(Photo: Kelly Glasscock, 247Sports)

MANHATTAN, Kansas — There is one absolute truth about Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder: The man refuses to act his age.

At 77, many men are playing with grandchildren, taking naps and tinkering on some project in the basement. Not Snyder. Snyder will start his 26th season as K-State’s football coach when his Wildcats play host to Central Arkansas inside a football stadium in the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas that bears his name.

Snyder will take the field as the engineer of the greatest turnaround in college football history, with 202 head-coaching victories on his resume and one heck of an impressive come-from-behind win over throat cancer during the offseason.

Someone forgot to tell cancer that Bill Snyder is not your typical septuagenarian.

“He’s kind of an ageless wonder, and he’s a little bit genetically different than most people,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who, along with TCU’s Gary Patterson, are the only other Big 12 coaches over 50 years of age. “I wouldn’t ever think that I could ever even have the energy to recruit and coach at this level, at that age, but he’s continued to have success. As long as he’s doing that, and, obviously, he feels good and is excited about going to work, all the power to him.”

It’s not like cancer didn’t get in its licks. The illness and its treatment took an obvious toll on college football’s wise old wizard. Snyder’s face is drawn from weight he shed. The trademark coffee cup is gone, replaced by a bottle of water. And that habit of eating one meal a day? Snyder is forcing down three meals a day, a practice that he finds distasteful.

Months after chemotherapy treatments have ended, Snyder still clearly needs to add weight, but his energy is back, and the ageless wonder swears he’s himself again.

“I don’t think I feel any different than I ever have. I try to approach things exactly the same as I have before,” Snyder said. “From an emotional standpoint, I don’t think it’s any different than it ever has been. At least that’s my perception of myself. Somebody else might see it differently. I think I’m pretty much the same.”

Snyder’s 26th season as head coach appeared in doubt as summer arrived in Kansas, but as a new season of college football dawns across the land, Snyder will be back on the sideline doing the same things he did in 1989 when he began raising the Kansas State football program from the dead.

It’s impossible for some to understand just how bad K-State football was when he left his job as Iowa’s offensive coordinator to take over the least successful program in college football history. Setting aside the hapless ways of the school’s program going back to the 1920s, when Snyder met with his new players in December of 1988, not a single one had ever won a college football game. The program was on a 30-game winless streak, with the one tie not being viewed as a success in any form. That 17-17 tie in 1987 with rival Kansas is a game still known across the state as the Toilet Bowl.

The hope at K-State was simply to stop the endless embarrassment. Snyder sought so much more. He slowly built the program, and in 1993, his fifth season, he delivered the school its first-ever bowl victory (in just its second bowl). No one could ever predict that the Copper Bowl appearance would set off unfathomable winning: 18 bowls in his next 21 seasons and two Big 12 championships.

Cancer? Dude, it never stood a chance against such determination.

“Well if you know Coach Snyder at all, it should not be a surprise. Any kind of adversity that I’ve ever heard of him facing, he’s always been able to overcome it,” said Kansas coach David Beaty, who is in his third year of his own rebuild down the road in Lawrence. “He’s been able to do it through a variety of different things, but I think No. 1, it’s the commitment and the work ethic he has, and the belief and philosophies carry him through any situation he has in life.”

Every coach in the land knows the work ethic about which Beaty speaks. Snyder grinds even after the midnight oil runs dry. Cancer slowed Snyder, but he didn’t stop. Like the kid who refused to stay down every time he took a schoolyard punch, Snyder climbed to his feet, showing his players exactly what it takes to win.

“Coach Snyder honestly surprised me,” said junior cornerback D.J. Reed, the 2016 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year. “When I found out he had cancer, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I mean, cancer is tough. My mother had it, and chemo takes a toll on people. It’s life or death. You can lose your life.”

Snyder didn’t flinch.

“Honestly, Coach Snyder has been the same as he was last year,” Reed added. “He doesn’t show any weakness, which is crazy to me. For him to be 77 and go about your business like nothing is wrong with you, it showed me how tough he was.”

Cancer swung hard. Bill Snyder got up and rubbed some dirt on it.

“It’s one of those ‘no excuses’ things. We can go out there and it doesn’t matter the circumstances, you just go do it,” said junior tight end Dayton Valentine. “I think it’s the same old Coach Snyder that I’ve been used to for the past four or five years.”

Maybe there is at least one other undeniable truth about Snyder: He also doesn’t embrace change.

He still claims he doesn’t have a clue when this coaching thing will end. He tried retirement after his first 17 seasons and hated it. Now he’s back, and his answer about the future has not changed no matter how often he is asked. Snyder has no idea when he’ll call it quits.

“I’ve answered that question 365 days in the last year, and the answer is still the same. And if it changes, I’ll let you know, but it hasn’t changed,” he said.

The phrase “living legend” is sometimes carelessly tossed about, but when — or is it if? — Snyder retires, maybe the phrase should go play with its grandkids too. Snyder doesn’t just belong in the Hall of Fame, he’s already in it.

“I just believe that we’re going to be hard-pressed to see another one like him in my time,” Beaty said. “I think he’s meant that much to college football, and what he’s done there in Manhattan is nothing short of unbelievable. I wish him nothing but the best. We pray for him every night with my family, and we think college football is a better place with him in it.”