Wildcats celebrate a ‘truly special’ night as K-State wins Klieman’s opener
When Denzel Goolsby made the switch from offense to defense as a sophomore, he came to a freshman K-State quarterback for advice.
Skylar Thompson had just gotten on campus in Manhattan and worked with Goolsby on the offensive side of the ball for a few practices, but that was enough. They had a deeper connection.
“Denzel’s poise and gratitude towards life in general is so great,” Thompson said at K-State’s 2018 football media day. “He asked my advice, and I said, ‘Do whatever your heart desires. I know whatever you do, you’re going to give it your best effort and excel at it.’
“Denzel is by far my best friend. I told him he would have my support in anything he did.”
Now Goolsby is a senior safety. Thompson is a junior and the Wildcats’ starting quarterback. They have lived together as housemates for the past three years.
And ahead of KSU’s 2019 season opener against Nicholls State, first-year coach Chris Klieman announced they were named captains.
The Wildcat players voted seven players as captains to launch the Klieman era: Goolsby, Thompson, senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon, senior offensive lineman Adam Holtorf, sophomore defensive end Wyatt Hubert, senior receiver Dalton Schoen and senior defensive end Reggie Walker
Goolsby said it was the ultimate sign of respect to know his teammates believed in him the way he believes in them. Outside of living together, Goolsby and Thompson share another trait: They wear their emotions on their sleeves.
Ahead of the opener, Goolsby worked with K-State Athletics to write a 2,300-word first-person narrative about his late father and forgiveness titled, In his own words — Stronger from pain.
Goolsby said the story was well-received. Many K-State fans know most of his story, dating to his high school days at Bishop Carroll in Wichita, but Goolsby said now was the time to share all of it.
“With me, it’s easy to see an athlete and identify them by their sport,” he said. “I just know I’m so much more than that.”
Then, after K-State’s 49-14 win over Nicholls on Saturday, Thompson addressed the team with passion in the locker room.
“Walking off the field today, man, I can’t even describe to you how I feel,” Thompson said in a video posted to Twitter. This is something I’ve been working for — we’ve been working for, and, man ...”
Thompson punched his chest three times and dropped his head to try to contain his emotion. His teammates surrounded him and slapped his shoulder pads in celebration.
“I love you guys, and this is just the beginning,” Thompson said.
Goolsby and Thompson showed a sign of vulnerability in those moments, and Goolsby said that’s what connects them.
Klieman, at his press conference Tuesday, said Thompson and Goolsby care about their teammates beyond what happens on the field on Saturdays.
“I know guys look up to those two guys for what they do on the field but more importantly probably what they do off the field,” Klieman said. “I was excited when the vote came out that those two guys were captains. Those are two guys I really look up to. Two guys I can bounce a lot of things off of. I trust those two guys and know they’re going to give me not what I want to hear but what I need to hear.”
July 21, 2018, Goolsby was engaged to K-State women’s soccer player Katie Cramer. Even through their engagement, Goolsby chose to live with Thompson and continue that bond.
The duo play on opposite sides of the field. In fact, their roles are to make the other look bad in practice.
Last year, Thompson threw for 1,391 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore sharing time with Alex Delton. Goolsby had 36 tackles coming off his sophomore season in which he led Big 12 safeties in that category and was named Cactus Bowl Defensive MVP.
Inherently, they shouldn’t be great friends, but their bond has led them to become leaders, Goolsby said, and that’s something to embrace.
“Society tells you that being a man is to never show pain or to never show that you had to struggle through something,” Goolsby said. “I think there’s a lot of beauty in admitting to certain challenges and showing what you had to grow through. For me, the only thing I can be in this world is authentic and genuine. There’s a lot of excuses to be something else, but at the end of the day, if I can be the best version of myself and show who I am, I think people will respect that and people connect with that.
“They can feel when someone is being real with you, and Skylar has always been that type of person, so being around him all the time helps me be that kind of person, too.”