Trent Tanking knows how it feels. He’s been there, in the crowd. He was there in 2006, as a 4th-grader, when K-State squeaked by No. 4 Texas 45-42.
Like many of us, when the final second rolled off the clock, he rushed the field to celebrate the upset. He never imagined then that someday he might be on the field as a player, preparing himself to play the Longhorns.
“The stars aligned for me to be able to come here,” Tanking told me Tuesday at media availability. “I’m so grateful and so blessed to be able to play against Texas after watching Texas play K-State back as a 4th grader.”
He told me he knows the fans have a special place in their hearts for K-State’s success against the Longhorns (9-7 all-time, 8-4 since the formation of the Big 12), but he left that all behind when he became a player, choosing instead to look at each opponent through the same lens and not let any one game take priority over another.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some extra meaning for him as he steps on the field to face the team the Wildcats have bested so many times in Manhattan.
“The extra meaning for me would just be playing for the guys that are from Texas,” he told me. “Any extra motivation to play them is to try to win for those guys.”
One of those guys is Abdul Beecham, a Converse, Texas native, who grew up a Longhorn fan. Beecham will have his first chance on the field against Texas Saturday, and he’s looking forward to it.
“Growing up, everybody’s just like ‘Texas, Texas, Texas,’” he told me. “As a kid from Texas, that’s the dream — to get that offer from Texas. It means a lot that I get to play against what I grew up knowing.”
And despite his upbringing, Beecham feels as though he’s found a home in Manhattan and won’t have any difficulty defending his new home field against his old favorite team.
“It’s never hard for me,” he said. “I feel like whatever team I’m on, I’m gonna represent them to the fullest. Going back home and talking, you’d think I’m from Kansas. I feel like this game is gonna be big, but I don’t feel no type of way about it.”
That sort of focus is what K-State will need Saturday to try to improve upon its almost dominating success against Texas in Manhattan. The Wildcats are 6-1 all-time when the Longhorns come to town, with the lone loss coming in 2002.
“That’s an amazing record. That puts a lot of pressure on us to keep that streak going, but we know Texas is not going to go lightly,” Beecham told me. “They’re a great football team and they’re gonna play hard, so we just have to come out and try to play our game.”
But what is it about playing at home that’s given K-State so much success against Texas — something no other team in the Big 12 has?
“Texas, with as much notoriety — well deserved notoriety — and the quality of program that they have, I think players in the program have always enjoyed playing that game and are very motivated to play against the University of Texas and — more often than not — have played pretty well,” head coach Bill Snyder said.
But Tanking has another answer for the Wildcats success at home against the Longhorns.
“It’s largely due to the fans,” he told me. “The teams that have prepared and have been able to get victories here against Texas have been great teams, but when you’re playing behind fans who are going crazy ... it’s real easy to get motivated and get going when they’re all in the stands.”
Texas head coach Charlie Strong agreed Monday during his press conference.
“They always have a sellout crowd and their fans are really into it,” Strong said. “I always talk about like with their student section, they come piling in the stadium. When we're out there warming up, they're right behind us. I told our players, you can't listen to their chants, and you've just got to make sure that we keep our focus and not direct it and hear it all from what they're saying.”
But during the conference Monday, Texas beat writer Mike Finger had a different take:
Strong doing his best to make KSU's stadium sound intimidating, but it's really, really, really not.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) October 17, 2016
Finger understandably took a lot of heat from K-State faithful on Twitter, later summarizing his interaction and giving his real thoughts on why K-State has had success:
Meanwhile, a summary of my day with Kansas State fans: pic.twitter.com/5wUfFVw9cx— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) October 17, 2016
Texas safety Dylan Haines also found the environment less than intimidating two years ago — the last time Texas played K-State in Manhattan — when the Wildcats shut out the Longhorns 23-0.
Texas safety Dylan Haines on playing in Manhattan two years ago: "I thought it was going to be a little bit more hostile than it was."— David Scott Fritchen (@DScottFritchen) October 17, 2016
But Haines took exception to the quote being provided without context, and later clarified why he really thinks Texas has so much trouble in the Little Apple:
Went on to say playing in Manhattan is so difficult because of how well coached and disciplined K-State is... https://t.co/FTJup7EiQZ— Dylan Haines (@dylanhaines4) October 18, 2016
No matter the reason, the fact remains: Texas has struggled historically against Kansas State. A program with prestige nationwide, that can pluck recruits at will and stands as the flagship university of one of the most fertile recruiting states in America, has failed more often than not against a school known more for its propensity to groom walk-ons and transfers than its ability to wrangle top talent.
It may seem like a mystery how a team with players such as Tanking — a lifelong Wildcat fan who walked on from tiny Holton, Kan. — and Beecham — a lifelong Texas fan who didn’t even garner a glance from his favorite school — might be so successful against a would-be juggernaut with four claimed national championships.
But perhaps it isn’t that complicated.
“Ratings and stars do not mean a whole lot. It really depends on how hard you work, and our guys here work hard,” Beecham told me. “I’m sure the guys at Texas work just as hard. At the end of the day, it’s gonna be a battle. I don’t think stars or ratings have anything to do with it.”