MANHATTAN, Kan. – Ty Zimmerman knows when to turn it up.
When practice is getting monotonous or his teammates on No. 4 Kansas State need a big stop on third down, the junior safety and team captain mimics the motion of twisting a dial.
"One day in practice, I saw some guys over there cranking it up," linebacker Arthur Brown said. "They call it turning the tempo up. We just all seemed to gather together and rally around it. It's definitely been his leadership that has helped us propel as a defense."
Though the gesture started with Zimmerman and fellow defensive back Allen Chapman, everyone on defense knows what it means now.
"It's just emphasizing we need to tune in, dial in and regain our focus," Brown said.
With four interceptions in the last four games, Zimmerman exemplifies the progress of a Kansas State secondary that was a perceived weakness after allowing 263.4 yards passing per game last season.
Kansas State hasn't allowed more than 21 points to any of its seven opponents this season, and that includes West Virginia. The Wildcats picked off Heisman Trophy candidate Geno Smith twice and limited him to 143 yards passing, his only touchdown toss coming when the Wildcats were well on their way to a 55-14 victory last Saturday.
Brown had one interception, Zimmerman the other.
"You look at that from most points of view, and that looks like it's going to be a big play for West Virginia, and all of a sudden here comes Ty," wide receiver Curry Sexton said. "He just had himself into a good situation and kind of baited Geno into that throw, which is kind of what Ty does. He just puts himself in good situations.
"On top of that, Ty is a very athletic person. He has so many capabilities," Sexton said. "He just has a presence on the field, more so than everything."
That presence comes from being the son of a high school coach.
Zimmerman's father, Randall, is the head coach at nearby Junction City, and that means the young playmaker grew up with a front-row seat for the Wildcats.
"He wasn't recruited real highly," Randall Zimmerman said. "He had a couple other options, but then when K-State came forward, offered him a gray shirt, he jumped on that right away. There was no question where he was going to go and what he was going to do."
What Zimmerman would do — like so many other high school quarterbacks — was switch positions, and then excel at his new spot on the field.
"He has a tremendous capacity to be able to have a global understanding of both defenses and offenses," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "Coming from the offensive side of the ball to defense, you have a better understanding, particularly at that position, of what offenses do and what they are trying to do and how they go about doing it."
Zimmerman already has nine interceptions in his career, putting him on pace to match the school record of 15 set by Jaime Mendez, a consensus All-American, from 1990-93. Snyder said he sees similarities between Zimmerman and Mendez, the former safety who played two decades ago and is now enshrined in Kansas State's Ring of Honor.
"Both of them are instinctive players," Snyder said. "Jaime had a great feel for the game. I think Ty has a very positive feel for the game as well. Not just from their position standpoint, but a collective vision of both offense and defense. Both of them were good leaders in terms of being able to give guidance and direction to their teammates on the field, and both of them are young guys that worked hard and did everything right."
Snyder and players are keeping the improvement of the secondary in perspective. West Virginia's passing offense was ranked second in the league last week. Now, Texas Tech has taken over that spot, and the Red Raiders come to Manhattan this Saturday.
"It gives us a lot of confidence, but we can't get too high on that," said Jarard Milo, who starts next to Zimmerman in the Kansas State defensive backfield. "Obviously, we have a great team in Texas Tech coming in this week, who does the same things West Virginia can do, and so for us to be able to contain them, that's what we're looking into."