College to an undefeated season and a national championship. When the year was over, he was named NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year and other schools got involved, particularly Penn State.

But K-State never backed down. Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Del Miller stayed in constant contact. The most memorable recruiting moment came when Klein called Waters from New York before the start of the 2012 Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Waters could tell K-State wanted him, and he chose the Wildcats that December, before Marshall announced his commitment the following month.

Some will argue that impacted Marshall’s thinking, that he feared losing playing time to Waters or then-quarterback Daniel Sams and worried about K-State coaches moving him to safety.

“The assumption would be it did have an impact, but I don’t know if that’s accurate at all,” Snyder said, adding that he would not have asked Marshall to switch positions. “He’s not a guy that would run away from a challenge, I’m sure about that.”

Some have also wondered if Snyder stopped recruiting Marshall after Waters made his commitment. That is not the case. K-State coaches were too impressed by Marshall’s stats — offensive-line coach Charlie Dickey watched him amass 768 total yards in a regular-season game — to forget about him.

“He was Superman in the junior-college ranks,” Miller said. “K-State kept recruiting him hard. Why? Because Nick Marshall is amazing.”

Snyder sent Marshall and his family handwritten notes. The coach that seldom travels for recruits even visited Marshall’s home in Pineview, Ga.

Miller, a K-State alum, also urged Marshall to consider the Wildcats, explaining that he could prosper as a dual-threat quarterback in Snyder’s system. But Miller also had plenty of positive things to say about Auburn.

In previous interviews, Marshall has said that his heart was with Auburn the moment it offered him a scholarship. A lengthy relationship with Gus Malzahn, the first coach to offer Marshall a scholarship while he was at Arkansas State, was the deciding factor.

“When Malzahn got the Auburn job, it was over,” Miller said. “That is when the tide shifted. You could tell he was going to end up there.”

Marshall has since helped Auburn beat Alabama, win a SEC championship and play for a BCS championship. But beating K-State is important to him.

“Nick has been talking about this game for so long,” Auburn cornerback Trovon Reed told al.com. “He’s always saying, ‘I almost went there, I almost went there.’”

On Tuesday, Snyder made it sound like there were no hard feelings about Marshall’s recruitment.

He said he was impressed by Marshall and enjoyed meeting him. When asked to compare him to another quarterback, Snyder threw out some big names: Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson, both former K-State standouts.

“He’s a talented young guy,” Snyder said. “He can throw it and he can run it. His numbers indicate exactly that. They say that (Auburn) is a team that likes to run the football and that is their first emphasis. They will throw the ball and try to cast it down the field, because he has the ability to do that. He has a strong arm.

“… He is a young, dedicated athlete and will play hard and compete well no matter who he plays.”

Marshall and Waters could be preparing to play anyone right now. They could have been teammates. Instead, the names from the recruiting board will face each other.

To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to krobinett@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

No. 5 Auburn at No. 20 Kansas State

▪ WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

▪ WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.

▪ TV: ESPN

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