News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Prince makes another visit to state

By Ross Dellenger 340-2462

AUBURN — It was on the week of March 12, 1993, when Ron Prince arrived in Huntsville to begin his first full-time coaching job at Alabama A&M.

The 23-year-old expected to be greeted with warm temperatures and bright sunshine. After all, it was early spring in the Deep South.

He was met, instead, with snow.

A lot of snow.

"They had a major snowstorm, one of the biggest in the history of the state," recalled Prince, now the head coach at Kansas State. "It seemed like it snowed 10 inches."

Try 17.

The massive cyclonic storm that welcomed Prince to the South that spring is referred to by many names: Storm of the Century, '93 Superstorm, the White Hurricane, the Great Blizzard.

It pelted Birmingham with 12 inches of snow and even stretched as far south as the coast, as Prince remembers.

"They even had 2 to 3 inches down in Mobile, which was my recruiting area," said the now 37-year-old Nebraska native. "I found out one thing: People in the South don't know how to drive in snow."

For Prince's sake, he won't have to deal with those crazy Southerners driving in the snow this weekend when he returns to Alabama for Kansas State's game with No. 18 Auburn on Saturday night.

The game day weather forecast calls for some scattered showers, but no snow.

Prince's stint as Alabama A&M's offensive line and tight ends coach lasted only one season, but it helped in his now flourishing coaching career.

The team wasn't all that good, winning four games and losing seven, but one of his lineman, Joe Patton, was drafted in the NFL and played with the Washington Redskins. Prince said that "put him on the coaching map."

"We had no depth on the offensive line," he said. "I even recruited some guys from the student body."

The second-year coach doesn't have to recruit anyone from the student body at Kansas State. Last season, he resurrected a Wildcat program that had fallen into the abyss during former coach Bill Snyder's final two years.

In 17 seasons under Snyder, KSU had seven double-digit-win seasons and 12 bowl appearances. But during his last two seasons, K-State was a combined 9-13, leading to his resignation and the emergence of Prince, who was Virginia's offensive coordinator from 2003-05.

He has since turned the ship around in Manhattan, Kan., leading K-State to a 7-6 record in 2006, highlighted by a win over top-5 Texas. Prince hopes his return trip to Alabama will produce another big victory for his program.

But he faces the facts: a trip to hostile Southeastern Conference territory against a team Prince says has a "legitimate chance of winning the national championship."

"We're not joking ourselves here. We know Auburn is a terrific team with a great tradition and one of the best coaches in college football," Prince said. "But if we play well — which I expect us to — then I like our chances in the game."

If Kansas State, a 13.5-point underdog, is to pull the upset, it needs to find ways to score on an AU defense that lost only four starters from last season's club.

Ranked 85th nationally as an offense last season, the Wildcats return most of their skill players, including a sophomore quarterback, senior receiver and two tailbacks.

Similar to Auburn, which will rotate three running backs, K-State has a dual-running back system with senior James Johnson and sophomore Leon Patton.

The two combined for 1,069 yards last season and were separated by only 10 carries. As a true freshman, Patton led the team in rushing with 640 yards in 2006 and averaged 5.6 yards per carry, but it is Johnson who will get the starting nod Saturday after an impressive preseason.

Still, Patton may be the most lethal weapon on the team, not just on offense. The 5-foot-7, 187-pounder also returns kicks for the Wildcats, tallying 321 return yards last season, including a 95-yarder for a touchdown.

Quarterback Josh Freeman will throw most if not all of the passes. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder started Kansas State's final eight games of the season as a true freshman last year. The Sporting News has claimed Freeman to have the strongest arm in the Big 12.

"I think the first thing that everybody can see is that in big games he's very poised and emotionally neutral," Prince said.

Freeman had a bumpy final two games of last season, throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns in two losses. He completed 51 percent of his passes for the year.

But his go-to receiver Jordy Nelson, who led the team with 39 catches for 547 yards in 2006, is confident the sophomore can get the job done, even if Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves is in his face. "He's developed as a whole quarterback," Nelson said, "from a confidence level to the knowledge of the playbook to knowing his reads."

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