Spring football practice is one week old at Kansas State, and so is coach Bill Snyder’s search for a new quarterback.
The race is on to replace record-setting passer Jake Waters. The leading candidates are Joe Hubener, Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton.
At the moment, they are locked in a position battle that will likely stretch past spring and into summer. The winner will lead an offense that could end up looking drastically different than it did a year ago.
There is currently no favorite, Snyder said Tuesday at his first news conference of the spring, but Hubener is treating the competition as if it is his to lose.
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“I beat out Jesse last fall, so, obviously, my goal is to hold him off and not let anybody catch me,” Hubener said. “But it’s spring practice and we all knew things will be competitive. It is not going to be handed to me, for sure. It could be anybody’s job. It is open.”
Hubener, a junior and former walk-on, would seem to have the upper hand on his teammates because of his experience as the primary backup last season. Hubener, a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder, was a garbage-time hero behind Waters. Seeing time late in seven games, he threw for 235 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
K-State co-offensive coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller raved about Hubener’s arm strength after the season and said he was ready to lead the offense.
That meant a lot to Hubener. He played quarterback, receiver and defensive back at Cheney (Kan.) High School, never starting a game under center. He wants that to change.
“As bad as I want anything,” Hubener said. “I have never started a game of high school football at quarterback, so this would be my first starting game as a quarterback. That is something pretty huge for me. It is crazy.”
Teammates say Hubener’s body and playing style are ready for the adjustment, comparing him to former quarterback Collin Klein. They describe Hubener as a dual-threat player.
“Joe is a guy who will lower his shoulder down and get that extra yard,” left tackle Cody Whitehair said. “You want a guy who can do both (throw and run). You don’t want a one-dimensional offense. That is what coach Snyder stresses. He likes guys who are two-dimensional.”
“It is significant to get back to having that as a part of our offense so that it always presents itself,” Snyder said. “If you take (the quarterback run game) away, we are two-dimensional instead of being three-dimensional.”
Snyder will end up with a multi-dimensional quarterback, no matter who wins the job. While Waters preferred to throw downfield to standout receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton — especially afer injuring his shoulder midway through the season — Hubener, Ertz and Delton all like to make plays with their legs as well as their arms.
Ertz, a former top high school quarterback from Iowa, played in four games last season as the Wildcats’ third-stringer. The sophomore threw for 46 yards and added 26 on the ground.
He thought it was a good season. Ertz dedicated his time to film study and learning everything he could under Waters. Now he is ready to challenge for more.
“It is definitely a lot more fun being in the mix and take competitive reps,” Ertz said. “Every time you are out there you know it really really matters. I feel better than I ever have.”
Snyder said Hubener and Ertz are currently the clear top-two options, but Delton is also in the competition.
“I do not like to talk about a freshman, but he has caught our eye,” Snyder said. “I think he is going to be in the mix.”
Fans will get their first look at that mix at the spring game on April 25. Until then, it will be fascinating for Snyder to watch.
“They are all a little bit different,” Snyder said. “Their skill sets are not necessarily at different arenas but at different levels. Some guys are a little better at one skill set than the other guy and so on down the road. … Everybody is kind of at a different level right now.”
‘Work in progress’
Snyder described the Wildcats as “a work in progress” after four spring practices. He said the first practice went well, but he was disappointed by the next three. His hope is that ending the fourth practice with a scrimmage will motivate players to bring more effort this week.
Clinkscales on the team?
Senior defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales is not practicing, and Snyder said his future playing status is undecided.
“He and I are at odds right now,” Snyder said.
Clinkscales transferred to K-State from Dodge City Community College last season, playing in eight games. He made two tackles as a reserve.
Snyder singled out several players for having strong starts to spring practices on Tuesday.
He said Kyle Klein has been a pleasant surprise at receiver, rebounding from an injury that kept him out of every game last season. Snyder mentioned Sam Sizelove and Trent Tanking as up-and-coming linebackers. And he said Dalvin Warmack is playing well enough to challenge Charles Jones are running back, if Jones does not improve on his sophomore season.
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