Where are they from? Where’s that?
Kansas State athletes come from everywhere, but the vast majority of Wildcats, particularly those who play football and basketball, come from Kansas.
There are 105 counties in Kansas, ranging from Johnson County, home to over half a million people, to tiny Greeley (pop. 1,298) on the border with Colorado. I will be the first to admit that I had heard of less than half these counties, and I couldn’t find them on a map without the help of Google. It was a surprise to me then that nearly all of the state’s counties are represented on this all-time roster of Kansas State athletes, spanning different sports and various eras of school history.
This multi-part feature, a list of Kansas State athletes broken down by county, is both a snapshot of Kansas State athletics over time as well as a historical look at the relationship between the school and some of the communities it has traditionally served.
Recruiting is a billion-dollar industry now that spans the entire country (and sometimes the globe), so it’s not surprising that standout players at Kansas State are not exclusively from the state. Plus, significant depopulation in rural Kansas, the consolidation of various school districts across the state, and the decision to play 8-man, and increasingly even 6-man football, means we are not likely to see a significant number of Wildcats from sparsely populated townships and counties on Kansas State rosters these days. It’s fascinating to note, however, that—historically at least—Kansas State athletes have come from towns as small as Nicodemus (pop. 18) to cities as large as Wichita (pop. 388,771).
This list is by no means an exhaustive one. My research (such as it is) was limited to information I could find quickly on the Internet. It’s not impossible that I have missed important athletes from various counties. In some cases, where there were many athletes to choose from, I often picked the people I found most interesting (and you can certainly take issue with that). Also, my initial focus was on just football players, so there’s a chance that some stellar basketball, baseball, volleyball players, and track stars are not listed. Omissions are not deliberate, and I welcome (as always!) corrections and useful information from the BotC community.
So, without further ado...
Allen County has produced its share of famous Kansans, but not many have passed through Manhattan on their way to glory, and even fewer have put on a purple jersey. Indeed, Drew Mueller, a high school quarterback out of Iola recruited to play cornerback for the Wildcats, appears to be the only native of Allen County to have made a Kansas State football roster.
The county is better represented in basketball. Becky Dobbins, from Humboldt, Kansas, played for the Wildcats from 1980-84, and was on two Big 8 championship teams, including the team that made the Elite Eight in 1984. Mark Dobbins, her brother, later played for the Wildcats too, taking the court from 1984-89.
Honorable mention: Johnny Adams (Iola; Hall of Fame jockey) and George “Sharky” Sweatt (Humboldt; second base, Kansas City Monarchs). Neither Adams nor Sweatt attended Kansas State. Adams skipped college altogether, and Sweatt went to Pittsburg State, where he was the first African-American player to earn a varsity letter.
Sam Brownback is probably the most famous Kansas State alum to come out of Anderson County. The former U.S. Senator and state governor was born in Garnett and graduated from Kansas State in 1978. But Brownback was not an athlete in Manhattan.
Honorable mention: Josiah McCracken (not a Kansas State alum) grew up in Garnett and played football first at what is now Sterling College and later at Penn. He went on to win a silver medal in shot put and a bronze medal in hammer throw at the 1900 Olympics in Paris.
Two Kansas State football players from Atchison County should be instantly recognizable. Running back Harry Trotter, a Maur Hill-Mount Academy product from Atchison found his way to Kansas State via Fort Scott Community College and the University of Louisville. Wide receiver Wykeen Gill was a two-time all-state player at Atchison High School and also lettered in basketball.
Honorable mention: She didn’t go to Kansas State and is not an athlete, but it would be remiss to not mention Atchison’s most famous native: Amelia Earhart.
It’s almost certain that an athlete from Barber County competed at Kansas State at one point or another, but that information appears lost to history. Maybe Drew Honas, a recent basketball commit from Medicine Lodge can help change that? For now, the banner for Barber County is carried by Don Gerstner of Medicine Lodge, a member of the 1951 Kansas State wrestling squad that took second place in the Big Seven wrestling tournament, with Gerstner himself placing in the event. (Yes, Kansas State used to have wrestling, and was a competitive program in the Big 6/7/8, but dropped the sport in 1975).
Honorable mention: A number of Barber County natives have competed for that other school down river, so we won’t bother with them, but Orville Brown of Sharon, Kansas, was the world’s first NWA world heavyweight wrestling champion.
Great Bend’s Damian Johnson represents Barton County on this list. An offensive lineman, he played at Kansas State in the early 80s and is quoted in Sports Illustrated’s now infamous Futility U article. Johnson went on to play five seasons in the NFL, even winning a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants in 1987.
Cory Warren, a linebacker from Uniontown, played for the Wildcats from 2006 to 2007. A back injury cut short his playing career and he transitioned into coaching first as a graduate assistant for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, then as the offensive line coach at Hutch CC, after which he joined the coaching staff at Southern Illinois. Tragically, Warren died in a car accident in 2014. A scholarship fund for graduates of Uniontown High School was set up in his honor.
Defensive tackle Trey Dishon, a team captain and four-year starter at defensive tackle who just wrapped up his Kansas State career, is from Horton, Kansas. In May, he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent and could make the 53-man roster. Meanwhile, Brown County is represented on the current Kansas State roster by Elliott Strahm, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle from Sabetha.
Honorable mention: Marianne Mathewson-Chapman (Nursing ‘68), the first woman to reach the rank of major-general in the Army National Guard, is from Sabetha.
Butler County has produced a number of Kansas State athletes including those who passed through Butler County CC on their way to Manhattan, but we’re just going to focus on a few names here. First up is Boston Stiverson of Andover, a key part of the Kansas State offensive line from 2012 to 2015. He was a second-team All Big 12 player at left guard and for a few months in 2016, a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
El Dorado, the county seat, was home to K-State Hall of Fame player and coach Ralph Graham, a three-time All-Big 6 honoree at fullback, who played for the Wildcats from 1930-33. For over 60 years, he was the top points scorer in school history, and the first Kansas State player to be invited to the East-West All-Star game. He went on to be a head football coach at Wichita State, and then returned to Kansas State as the head man from 1948-50, a momentous if somewhat disastrous era for the football program.
Honorable mention: Larry Hartshorn (‘54), also from El Dorado, was a four-year letterman and second-team All Big 7 player. He later went on to play for the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL and for the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL. He also played baseball at Kansas State, and was a teammate of Earl Woods.
Clayton Jackson, a long snapper on the Kansas State roster from 2014 to 2018, is from Cottonwood Falls, but appears to be alone among football players at Kansas State from Chase County.
Basketball has much better representation in this case. Greta Sigel, also from Cottonwood Falls, played on the 1975 and 1976 teams, the first two women’s basketball teams to win Big 8 titles. John Rettiger of Strong City played at Kansas State from 1988 to 1992 alongside Steve Henson and was coached by Lon Kruger.
JD Rector, who lived in Sedan for much of his life, played halfback at Kansas State from 1950-52. He graduated with a degree in agricultural engineering and was the state’s assistant conservationist for many years.
Honorable mention: Cassius M. Shartel attended Kansas State (then still the Kansas State Agricultural College) from 1873-77 and later practiced law in Sedan. He ultimately moved to Missouri, where he was elected to Congress in 1904.
My attempts to locate anyone from Cherokee County who played sports at Kansas State proved fruitless. Nevertheless, at least one person of extreme significance to Wildcat sports is from the county: Mary Ice (Human Ecology ‘80), philanthropist and a longtime, major supporter of Kansas State athletics, is originally from Baxter Springs.
Honorable mention: Although he attended Colorado (where he was a two-time All Big 8 defensive back in addition to winning an NCAA championship in golf), Hale Irwin grew up in Baxter Springs and is enough of a household name to rate a mention here.
Jay “Dale” Evans played halfback at Kansas State from 1957 to 1960. He was a captain in his senior year and finished second in the Big 8 in receiving yards that season. He would go on to be drafted by the Denver Broncos, but left the NFL in 1961 to join the US Marine Corps. Evans ultimately served two tours of duty in Vietnam and was highly decorated for his service.
Honorable mention: Ron Evans (Kansas ‘56), an astronaut with the Apollo 17 mission, was from St. Francis.
Minneola’s Leland Shaffer was a back who played both ways at Kansas State from 1930 to 1934. He was one of the stars of the Wildcats’ 1934 Big 6 championship team, the first (and until 2003, only) league title in program history. Shaffer was signed by the New York Giants in 1935 and would go on to play 11 seasons of professional football.
Honorable mention: Clark County, and more specifically, the town of Ashland, makes a cameo appearance in this Joe Posnanski piece about a charity game of women’s basketball that featured Jackie Stiles and a number of former Kansas State and Kansas players.
Finally, we come to a county that has provided Kansas State with many standout student-athletes over the years. There’s Nicole Ohlde from Clay Center who needs almost no introduction. A two-time first-team All-American, she left the school as its leading scorer, and then went on to a long career in the WNBA. She retired in 2011.
On the football end of things, most recently, Dalton Converse, also of Clay Center, was a long snapper at Kansas State and graduated in 2016. But the most noteworthy Clay County athlete to take the football field for the Wildcats was probably Ray D. Hahn. A three-sport letterman, Hahn became the program’s first consensus All-American when he was named to Grantland Rice’s team as a lineman in 1922. He would ultimately go on to a long coaching career at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas before retiring there in 1974.
Honorable mention: Ken Swenson, also from Clay Center, was a track star at Kansas State who won the 880m event at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 1970 and went on to compete in the 800m race at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
Brice Vignery, a wide receiver from Concordia, played football at Kansas State from 2005 to 2009, but he’s a geographical footnote relative to Tom “Ferocious” Brosius, originally from Maryland, played football at Kansas State, but made his mark in track and field. Brosius was a two-time Big 8 shot put champion (in 1972 and 1973), made it to the US Olympic trials, and also won the conference discus title in 1972 on his way to All-American status. He went on to a long career in coaching at Cloud CC and later at Manhattan High School.
Honorable mention: Shanele Stires, who played basketball at Kansas State from 1993 to 1995, was a transfer from Cloud CC. At Kansas State, she scored 1,344 career points, grabbed 701 career rebounds and was named to First Team All-Big Eight team in 1995.
Stay tuned for Part 2...