Kansas State University

Nick Ast pushing John Holcombe for backup QB duties at K-State football practice

Watch K-State quarterbacks throw at preseason practice

Watch K-State quarterbacks throw at preseason practice
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Watch K-State quarterbacks throw at preseason practice

A quarterback competition is brewing at Kansas State.

It doesn’t involve returning starter Skylar Thompson, who has taken command of the offense since Chris Klieman was hired as coach last winter, so it’s unlikely to maintain headlines throughout the entirety of preseason camp. But it’s mighty interesting all the same.

In one metaphorical corner, you have redshirt freshman John Holcombe. He’s a 6-foot-4 quarterback from Humble, Texas with all kinds of upside. He was big enough to play defensive end at times in high school and he is athletic enough to throw down tomahawk dunks on the basketball court. Many consider him the favorite.

But his opponent, Nick Ast, is putting up a fight. The 6-foot-5 walk-on sophomore from Cimarron, Kansas has turned heads during K-State’s first four summer practices. So much so, that Klieman would think long and hard about making him the backup quarterback if the season started tomorrow. You could call him the upstart.

The race for backup QB2 is on.

“They are both doing some really good things,” Klieman said Monday at his first news conference of the season. “You can tell they both had really good summers, physically as well as mentally ... It will be a brand new process. We want to continue to push Nick and continue to push John and see who ultimately wins that backup job.”

This quarterback derby is good news for the Wildcats. At the conclusion of spring practice, it seemed like Thompson had a stranglehold on the starting job and Holcombe had a big lead for the No. 2 spot. But things have changed since April.

Ast joining the mix behind Thompson will add daily competition and depth to the position.

That made for some entertaining throws during the early portions of practice on Monday. With both Ast and Holcombe looking to out-duel the other, they both appeared locked in as they threw down field.

Ast looked sharp and connected with receivers. Holcombe showed off his arm and even overthrew his man on one deep ball.

It’s been an interesting journey for Ast (pronounced AUH-st) to this point. When he first arrived in 2017 he put in lots of work behind the scenes and eventually won an award as the team’s top scout-team contributor. Then he settled in behind Alex Delton, Thompson and Holcombe last season, failing to appear in a single game.

That could change this year.

“Nick understands the system and works hard at it,” Klieman said. “The players really trust him and know that he is going to get them in the right call and execute at a really high level.”

“Athletically, he has done a really nice job of making some plays with his feet and keeping things alive. He’s a big, strong player, so I really appreciated seeing him grow from early in the spring to how he finished. He finished spring ball really well and he is kind of taking it right off that and starting off well this fall camp.”

Holcombe didn’t see any action last season, either. But he served as the team’s backup quarterback whenever Thompson or Delton were unable to play.

Still, he did enough to be considered the favorite to win the No. 2 spot this season over Ast, as well as newcomers Jaren Lewis and Chris Herron.

It seems Ast and Holcombe have separated themselves from the pack. Klieman said the position battle is so close that things like red-zone performance, third-down accuracy and two-minute drills may ultimately determine a winner.

Herron, a 6-2 freshman from Houston, spent time practicing at receiver on Monday. Klieman said he plans on keeping Herron under center for the time being, but may reconsider things as the season approaches.

For now, his biggest QB focus is Ast vs. Holcombe.

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