It is here. The Sunflower Showdown. The Governor's Cup. The biggest game between these two teams since 1995, and here's hoping for a similar result to 1995 for the Cats.
Make sure to check out ESPN's College Gameday (9 a.m. CDT) for a feature on K-State's offseason training with Fort Riley's "Black Lions." The original newspaper article about the training is after the jump.
Kansas City Star (MO) (KRT)
Copyright 2007 The Kansas City Star, Mo.
April 19, 2007
A team playing for real: Kansas State football players form a tight bond working out with Army unit now stationed in Iraq.
The Kansas City Star, Mo.
--MANHATTAN, Kan . -- They worked out, side-by-side, a couple of young men preparing for two entirely different journeys.
Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman was gearing up for spring football. Pfc. John Harrison for staying alive.
For the few hours he spent with Harrison on a frigid, icy January morning, Freeman gained a greater appreciation of how Harrison operates.
"We're playing a game. They're preparing for war," Freeman said. "They could die."
Harrison is a member of the First Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment from Fort Riley, Kan., that worked out with the Wildcats football team three months ago. Now, as Freeman gets ready for K-State's spring game at 6 p.m. Saturday, Harrison
already has had a brush with death in Iraq. He recently took a bullet in his back
He was one of the lucky ones. Four members of that battalion, also known as
the Black Lions, have since died, Alison Kohler, assistant community-relations officer for public affairs at Fort Riley, said Wednesday.
Harrison's unit deployed Feb. 9 to Iraq, less than a month after the K-State
experience. It is a motorized infantry company that works out of Humvees and on
foot, ordered to secure the streets of Baghdad.
That assignment comes with peril. Harrison, as much as anybody, knows.
"It was the 24th or 25th (of March)," Harrison said by phone from Iraq. "We
were trying to get a better position. I stood up in the back of the truck and took
a round in the top right-hand corner of my back."
Harrison was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
"Yeah, you could feel it pretty good," he said. "It just turned into a little bruise."
The bruise, in time, will vanish. But the memory of spending part of a day
with K-State football players lingers for him, even when he is in harm's way.
"It was neat to show them what we could do," Harrison said, "and they showed
us they could push themselves just as hard as we did."
A football program's theme for its coming season was born out of its day at
Once Wildcats coach Ron Prince got the phone call about training with soldiers,
he never wavered. Prince's father was an emergency medical technician at
the hospital at Fort Riley, so his bond with that place is ingrained.
"It was one of those opportunities for us to learn because obviously they're
in the business of training leaders," Prince said.
The K-State football team did the rise-and-shine thing at 4:30 a.m. and bused
20 minutes to Fort Riley.
The 4-hour experience included a series of tasks stretched over nearly 4
miles. Players carried 45- to 50-pound backpacks, ran sprints across frozen
ground, carried soldiers on their backs for half a mile, climbed ropes as part of
an obstacle course, and hauled and installed large tires on a disabled trailer.
"I liked the camo gear they issued to us," K-State defensive end Ian Campbell
"It was cold, and I remember (linebacker) Reggie Walker slipping and falling
into a creek. The whole thing was tough, but it was fun."
Capt. Tim Wright originated the idea of bringing K-State to Fort Riley.
"It was an impressive group," Wright told The Star by cell phone. "They
toughed it out, were rock-solid, put out a 100-percent effort.
"Across the board, it was an incredible effort by one unit that came together."
And that's where the "Power of One" theme enters.
"We're really trying to understand that we have one team," Prince said.
"While we tactically have an offense, defense and special teams, we have one team.
We're playing for something bigger than ourselves, and we have an obligation to do
things and do them first-class. Those young men (at Fort Riley) taught us a little
something about that."
It was a day that Freeman can't forget.
"I guess they thought they'd have to pull us along. I guess we showed them
some stuff," Freeman said. "What did we get out of this? I don't expect to see any
quit in this team. At all."
In the K-State dressing room, Prince posts updates on how the Black Lions are
The news lately is sobering.
Pfc. Daniel A. Fuentes, 19, was killed April 6 by an improvised explosive
device in Baghdad. He became the fourth member of the battalion to die, and as of
Wednesday morning, was among 93 soldiers from Fort Riley who have died since
troops were sent to Iraq in 2003, according to Kohler.
"It's an eye-opener," K-State offensive lineman Logan Robinson said. "We walk in from practice yesterday laughing, and we see someone has died. It was just like, 'Wow, we worked out with those guys.' They're my age. The courage those guys have sticks with me."
The Black Lions have a standing invitation to come to K-State and work out
with the football team.
When the unit was deployed, it was supposed to be for a 12-month period. That
would have meant it would return to Fort Riley next February. But, according to
Kohler, it has had its tour extended by three months.
"I know they couldn't wait to get us back to their place," Wright said, "but
our deployment delayed that plan. They still owe us one."
Harrison hopes he will be there for it. Yet he knows there is no guarantee he
will return and get that chance at K-State.
But he won't forget what those players meant to him.
"They showed me a competitive spirit, a drive, and pushed themselves just as
hard as we did," Harrison said. "You'll still hear people here talking about how much they enjoyed that day."