It didn’t take long for Kansas State football coach Chris Klieman to identify the Wildcats’ biggest position of need this off season.
Shortly after guiding North Dakota State to a FCS championship with an offense that ran the ball 670 times, he analyzed K-State’s roster to find out what kind of backfield he was inheriting.
Was his new team ready to run the same power system as his old team? The answer: No. Not even close.
“When you come into a situation and there is not a running back on scholarship and you are wanting to run the football and control the line of scrimmage,” Klieman said, “that is a real concern for a coaching staff.”
So much so, that Klieman and his assistants have put in long hours over the past six months trying to find an assortment of new running backs capable of helping the Wildcats next season.
It was a difficult task.
After losing the Big 12’s leading rusher (Alex Barnes) and his top three backups (Dalvin Warmack, Justin Silmon and Mike McCoy), replenishing the backfield became Klieman’s top priority.
“We have been working on that for quite a while,” he said.
Things were so bleak at the start of spring practice that Klieman asked one of K-State’s punters to switch positions and help at running back.
K-State coaches had to get creative to solve this problem. In order to have any chance to win next season, they needed to add a handful of running backs with different talents and experience levels. Signing one promising ball carrier wasn’t going to be enough.
At North Dakota State, five different runners logged at least 82 carries last season. The Wildcats needed multiple new players to mirror that system, and a few of them had to be transfers in order to properly add experience and depth at running back.
Six months later, it appears the Wildcats have done exactly that.
They added one running back to the spring roster and landed five more that are expected to arrive over the summer.
Two of them are graduate transfers. James Gilbert was the first to join from Ball State, where he rushed for 2,806 yards before looking for a fresh start as a senior. That gave the Wildcats one scholarship running back for spring practice. But K-State coaches weren’t done recruiting transfers. When they decided they needed more veteran help in the backfield they kept searching and came up with North Carolina grad transfer Jordon Brown.
Brown signed with the Wildcats last week after rushing for 1,005 yards with the Tar Heels.
“We obviously had a need for another graduate transfer,” Klieman said. “Being down some upperclassmen numbers, we are hoping that he can add to the mix of the older guys and complement James Gilbert, Harry Trotter and Tyler Burns. We need to have him add to that.”
In between Gilbert and Brown, K-State also lined up commitments from four high school running backs — Joe Ervin, Thomas Grayson, Clyde Price and Jacardia Wright.
Every time it seemed like the Wildcats were done recruiting running backs, they went out and added one more.
The potential for early playing time, among other things, was too much for recruits to ignore.
Price, who rushed for 3,022 yards and 41 touchdowns at North Kansas City called it “the opportunity of a lifetime” when he signed with K-State.
“If I can come in over the summer and really get the playbook down, they envision me being the guy,” Price said earlier this year. “They want to give me 18-20 carries a game, and that is just on the ground. I’m not talking about passing plays and other in-the-air stuff, which I’m also good at. That is something that is really cool, because not everybody gets that opportunity as a freshman.”
This type of running-back turnover is rare. K-State will feature a brand new backfield when the season arrives in late August.
Klieman built it from scratch over the past six months.