BY KENT PULLIAM
MICHAEL BISHOP GRINS WHEN REMINDED OF "THE TACKLE" Senior year. Willis High. State playoffs against Henderson. Bishop kicked off -- that's right, the kicker/punter/quarterback/linebacker had more slashes to his game than Kordell Stewart -- and the poor guy who fielded the ball made the mistake of also returning it. Bishop ran the length of the field, zeroed in on his target and delivered what his coach called "the most bone-jarring hit you can imagine."
Bishop doesn't get to administer those types of lickin's anymore, having since devoted himself to the quarterback position in college.
But he has never lost that toughness, and it has served him well in his two years as the centerpiece cum masterpiece of Kansas State's wildly prolific offense. Although slight in appearance at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he is sturdy and hard-nosed enough for K-State to design single-wing-style running plays for him out of the shotgun.
Mind you, such an offensive set demands a quarterback with a little swerve in his arm, too, and this is where Bishop truly distinguishes himself from the average Jones (or from Corby Jones, the Missouri quarterback to whom Bishop is often compared). Bishop possesses a monstrously strong arm -- he once casually unleashed a 93-yard bomb during a preseason workout -- and can gun it dropping back or on the run. Combine that arm strength with his toughness and extraordinary athleticism, and what you have is a quarterback capable of drool-inducing displays of heroics. To wit: In a game against Ohio University last season, he tossed a 41-yard completion after being flushed from the pocket, bouncing off two defensive linemen and circling nearly 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage. "He's blessed with a big arm, and he likes to show it off," says Willie Fritz, the football coach at Central Missouri State who coached Bishop at Blinn Junior College in Texas before Bishop enrolled at K-State. "He likes to go downtown. That's the one thing we had to caution our defensive backs about in practice. You can never relax. Sometimes receivers get so far downfield that the defensive backs get into a comfort zone. They see the quarterback scrambling, and they think they're safe because he can't throw it that far. Not with Michael."
Now that pro scouts are a little more receptive to the concept of "multipurpose" quarterbacks (thanks, Kordell), Bishop should find a home in the NFL. Though not ideally sized, he's of similar stature to Steve Young and Mark Brunell, a couple of mobile Pro Bowlers to whom Bishop can be compared. And though his less-than-robust 43-percent completion rate in his junior year caused some concern, he's been much more efficient this season. Indeed, his overall package is so impressive that most scouts list him as one of the top five QB prospects in what Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel Terry Bradway calls a "decent year for quarterbacks."
It helps that Kansas State has been a Sunday School of sorts for Bishop. The Wildcats' notoriously soft schedule has allowed him to showcase his skills and, just as importantly, demonstrate his mental grasp of the game. All the while, K-State has rolled off victory after victory, further reinforcing Bishop's reputation as a winner.
"He has some of those intrinsic values that tend to inspire other people," Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder says. "Michael is a competitive guy, and when you're around competitive people, that rubs off. Some of the things Michael does rub off on other people. He also realizes that you have to have the right amount of successes before people will follow you. You have to be able to do things on and off the field well enough that other people have respect for you. He does those things."
Until recently, the NFL was the farthest thing from Bishop's mind. After graduating from high school, he labored in near obscurity at Blinn JC for two years. His numbers weren't particularly impressive, and he was only a supporting piece of a two time JUCO championship puzzle. At that time, winning preoccupied Bishop's mind, in particular the Division I college national championship.
"I told my high school coach when I was going to junior college that I dreamed of winning two national championships back-to-back," Bishop says. "I had a dream. We're in front of a big crowd. We're undefeated. We're playing an undefeated team, and one is going to win the national championship."
Bishop might want to add an amendment to that dream, one that includes mesmerizing NFL success . . . if not as a quarterback then surely as the NFL's baddest place kicker around.
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