When Denzel Goolsby signed with Kansas State two years ago, everyone wanted to know what position he would play.
Would the 5-foot-11, 192-pound speedster continue making plays at running back like he did for so many years at Bishop Carroll? Or would he slide over to receiver and gain yards in a new way?
Recruiting experts simply branded him an athlete, the type of versatile football player that can help a football team in multiple ways. It seemed wrong to box him into a single position. They were right.
Goolsby, now a redshirt sophomore, is ready to help the Wildcats in a way few predicted when he left Wichita. On Tuesday, K-State coach Bill Snyder named him the team’s starting strong safety.
“He deserved it,” K-State defensive back D.J. Reed said. “He worked hard all year. He definitely deserves a chance. It will be exciting to see what he does.”
Fans will certainly have an eye on Goolsby during his first college start. No one has seen him make a big play outside of K-State practice since he was in high school. But he is ready for his debut. Starting for K-State’s defense this season was his primary goal when he made the switch from offense last year.
Goolsby started his K-State career at receiver, but switched to the other side of the ball when coaches suggested he could provide the secondary with needed depth. Not an easy choice for someone that had spent his entire football life on offense. But there was no heir apparent to former K-State safety Dante Barnett. Goolsby figured he could give himself a leg-up on the starting spot if he spent a season as his understudy. And he did.
Some assumed junior-college transfer Eli Walker would win the job from him during preseason practices, but Goolsby didn’t let that happen. He shined throughout spring and summer scrimmages.
“He is a very conscientious young man, and wherever you played him he would do his dead-level best and give you his best effort,” Snyder said, “and he would do the little extra things that you need to do in order to enhance your performance level. He has done that since he has been on the defensive side ... It has been a very positive move for him.”
Turns out, his experience on offense is beneficial on defense.
“That is what helped me so much, redshirting under coach (Andre) Coleman as a receiver,” Goolsby said. “I was able to learn so much as a receiver — what they might do against a cornerback or a defensive back. On the opposite end, I am using that and guessing their next move based on what I learned.”
Goolsby was a quick study at his new position. He figured he would be. Much a like quarterback surveys a defense and accurately predicts where its weak spots will be, he can read offensive formations.
As hard as it was for him to leave offense behind, he had a funny feeling that he was destined to make tackles instead of score touchdowns.
“It felt pretty natural, from just reacting and speed-wise, that kind of stuff” Goolsby said. “Obviously, I still have a lot to learn play-wise, learning all the schemes, getting really comfortable with the defensive system to the point where I’m not necessarily thinking about it and just reacting. When you aren’t thinking, you are playing fast. Knowing more about my assignments and knowing where to line up were my main goals after the spring.”
When things got tough, he never stayed rattled.
“If everything was easy than there wouldn’t be necessarily motivation to do something special,” Goolsby said.
Hitting was the hardest thing for him to learn. After years of avoiding tackles, he is still figuring out how to level a running back in the open field. But he is getting better.
His coverage needs no such improvement.
After years on offense, Goolsby is ready to show what he can do on defense. His teammates are eager to watch.
“He is a really fast guy,” K-State defensive back Brogan Barry said. “When he makes the right read, he is all over you. If he makes a false step, he can make up for it with his speed. He is going to be able to showcase that. To see his development as a safety is really incredible.”
New to the depth chart
K-State’s depth chart features several first-time starters, in addition to Goolsby.
Senior captain Trent Tanking, and juniors Sam Sizelove and Jayd Kirby are the team’s top three linebackers. Senior Cre Moore or sophomore Johnathan Durham will step in and try to replace Donnie Starks at nickelback.
On offense, Alex Barnes will start his first game at running back after averaging a team-high 7.9 yards per rush last season. But Snyder said Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack will both see action, as well.
Isaiah Zuber won K-State’s third starting spot at receiver, beating out Isaiah Harris, Dalton Schoen and Carlos Strickland, who are all listed as backups behind Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath.
At quarterback, there appears to be a tight race for the backup job behind starter Jesse Ertz. Alex Delton or Skylar Thompson could both serve as the No. 2 quarterback against Central Arkansas, though Delton seems to have an edge. Snyder said Delton, a sophomore, will have a consistent role in the offense, even as a backup.
The starting offensive line will be Scott Frantz (left tackle), Abdul Beecham (left guard), Adam Holtorf (center), Tyler Mitchell (right ruard) and Dalton Risner (right tackle). The starting defensive line will be Reggie Walker, Will Geary, Trey Dishon and Tanner Wood.
Starting tackle, backup center
Dalton Risner is one of the nation’s top right tackles, but he got his start at center. And if anything happens to Holtorf this season, he might move back to his original position.
Snyder said Risner will act as K-State’s backup center with expected starter Reid Najvar sitting out the year, reportedly because of concussion issues. If Holtorf is unable to snap the ball, you might see Risner move to the middle of K-State’s offensive line and Bryce Fitzner take over at right tackle.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett