Saturday Practice - Senior Stepping Up

Bryan Baldwin went into spring practice last year knowing he was virtually a lock for a starting cornerback position.

The senior for the Kansas State football team won that job and was having a successful season until he injured his hand and had to miss the last half of the 2006 campaign. While he was out, players like Justin McKinney, Byron Garvin and especially young Josh Moore stepped up their game and proved they, too, were worthy of starting at one of the two cornerback spots.

Baldwin is entering his final spring practice session with a little uncertainty as to whether he will be a starter for his final year, and he knows he has a lot of work to do because numerous talented players are ready to step up and lead the Wildcats in 2007.

"The injury was a hard time to overcome," Baldwin said. "I went through the process of what I had to do to get back healthy, and it just feels good to be back out. For me, it's the last go round, so you gotta give it all you got."

When his teammates think of him, they always consider Baldwin to be a leader by example and not by words, but something was a little different at Saturday's open practice, the third of the spring.

Baldwin was much more vocal, and it all began in warm-ups. He was leading the team in stretches and was yelling at the other players to try and get them motivated for the practice. After practice he said he is taking a different approach to his demeanor because he knows he has to step up this year and be a leader.

"It's a lot different than it has been in the past," he said. "I looked back on the time when I first came in when I was a young pup, but now I'm the top dog. So it's a little different, and I am a lot more confident in how I am going to play the game.

"I would love to step up and be a leader for the team in my final year. I'm a quiet type of guy, but I know that I need to be a little bit more vocal."

He said that he is not quite 100 percent healthy from the hand injury that cost him the final half of last year, but he also said the physical side of recovery isn't as important as the mental side.

"With injuries, it's more mental than anything. So basically it's just getting back out, taking a couple of hits, ‘OK, I'm good, yea, I'm ready to go.' It's pretty much that thing just the more mental side of it. "

McKinney and Moore began the practice as the starting cornerbacks, but Baldwin and Garvin both rotated in and all four received significant practice time during the two-hour indoor practice in front of about 100 K-State fans. He might not be completely recovered from the injury, but it didn't show much in practice.

At one point during a team session in which the starting offense was practicing pass plays against the starting defense, Baldwin made a nice jump on the receiver on one particular play to intercept quarterback Josh Freeman. He appeared to still have the same instincts and recovery speed that earned him the starting job a year ago, and he should be ready to reclaim that spot next year.

When asked if he is worried about being the starter when the season begins next fall, he said that doesn't concern him, the only thing on his mind is winning games.

"It doesn't really matter if I'm starting or coming off the bench, as long as I'm playing or giving a good contribution to the team," Baldwin said. Coach Ron Prince talked about the importance of having guys like Baldwin and fellow senior Marcus Watts on the team, on and off the field. "Having Marcus Watts and Bryan Baldwin out here is terrific because those two are very veteran players with a lot of confidence." Prince said. "They've played in all the stadiums and they know where to go and they can relate that to a lot of the younger players, and anytime you can have those kind of players available and active for you in the spring, that's terrific. Having those veteran players is quite an advantage for us."

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