Kansas State University

Why K-State football coach Chris Klieman won’t hesitate to play freshmen next season

The Kansas State football team is about to get reinforcements.

Veteran players returned to Manhattan for the start of summer workouts on Monday, and incoming freshmen are scheduled to join them on campus next week. In the next few days, the Wildcats will have a full roster of scholarship players for the first time under new coach Chris Klieman.

That’s welcome news for a group that chose not to hold a spring game in April, in part because they lacked enough healthy bodies to do so.

Much will be asked from this batch of recruits.

It seems like all of them will get an opportunity to make immediate impacts next season.

“If they’re good enough we are going to play them,” Klieman said last week at a Catbacker event. “The new (redshirt) rule has really helped us out a bunch. At North Dakota State we played quite a few of them because we were able to redshirt a good number of those kids or play them all 12 games. We will do the same thing here. I think if they are healthy you play them.”

That is quite a departure from what K-State fans have grown accustomed to. It was rare for a freshman to play under former coach Bill Snyder. Only a handful of them usually even made the two-deep each year.

He valued experience and encouraged the majority of K-State’s freshmen to redshirt so they could develop, learn the playbook and contribute later in their college careers.

Klieman would rather see his players hit the ground running straight out of high school, at least at most positions. He thinks playing most of his freshmen will create extra depth and boost special teams.

He also likes to keep the redshirt option available for players in case they are significantly injured. That way, they can take a season off to rehab and return to the field the following year without losing a year of eligibility.

For example: Nick DeLuca, a star linebacker under Klieman at NDSU, took advantage of his redshirt after a season-ending shoulder injury three games into his senior season and returned the following year to make 74 tackles.

“Thank goodness he hadn’t redshirted,” Klieman said.

Given the team’s lack of proven talent at positions like running back, receiver and linebacker, it always seemed like K-State would use a high number of freshmen next season out of necessity.

But it seems like that may be the plan every year.

“You play them if they are capable of it,” Klieman said. “Now, if you are an offensive lineman who weighs 245 pounds you are probably not going to play. If you are any skill kid, any linebacker, tight end that has that size already and you have the capacity to help us in any way, you are going to help us.”

Returning K-State players are looking forward to welcoming some new faces to campus.

“It’s always an exciting and fun time to get the new guys up here,” K-State receiver Landry Weber said. “It’s fun to watch them have to adjust to college football. It’s a little different than high school. Workouts are a little different, a lot more demanding. So it’s fun to watch them be a little shocked at first, and then after a few weeks, they get right into the rhythm of it. Then we’re just rolling.”

Some of K-State’s most heralded freshmen include receivers Joshua Youngblood and Keenan Garber, as well as running backs Joe Ervin, Thomas Grayson, Clyde Price and Jacardia Wright. Klieman won’t be able to coach any of K-State’s players until preseason practices begin later this summer. Until then, they will mostly interact with each other and strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson.

Incoming recruits will experience their first workouts next week. That can be a difficult test for first-timers, but Klieman is hoping the team’s seniors will help them through it.

“A lot of our leaders will take care of them,” Klieman said, “kind of show them the ropes. It’s an exciting time for those guys, but I know it’s a nervous time for them as well.”

One player who will promote team unity from the get-go is Dalton Schoen. The senior receiver is suddenly the top returning player at his position following some offseason developments, and he is taking his new responsibilities to heart.

If the Wildcats are going to rely on freshmen more than usual, he wants to set an example and help them get ready for the upcoming season.

“We don’t want this to be a rebuilding year,” Schoen said. “At least for me and the other seniors, this is our last go. We want to win now. So we’ve just got to get everyone to buy into that and (believe) that we can do it. It’s not just a time for us to rebuild and regrow.”

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