MANHATTAN — The anger that permeated throughout the Kansas State football team when it practiced the past two weeks was even evident in the last player the Wildcats want to send on the field.
Senior punter Nick Walsh was particularly upset with his performance in the Sept. 16 loss at Vanderbilt.
After coming in with just two attempts on the season, Walsh averaged 34.8 yards on six punts and watched as Mitch Lochbihler was summoned for a fourth-quarter punt that pinned Vandy at its 5-yard line.
“After the game,’’ said Walsh, “guys were just screaming, yelling, things that almost make you cry when you think about how guys go through so many personal things in this game and go through the offseason.
“But we hold each other accountable and it starts with us and how we go on the practice field.’’
Snarling was permissible the past two weeks as K-State (2-1) observed a bye before its 2:30 p.m. clash Saturday against Baylor (0-4, 0-1 Big 12) in Snyder Family Stadium.
Punters never know how often they may be summoned.
Mechanical flaws can be difficult to correct too in game situations.
“A lot of people think you go out there and just kick it as hard as you can, but it’s like a golf swing — zero margin for error,’’ Walsh said.
“It’s all a mentality, really. It can get in your head a little bit when you don’t hit a good ball. You go back out there and hit a bad ball, and all of a sudden it’s a mental struggle with yourself on the sideline.’’
With more time to practice than the Wildcats cared to deal with before their Big 12 opener, Walsh thought of the tee box, or the fairway, or the green — any spot on a golf course where he applied a routine approach.
The process, in a sense, took him back to Lamont Hill or Osage City Country Club, the 9-hole courses Walsh called home while playing golf (in addition to football and baseball) for Lyndon High School.
“I was thinking that I put too much pressure on myself (at Vandy). I thought of a couple of golf matches in high school where I’d go into league and I was supposed to win the tournament and I’d shoot a 67,’’ he said.
“State comes around, more pressure, I’d want to do so well and shoot 82 or something like that. I wanted to win it so bad, just like I want to punt so well on the field, but I can’t put that much pressure on myself.’’
Walsh knows the proper routine. The senior has been K-State’s regular punter since 2014 and came into the season with a career average of 41.8 yards, with 46 of 160 attempts dumped inside the opponents 20-yard line.
No doubt he cares. Deeply.
If Walsh is needed as the last line of defense on a punt return, he can summon the form that made him a valued linebacker for Lyndon, where he also played running back and placekicked.
“I’m still not used to (only punting) to be honest,’’ Walsh said. “I still treat pregame like I’m about to kill somebody on the field, which probably is not a good thing. But I’m getting ready, I dance around with guys that are about to go out for kickoff to start the game. It’s hard to amp it down and focus on my swing.’’
Off days, like the one at Vanderbilt, make it even harder.
Walsh was even performing in Nashville, where he hopes his ambition as an aspiring country music song writer and singer eventually leads him again. His first trip to Music City, though, was all about football. Being off key ate at his soul.
Enough that Walsh woke up the morning after and skipped another passion, passing on a chance to take part in the early muzzleloader season for deer hunting.
“It’s tough for sure, going from those first two games to doing it on a big stage, not having done it with that much pressure,’’ Walsh conceded. “I had to use the bye week to re-gather.’’
Much like everyone else playing for K-State.
Contact Kevin Haskin at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.