MANHATTAN, Kan. – Gerald Leonard remembers watching Daniel Sams perform on the high school fields along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. There were times when the coach would stand back and simply marvel at his talented young star.
Plays would break down and Sams would make something out of nothing.
It was just like magic.
"That's a unique quality to have," Leonard told The Associated Press this week. "The improvisation stuff that he was able to do on the field for us when things broke down and didn't go as designed, they were a lot of times highlight roll material."
Sams only threw for 577 yards his senior year at Salmen High School near New Orleans, but he piled up more than 3,000 all-purpose yards while also playing wide receiver, running back, kick returner and, yes, even the punter. That got the attention of schools such as Oklahoma and LSU, many of which wanted him to play just about anything except quarterback.
But when Kansas State coach Bill Snyder gave Sams a shot to play the game's marquee position, he jumped at the opportunity. Now, Sams is the Wildcats' leading rusher while coming off the bench in a two-QB system, and he's making it hard for Snyder to keep him off the field headed into Saturday's game against Massachusetts.
"I'm just thinking about making the most of my opportunities," Sams said. "If I'm successful, I'll see my playing time increase."
Sams backed up Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein last season, and was in a heated race with junior college transfer Jake Waters to start this season. Waters won out for an opening loss to North Dakota State and a 48-27 win over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday night, but with every hip-swiveling run, Sams is making his mark on the Wildcats.
Snyder even compared him to another Heisman Trophy finalist, Michael Bishop, who had offers to play other positions coming out of junior college but chose the Wildcats to play quarterback.
"It was kind of like sandlot football because they were talented, "Snyder said. "They could just go out and play the game and have success with it regardless of whether they were doing the right things or not. Their athletic ability made up for a lack of understanding of things.
"That's the way Michael came," Snyder said, "and that's the way Daniel came."
Sams showed off that elusiveness last season, when he ran for 235 yards as a backup. But he threw just eight passes all season, and questions remain about his passing ability.
"Daniel has the ability to accurately distribute the football either down field or in a short controlled passing game," Leonard said. "As he grows and improves on his reads in that offense, he has plenty of capabilities to be a great throwing quarterback."
In the meantime, the Wildcats are rolling with a two quarterback system.
Waters is completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 279 yards per game, while Sams has run for 80 yards on just 10 carries — including two electrifying touchdown runs.
"Jake is a good young quarterback and Daniel is a good young quarterback," Snyder said. "You've got two guys who need to be on the field and we have to find ways or continue to find and cultivate ways in order to utilize both of them. I think it's to our advantage to be able to do so as long as we do it the right way."
Having competed on the scout team his first year in the program, Sams has begun his second season in a more prominent role. Only time will tell where the versatile quarterback's journey will go, but his high school coach sees plenty of development in his future.
"For some guys, the game just moves a little too quick," Leonard said. "For Daniel that has never been a problem. Once he feels more and more comfortable in the K-State offense, I think his mind is going to slow down even more. He's going to get better and better at doing great things with the football whether it's in his hands or by giving it to somebody else."