By Jesse Piper
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Ask any college football fan the most important aspects of a winning program and answers would more than likely be limited to a high-scoring offense and a dominant defense. But looking at the track record of the Kansas State football program, especially under legendary head coach Bill Snyder's control, special teams is just as important to winning as a strong offense and defense.
This season, that is no different as the duo of Anthony Cantele and Ryan Doerr, along with numerous other largely-unrecognized players, carry on the special tradition of special teams play for the Wildcats.
Under the tutelage of associate head coach and special teams coordinator Sean Snyder, who was named a First Team All-American punter by numerous publications during his time in Manhattan, K-State's special teams unit has continued the tradition of being of one the nation's best.
As a member of the program's exclusive Ring of Honor, Snyder knows how big of an impact a solid special teams unit can have on a football game.
"We put a lot of emphasis on it," Snyder said. "Every year we spend a lot of time at practice and in meeting time with it. The coaches and players take great pride in how they perform. Historically, we have been pretty good special teams-wise and a lot of is based on the players. The pride they take in it, the emphasis they put on it and the emphasis the coaches put on it as well."
Though the paths of K-State's kicker and punter mirror each other in certain ways, Cantele and Doerr each chose to wear the purple and silver for different reasons.
Cantele, who played one year of soccer at Missouri State, grew up a Wisconsin Badgers fan and was initially not aware of K-State's special teams' tradition.
"I really did not know the history of K-State's special teams until I got here," Cantele said. "I did not follow K-State that closely growing up. My parents are both from Wisconsin and my mom went to the University of Wisconsin, so we grew up cheering for them. I really didn't know who Sean Snyder was or his background or any of the history at all."
Upon his arrival in Manhattan, the Wichita, Kan., native quickly learned what an asset having a former All-American punter as his position coach could be.
"It absolutely is an advantage to have him," Cantele said. "Especially with him having played at K-State, he has been around the program for so long. I have talked to kids from other schools where their coaches don't know very much about special teams, they are more of a supervisor of special teams, so I think it is a huge advantage having Coach (Sean) Snyder here."
Like Cantele, Doerr did not choose the Wildcats out of high school. But after signing with South Carolina during his senior year at Katy (Texas) High School, Doerr decided it was in his best interest to transfer away. Having grown up a K-State fan, choosing to become a Wildcat was a no-brainer for the Texas native.
"I have always loved K-State and their special teams tradition. They were my favorite team growing up," Doerr said. "I had a few connections with the special teams coach who was here when I first got here. I attended a couple of kicking camps that they put on and I really liked the way they worked with me, so I thought it would be a good fit and it has worked out pretty well."
Entering his fourth year as the team's starting punter, Doerr echoed Cantele's sentiments about having Snyder as special teams coordinator.
"I feel it is a big advantage," Doerr said. "He has been through it all and he really knows what he is talking about. A lot of other programs do not have that kind of leader and mentor. I feel like they don't get the coaching they need in practice. I feel like that puts them a step behind so I feel like we have a big advantage over other teams who don't have a coach like him."
The Wildcats are enjoying one of their best seasons in their history with a top 5 ranking in The Associated Press, Coaches and Bowl Championship Series (BCS) polls. The squad is known for its ball-controlling offense led by Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Collin Klein and an improving defense. However, the special teams segment is still a significant factor in the team's success.
Seeing that Doerr is averaging a pedestrian 40.8 yards per punt, a casual fan might not see the value he provides to the Wildcats. What does not show up in the stat column is the fact that he has downed seven punts inside the 20-yard-line this season, including five against Oklahoma alone, for which he was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week. With the Wildcats' offensive style of play revolving around time of possession and field position, Doerre can change the complexion of a game with a few shorter-than-average kicks.
"Ryan is a good worker," said Snyder in his weekly press conference following the Wildcats 24-19 win over then-fifth ranked Oklahoma. "He takes a lot of pride in his skill level and his contribution to our football team and special teams. It is a field position ball game, and there are a lot of things that contributed to field position and certainly Ryan's punting is one of them."
Unlike Doerr, Cantele's stats might jump off the page at you as he is a perfect 39-for-39 on extra points and a Big 12-best 9-for-10 on field goals so far in 2012. But like Doerr, Cantele is just as important to K-State's success as starting wide receiver Chris Harper or All-American candidate linebacker Arthur Brown, even if the general public does not recognize their names.
So after starting this season with a perfect 7-0 mark, including key road wins at Oklahoma and West Virginia, some might think that this pair of Wildcat special teamers might be content with their performance enough to coast through the remainder of this season. But just like the head coach of the Wildcats, each player is focusing on one thing - improving every day
"We like to set our goals very high, especially after the season that we had last year" Doerr said. "We look at what we did last year and we just want to keep getting better and better as this season goes on."