If it wasn’t already evident from the kickball tournament or lighthearted videos the Kansas State football team shared on social media throughout spring practice, the Wildcats left no doubt on the final play of their open scrimmage last weekend.
There is a new vibe in Manhattan.
That much was clear when dozens of K-State football players raced to congratulate Sammy Wheeler after the converted tight end closed out the team’s spring showcase with a one-handed catch over his left shoulder from Ryan Henington that technically didn’t count because his toes landed out of bounds.
On-field celebrations were discouraged before new K-State coach Chris Klieman arrived in December. Now they are encouraged, or at least allowed.
“I think guys are so much more excited,” senior receiver Dalton Schoen said. “It’s stuff like that. You see a receiver make a big play, and you’re not scared to run 50 yards and go congratulate him. It’s stuff like that. It makes practice way more fun.”
That sentiment seems to be shared by the vast majority of returning K-State football players. Without saying anything negative about Bill Snyder or their former position coaches, they agree this rendition of spring practice featured more energy and excitement than usual.
“It’s very fun,” junior linebacker Elijah Sullivan said. “I feel like there is a new vibe, a lot of new energy. A lot of the guys are bouncing around like they’ve got springs in their shoes now. I feel like everyone is just liking the change.”
There are several reasons for the change in atmosphere.
Music is one of them. Klieman played hip-hop music during portions of every practice to help players stay relaxed and energized. He also kept practices short, limiting most drill work and scrimmages to under two hours. And players say they liked going head-to-head with each other during physical one-on-one drills.
“The main difference is there is just a ton of energy,” center Adam Holtorf said. “From the pre-practice music to some of the drills we have been doing, there is a ton of energy and it is contagious. I think everyone has kind of caught the bug, so to speak, and everyone is excited to be out there pushing each other and working to get better.”
On a scale of 1-10, K-State defensive back Walter Neil says energy levels rarely topped an eight last season. But they were a consistent 9.5 this spring.
“Sometimes it was just a lot last year,” Neil said. “The practices were a lot longer. I feel like the structure Coach Klieman has is going to be beneficial for the players. Although his practices are shorter we are going out there and competing every play. I’m not seeing a period that goes by where guys are just sitting there looking tired. We are competing the whole two hours. We are maximizing everyone’s time.”
It will be interesting to see how much of K-State’s new practice vibe carries over when things get more serious in the summer.
As a new coach, players were naturally receptive to Klieman’s fresh approach, especially with the pressure of the 2019 season still months away. It’s fair to say most new coaches receive positive reviews during their first spring on campus.
Still, the Wildcats are looking forward to sustaining the vibe Klieman brought to practice.
“Throughout the spring,” Schoen said, “we have really come closer together as a team. It’s definitely been different. There are some similarities, but I think the coaches did a nice job of mixing in some competition stuff. We had some straight up, old-school football drills to get the competition going. Guys really rallied behind that. They had a lot of fun with it. The coaches, their energy that they bring has added a lot.”