November 26, 2007

Season slipped away from Nelson, Cats

FRESNO, Calif. -- It was poetic in a sick kind of way. Kansas State, which in 2004 suffered its worst defeat in years in a blowout loss to Fresno State that set off alarms across Wildcat Nation, saw its postseason hopes thwarted Saturday in a crushing 45-29 loss to the Bulldogs that will hang over the once-powerful program through a long offseason. It was enough to make a grown man cry. Jordy Nelson almost did. Who could blame him?

Nelson didn't play in the Wildcats' 45-21 loss to Fresno State at home back in 2004. As one of a handful of current players that were there that day, he remembered all too well how much it stung. K-State went 4-7 that season. The Biletnikoff Award finalist and All-American candidate did everything in his power to ensure the 2007 Wildcats wouldn't experience that feeling, which was, well, sort of like the same one they felt in three straight losses entering Saturday's contest.

By the time the play clock hit all zeros, Nelson tied his own school record with 15 catches for 165 yards and one touchdown. As Nelson trudged off the field in troop-like formation with his teammates one final time at Bulldog Stadium, one heckler nearby issued a final salvo in the direction of K-State coach Ron Prince, "Thanks for honoring your contract! Welcome to WAC football!"

Moments later, Nelson emerged from the locker room. His voice quivering, jaw shaking slightly, eyes focused on the ground, Nelson undoubtedly had a thousand thoughts racing through his mind. When he spoke, four sentences ran together into one long strand as the two-time captain, who was a redshirt walk-on when K-State won the 2003 Big 12 Championship, attempted to replace shock with perspective as his career and 206 catches flashed before his eyes.

"We're all out here being a team and wanting to play as a team and we wanted to do everything we could to help," he began. "This year started out well, and it didn't finish out how we'd like, so we'll be home for the holidays instead of at a bowl game."

Home for the holidays for the third time in four years. K-State joins hapless Baylor as the only two Big 12 teams that haven't earned bowl eligibility in three of the past four seasons. K-State finished its season with four straight losses for the first time since the 1989 team ended with seven in Bill Snyder's first season.

Nelson's message for the returning players: "Just keep working hard. Listen to the coaches."

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