MANHATTAN, Kan. – A charter member of the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame and K-State Football Ring of Honor, former Wildcat halfback Veryl Switzer passed away on Saturday at the age of 89.
One of the best overall athletes in K-State history, Switzer was also a trailblazer and opened the doors for many that followed him, as he was the first African American scholarship player to graduate from K-State.
“Today is a sad day for Kansas State University,” Athletics Director Gene Taylor said. “Veryl was one of the most influential and impactful K-Staters in our lifetime and helped pave the way for so many others to follow in his footsteps. He will be forever remembered as a true trailblazer as we keep his family and friends in our thoughts and prayers.”
Switzer’s K-State legacy began in 1950 when he accepted an athletic scholarship, and he went on to pick up All-America honors in three consecutive seasons from 1951 to 1953. One of the most well-rounded players in the school’s history, he was a team leader in practically every statistical category. He led the team in rushing in 1952 and 1953, while he was one of the best punt returners in school history. Nearly 70 years after his final season as a Wildcat, he still ranks in the top 10 for a career in five punt-return categories: touchdowns (t2nd; 3), longest return (t3rd; 93), yards (6th; 596), average (6th; 14.2) and attempts (9th; 42).
Voted the team’s most inspirational player in 1953, the Wildcats broke a string of five straight seventh-place finishes in the Big Seven that year by skyrocketing to second.
Switzer’s success wasn’t limited to the football field though. He was the Big Seven Indoor Long Jump Champion in 1952 and garnered three letters in track and field.
Following his senior season, Switzer was a favorite invitee of the college all-star games. He co-captained the West team in the 1954 East/West Shrine Game and was the runner-up for MVP honors. He earned the same honor in the Chicago Tribune’s College All-Star game against the World Champion Detroit Lions.
Switzer was the first halfback and the fourth player overall selected in the 1954 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. To this day, he remains the highest drafted player in school history. During his rookie season, Switzer topped the NFL in punt returns with a 13-yard average. However, professional football was interrupted for Switzer from 1956 to 1958 as he entered the U.S. Air Force as a first lieutenant. It was back to the gridiron in 1958 when he played for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He completed his pro stint in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes from 1959 to 1960.
Following his playing days, Switzer spent a decade working at the Chicago Board of Education before returning to K-State in an administrative capacity in 1969. At first, he was charged to develop the school’s first university-wide student minority program. Additionally, Switzer wrote the original grant proposal and was awarded one of the nation’s comprehensive federal programs for minority student support, which went to educational supportive services and talent search.
Many programs – some that are still in motion today – were developed under Switzer’s leadership, including Ebony Theater, United Black Voices, Hispanic advocacy groups and Black Student Union. For decades, the university enjoyed increased student enrollments and graduation rates and attracted more faculty and staff of color, all a direct product of Switzer’s energy and passion for students. He then went on to work in the athletic department until his retirement.
Switzer graduated from K-State in 1954 with a degree in physical education, while he earned his master’s in education from K-State in 1974.
Switzer was a charter member of the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame (1990) and K-State Football Ring of Honor (2002). He is also a member of the Kansas All Sports Hall of Fame and the Big Eight Sportswriters Football Hall of Fame.