K-State’s 9 Best Kick/Punt Returners Since 1989 Derek Larson December 14, 2015 Wildcat First Down Morgan Burns led the nation in kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. To date, he has earned First Team All-American honors from USA Today and CBSSports.com, and Second Team honors from the Associated Press. The Wildcat senior made such an impact with his feet that the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week award now reads “If lost, please return to: Morgan Burns,” on the back. Number 33 was literally untouchable at times, but where does he rank in relation to other Wildcat greats? With Bill Snyder knowing games can change on one return, K-State has long excelled on special teams. Even during Snyder’s sabbatical, during the reign of the coach who shall not be named, the Wildcats were threats to take a return to the house*. *A metaphorical term used to describe the end zone. Presumably because one’s home is really the only place where it should be socially acceptable to perform some touchdown dances. With history (since the beginning of Snyder’s first tenure, apologies to Veryl Switzer) in mind, I attempted to rank the nine best kick and punt returners to sprint down the sideline at Bill Snyder Family (formerly KSU) Stadium. Why nine? I just miss Percell Gaskins, I guess. Keep in mind, these rankings are mine alone. If you feel strongly that Michael Smith should not have been omitted, that I have not given Yamon Figurs enough respect, or that your octogenarian grandmother’s bridge-loving hairdresser could have done a better job ranking these youngsters, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter*. *Shameless Twitter plug: @dereklarson 9. Tramaine Thompson The goods: Career (2010-2013): 26.5 yards per kick return, 1 touchdown; 14.1 yards per punt return, 1 touchdown; Video Thompson’s career overlapped Tyler Lockett’s which meant he was often overlooked both on offense and in the return game, but his results are tough to ignore. In fact, Lockett did not see extensive time as the primary punt returner until 2013, after Thompson had graduated. Thompson led the nation in yards per punt return (19.8) in 2012. 8. Yamon Figurs The goods: Career (2004-2006): 23.8 yards per kick return, 1 touchdown; 11.5 yards per punt return, 2 touchdowns; Video In the mid-2000s, speed had a name, and that name sounded a lot like the beginning of a sentence about solving a puzzle. Yamon may never have figured out the issues with K-State’s offense at the end of Snyder’s first run, but he showcased game-breaking speed along the way. Figurs ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Combine in 2007, which is the 14th-fastest time since 2000. 7. Andre Coleman The goods: Career (1990-1993): 24.3 yards per kick return; 13.4 yards per punt return, 2 touchdowns; Video Coleman is a sentimental favorite; I was actually surprised that Coleman came in this low in my rankings. Coleman’s career coincided with my true discovery of K-State football. I’ll never forget* his punt return for a touchdown against Wyoming in the 1993 Copper Bowl (check the video link above). Coleman was the original of what became a very successful model of receiver under Snyder (undersized, insanely quick). Coleman’s success continued to the NFL, where he returned a kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown. (I believe you can find a spoken-word account of the return at the library under the title of “The Only Thing the Chargers Did Right in Super Bowl XXIX.) 6. Terence Newman The goods: Career (1999-2002): 26.1 yards per kickoff return, 1 touchdown; 15.4 yards per punt return, 2 touchdowns; Newman was known much more for being a lockdown cornerback; it was his Jim Thorpe Award-winning efforts on the defensive side of the football that made him the No. 5 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. His speed (Big 12 Outdoor Champion in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.29 seconds) was a natural fit in the return game, as well. Newman did not see extensive action as a punt returner until his senior year, but made up for lost time by returning two punts for scores that season. 5. Aaron Lockett The goods: Career (1998-2001): 25.3 yards per kick return, 1 touchdown; 15.6 yards per punt return, 3 touchdowns; Video In 2000, K-State had a problem. Senior David Allen (you might read his name again later) was injured and the Wildcats needed a new punt returner. Hello, Lockett. The diminutive speedster scored on the first punt he fielded. He scored three punt return touchdowns that year. He led the nation in yards per punt return – 22.8… that’s not a typo. We should all have our problems solved so effectively. 4. Brandon Banks The goods: Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year in 2009; Career (2008-2009): 28.5 yards per kick return, 5 touchdowns; 9.5 yards per punt return; Video The only two-year player on the list, Banks made his mark in a hurry. He led the nation in kickoffs returned for touchdowns (4) and led the Big 12 in kickoff return yardage (1,127) in 2009. He lacked size (despite sports-reference.com listing him at 6-3, 280 lbs, which I assume was the size of his car), but was the perfect fit in Sean Snyder’s return schemes upon the re-establishment of the Snyder Dynasty in Manhattan. 3. Morgan Burns The goods: First Team All-American USA Today and CBSSports.com, Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year in 2015; Career (2012-2015): 30.3 yards per kick return, 5 touchdowns; Video The reason this whole list is happening rolls in at No. 4. Burns brought home the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week Award for a record four consecutive weeks. In a season where finding offense has – at times – been akin to finding a needle in the Pacific Ocean, Burns’ explosiveness in the return game has been a true game-changer*. At the start of the 2015 season, I had no intention of ranking Burns as one of the top three (or top five… or top 15) return men to wear K-State purple, but his season has been impossible to ignore. *Please note: Games changed in regards to scores and leads. At no time did Burns’ performance result in coaches conferring and deciding to play Bocce instead. 2. Tyler Lockett The goods: Consensus All-American in 2014, Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014; Career (2011-2014): 28.5 yards per kick return, 4 touchdowns; 15.3 yards per punt return, 2 touchdowns; Video The top wide receiver in K-State history was no slouch in the return game, and he’s currently making sure NFL opponents have a chance to find that out every week. In 2011, Lockett averaged 35.2 yards per kickoff return, leading the nation. Read that again. Thirty-five-point-two yards per kickoff return. That’s a video game number. In 2011 and 2012, Lockett led the Big 12 in kickoffs returned for touchdowns, with two each season. I’m not sure whether that stat speaks more to Lockett’s astounding ability, or to the stubbornness of Big 12 coaches. Quit kicking to him! 1. David Allen The goods: Consensus All-American in 1998; Career (1997-2000): 26.9 yards per kick return; 16.0 yards per punt return, 7 (SEVEN!) touchdowns; Video The 1998 holds many distinctions in K-State lore. It was the season the Wildcats finally beat Nebraska. It was the season the Wildcats grabbed a No. 1 ranking. It was the season that punt returns became the most anticipated events every Saturday. During the 1998 season, running back David Allen legally changed his name to “Da-Vid Al-Len Clap Clap ClapClapClap!” And he did so by the will of thousands of K-State fans chanting his name every time the opposing punter took the field. Punt returns were not just a chance to regain possession of the football. They were an event. Allen averaged 22.1 yards per punt return in 1998, taking four punts back for scores. He returned punts for touchdowns in three consecutive weeks, becoming the only player to EVER do so in the NCAA. In K-State’s media guide, the section that contains punt return records simply says “David Allen was here.” With his feet doing things considered illegal in 48 states, Allen became the standard by which all K-State kick and punt returners will forever be judged. There you have it: nine incredible return men, giving K-State the support necessary for the school to change its name to Kick Return U, should they ever deem it a good marketing ploy.