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K-State community shows resolve alongside coach after cancer treatment

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Outside of Bill Snyder Family Stadium stands an 8-foot bronze statue of the Kansas State football coach. Stretches of highway north of this college town are named after the man.

He has lived and worked here since 1989, and his legacy requires no explanation to the legions of K-State fans near and far.

Of late, though, they're concerned about Snyder, 77, a fixture of the sideline for the Wildcats in 25 of the past 28 seasons who, in 2015, became the fourth coach ever to enter the College Football Hall of Fame while still active.

Snyder revealed in February that he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. On Tuesday, in his first public comments about the situation, Snyder said his battle began before K-State's victory over Texas A&M in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Dec. 29.

In Manhattan, where Snyder is beloved, the mood is colored by a mix of resolve and apprehension. He remains at work as the Wildcats, who went 9-4 last season and are considered Big 12 contenders in 2017, progress through the second week of spring practice. Snyder has cut his hours in the office and offers no hint of his plans after next season.

"It really shows me how tough he is," K-State cornerback D.J. Reed said. "Coaches can talk about stuff, but he's going through something right now. ... He's fighting for his life."

Snyder told his players of the cancer diagnosis after the school released his statement amid growing speculation in the public and media. In delivering the news, Reed said, Snyder remained strong, a staple of his tenure at K-State that has undoubtedly impacted his players and the fan base.

"We're all extremely saddened," running back Alex Barnes said. "It's tough, but we know he's going to be able to battle through it. He talks to us about stuff like that all time. We know he's going to be able to overcome it, just based on his values."

Others, too, are buoyed by Snyder's battle-tested persona.

"He's been here a long time, and I think people continue to assume that he's going to be here," said Rob Goode, a former K-State center and nose guard who owns the So Long Saloon near campus. "Something like that’s not going to beat him.

"That's the perception of the whole program. We come to work, and we fight. No one is going to expect anything different out of him."

Kansas State won more than three games one time in the 10 years before Snyder, enduring a 27-game winless streak that extended into his first season. He has won 202 games at the school and led the Wildcats to 11 consecutive bowl appearances, from 1993 to 2003.

Goode, who attended Kansas State in the five years before Snyder's arrival, said he maintains a perception of the program as "very fragile."

"Because I know how bad it was and how good it got," he said.

Snyder represents strength, even in the aftermath of cancer treatment.

"Every year when he says he's coming back, that's what he does," Goode said. "To me, personally, it's going to be a bigger shock when he says he's done. You just assumed he'd be there every year."

He won't, of course, and perhaps that reality has hit home around Manhattan over the past two months.

"He's part of people's family," said Kate Parker, 24. "They come here to watch the games and to watch him. I think they love him. They really love him."

Riley County Police Department officer Josh Opat grew up in Manhattan and learned from his father at a young age about the Wildcats -- just as Snyder built his program in the Big Eight.

When Opat chose a college, Kansas State was a "foregone conclusion," he said.

"The things that have happened in this town would not be possible if it were not for him," said Opat, a 2007 K-State graduate. "A lot of people feel that way. I feel that way. Everybody recognizes his greatness and what he's done.

"He is a man, of course, but I think there's a little bit of deification that happens when people think about Bill Snyder."

Opat said he senses from the K-State community an understanding of the inevitabilities at hand.

"People have been preparing themselves for what the next step might be," Opat said. "He's obviously really strong, but it sucks. Yeah, eventually, everybody knew ..."

Opat did not finish the last sentence. Similar sentiments exist among the Wildcats players, but they're intent this year to avoid riding the waves of emotion.

"He's out there," linebacker Trent Tanking said. "He tells us to get going. He's still coaching us. He's still making notes. He's still getting on us whenever we do things wrong. As far as we're concerned, he's still our great coach who will lead us wherever we go."