Kansas State’s best receiver is a walk-on sophomore from Overland Park who grew up dreaming about catching touchdown passes for the Wildcats, but the sudden and unexpected rise of Dalton Schoen is more than just a feel-good story.
His eye-popping production has shown what he is capable of, despite getting completely overlooked as a high school recruit out of Blue Valley Northwest. It has also revealed how poorly K-State’s scholarship receivers have played.
Schoen leads all K-State receivers with 269 yards and three touchdown catches. He also boasts a team-high catch rate of 84.6 percent. And he has done it on 13 targets, a number that ranks third behind Isaiah Zuber (31) and Byron Pringle (18). Efficiency is his forte.
His highlights include a 70-yard touchdown catch against Central Arkansas and an 82-yarder against Texas in which he outran 11 defenders to end zone. Not bad, considering K-State coach Bill Snyder likes to crack jokes about his speed.
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“He is slower than I am, and the youngster that was chasing him runs faster than most players we have,” Snyder said. “When he caught the ball, there was about five yards of separation. When he crossed the goal line, there was five yards of separation. That is just heart. That is what I took away from the play, and what I appreciate about it so much.”
The rest of K-State’s receivers haven’t matched that type of heart or talent. It’s been all downhill for the passing game since the Wildcats got off to a scintillating start by throwing for 333 yards and four touchdowns against Central Arkansas.
Isaiah Zuber has been solid, catching 20 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, but his teammates have struggled. Byron Pringle, expected to pick up where he left off last season as a No. 1 receiver, has caught seven passes for 174 yards and a touchdown while battling drops. Dominique Heath has only contributed in two games, and Isaiah Harris has gone three straight games without a catch.
Against Texas, the Wildcats went away from that group and featured Schoen as their top receiver, moving him around and targeting him on important passing plays. He stepped up and played well under pressure. K-State threw for 254 yards and touchdowns. Schoen accounted for 128 of those yards, and both scores. He could have used some help.
“It was definitely an improvement,” Schoen said. “We had better execution and did a better job of being where we needed to be. We spread the ball around and made some catches. There is still room to get better, and we have to obviously do better if we want to win the game.”
Even with the good outing, the Wildcats have averaged 156.8 passing yards in their past four games.
“Our numbers have just dropped off in the last two or three ballgames considerably throwing the ball,” Snyder said. “We are way down in the conference in regards to throwing it. Now, we are playing in a conference that likes to throw it around, but, by the same token, even in efficiency we are down lower than I would have anticipated.”
What will it take to spark K-State’s passing game? Pringle seems like the key. The Wildcats were at their best offensively late last season when he topped 100 receiving yards in back-to-back games against TCU and Texas A&M. When he followed that up with 121 yards and a touchdown against Central Arkansas, many thought he was on his way to a big year. But he has slumped hard since, catching four passes for 53 yards.
He seemed to disappear from the game plan after an early drop against Texas. His only catch came on a deflected pass intended for fullback Winston Dimel.
Still, K-State has confidence in him.
“Byron has been good, I just feel like we haven’t gotten the ball to him as much as we could have,” K-State quarterback Alex Delton said. “He is one of those guys who just stands out. He’s big and strong. I am excited to get the ball to him and let him make some of those plays we know he is capable of making, the plays we see him make in practice all the time, the plays that give you confidence as a quarterback.”
Snyder says Pringle and his fellow receivers are heading in the right direction. But they’ve got a ways to go before they catch up to Schoen.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett