Every Man A Wildcat. EMAW. It’s an acronym well known among K-State faithful, but over the years, it’s become something more than just a slogan or rallying cry. It’s become a badge of honor. It’s grown into an adjective used to describe someone or something that exemplifies the "K-State ideal." Defined in equal parts by Coach Bill Snyder’s 16 Goals for Success and his assertion that all K-State fans, students, athletes and coaches are family, the EMAW label rose from the ashes of Snyder’s retirement years and solidified itself in 2012 when Collin Klein and Arthur Brown led the Wildcats back to the top of the Big 12 Conference.
With the departure of Klein and Brown, it seemed as though the EMAW badge would naturally carry over to the next quarterback in line, Daniel Sams. Besides playing Klein’s position and wearing Brown’s number, Sams had captivated fans with a level of athleticism that not only reminded them of K-State greats such as Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson, but seemed to take it to another level. When Sams takes off, not even he can describe what happens.
"To be honest with you, my body, it just does it. I can see a defender X amount of yards away from me and I already know how I want to set him up. When it’s time for him to tackle me, it’s all instincts from there as far as not wanting to be touched. In my mind, I just want to make a guy look stupid. It’s just me reacting to what he’s doing.
"I’d watch highlight tapes and sometimes I used to wonder how I got out of situations. Sometimes I would tell teammates ‘I didn’t even know that I could do that. It didn’t even look like I did that.’ I didn’t even think it looked the way it did. It’s just all instincts sometimes."
As the 2013 season grew nearer, though, it became clear that even with his thrilling abilities, Sams would have to battle newcomer Jake Waters for playing time. Waters was named the starter, but Coach Snyder made it clear that Sams would contribute significantly to the offense as a quarterback. Anyone who knows anything about football imagines that a two quarterback system is less than ideal. When asked to remember how it felt, Sams says it’s obvious.
"It was tough because we both obviously wanted to be on the field, but it was just how the coaches were handling it. We just had to — well, me in particular — I had to wait for my number to be called and just make the best of every opportunity I got."
As the early season losses piled up, a divide emerged among the fan base. It seemed as though you couldn’t be a Wildcat fan without declaring yourself a member of Team Waters or Team Sams. But even through all the controversy and online bickering, the "team leaders" themselves never got caught in the frenzy.
"We used to tell each other what we’d seen," Sams says. "We’d show each other some tweets from time to time but we never really got too involved with that."
In the eyes of the media, Waters and Sams were the best of friends, posing together for photographs and bumping chests and fists on the sidelines. With the level of competitiveness required to play quarterback at the FBS level, some might have seen it as an act, but Sams insists he harbors no hard feelings toward Waters.
"That’s my dude. Nothing negative against Jake at all. He’s a competitor. He wants to win. Who wouldn’t want to be on a team with a guy like that?"
Slowly, the competitiveness Sams admired in his teammate started to pay dividends. The Wildcats won six of their final seven games with Waters taking a heavy majority of the snaps. By the end of K-State’s victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Waters had taken a firm hold on the starting quarterback position and Sams saw the writing on the wall. He went to Coach Snyder and said he wanted to change positions. He moved to receiver, but just four months later with spring practice drawing to a close, it was clear it wasn’t working out.
"I was working as hard as I can, but I was completely behind the ball. I was competing with guys that had been playing receiver their whole life. I was still trying to learn how to stay low in my route and keep my hands down. I was catching the ball and stuff but I was just behind."
As spring practice ended, Sams found himself at the bottom of the depth chart at receiver. After catching only two passes in the spring game, he approached Coach Snyder again. This time, he said he wanted to change schools. Sams says he and Snyder met one-on-one several times before Sams made his decision final. Snyder tried hard to get him to change his mind.
"He gave me a lot of ideas and plans that he had going into the season, but my whole thing was just getting back closer to my family. It was a hard decision to make, but at the end of the day, my family has always been there for me. It was hard to tell coach I wanted to leave, but that was my choice at the end of the day."
In his first interview after the transfer announcement, D. Scott Fritchen of GoPowercat.com asked Sams if he believed he got a fair shake at quarterback, to which Sams answered no. When asked to expand on that, Sams won’t budge.
At the end of the day, I’m not trying to get involved with any of that," he says. "I answered the question honestly, I said I didn’t. I just try to worry about what I can control."
Despite all the questions about him as a pure quarterback, Sams says he truly believes in his ability to throw the football.
"I have confidence in myself as a passer. Of course, you know, I made some bad decisions along the way. Everybody does. But as far as confidence, I have great confidence in myself as a passer."
Even with the criticisms and dissension on the field, Sams insists that the primary reason for his decision to move on from Manhattan was a desire to get back to his family. And though he feels a responsibility to his family in Louisiana, when asked if he had a chance to speak with his family inside the Vanier Complex, Sams shows signs of regret.
"No I didn’t. When I was around the locker room some guys would hit me up and we’d talk but collectively as a team I didn’t get to talk to anybody," he says. "I just talked to coach after the spring game but we [the team] didn’t see each other after the spring game."
Even without a team meeting though, he knows he has their support.
"I’ve seen some of them in study halls on campus. They understand my family situation. Especially those that have been here with me in my three years away from home. They know how I’ve been up and down."
Outside the locker room, other friends and fans in Manhattan haven’t been shy with their well wishes. Clicking on the link to his mentions on Twitter shows just how much Daniel Sams has meant to K-State. To many, he will always be a part of the Wildcat family. Daniel returns the sentiment.
"I want everybody to know that it’s mutual. It was a hard decision because I love these fans, I love my teammates, just this whole community. I just had to get home. It was a hard decision because I love these fans, I love my teammates, just this whole community."
Though he never registered a single start and only played two seasons at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Daniel Sams has managed to have a remarkable impact on the culture and legacy of K-State football. He’s as kind-hearted and sensitive off the field as he is electrifying and polarizing on it. Daniel was never handed the EMAW badge, but he took it anyway. He earned it through his character and passion, and when he speaks of his love for this school, you can still hear it in his voice.
As I closed the interview with Sams, I made sure he knew that once you’re part of the Family, it doesn’t go away. Wherever he lands, he’ll take the EMAW with him.
Good luck Daniel.
We’ll miss you.