Kansas State University

Want to play college football? Plenty of options in Kansas, from big schools to small

When Kansas State coach Chris Klieman was at North Dakota State, he felt his program was the only option for high school football players who wanted to continue their careers within the state.

“Everybody that’s up in the Upper Midwest knows nothing about any other school because there’s not a whole lot going on in North Dakota,” Klieman said. “They all want to walk on there. To kids in Western North Dakota, the only school in the country is North Dakota State.”

Although North Dakota State is the most prestigious program in the state, it is not the only one. There are 10 college football programs in North Dakota. There are two FCS programs, two in Division II, four in NAIA and two more that compete on the junior-college scene.

Still, North Dakota’s 10 programs are among the fewest in the region.

Kansas has among the most.

A common sentiment among high school football players in Kansas suggests there are few opportunities to continue their football careers in Kansas, especially after the Jayhawk Conference voted to eliminate out-of-state roster restrictions in 2016.

The rule change meant junior-college programs in Kansas no longer had to have a certain number of players from Kansas. The Eagle has referred to it as “The Doomsday Scenario.”

The rule has had a significant impact. The Jayhawks Conference has seen a record-low number of in-state players, which has forced some athletes to turn elsewhere in Kansas to keep playing football.

The good news: There are plenty of options.

Kansas offers 27 college football programs. Here is how they break down:

Division I (FBS)

  • Kansas Jayhawks
  • Kansas State Wildcats

Division II

  • Emporia State Hornets
  • Fort Hays State Tigers
  • Pittsburg State Gorillas
  • Washburn Ichabods

NAIA

  • Baker Wildcats
  • Benedictine Ravens
  • Bethany Swedes
  • Bethel Threshers
  • Friends Falcons
  • Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes
  • McPherson Bulldogs
  • MidAmerica Nazarene Pioneers
  • Ottawa Braves
  • Saint Mary Spires
  • Southwestern Moundbuilders
  • Sterling Warriors
  • Tabor Bluejays

NJCAA

  • Butler County CC Grizzlies
  • Coffeyville CC Red Ravens
  • Dodge City CC Conquistadors
  • Fort Scott CC Greyhounds
  • Garden City CC Broncbusters
  • Highland CC Scotties
  • Hutchinson CC Blue Dragons
  • Independence CC Pirates

Kansas’ eight community college programs are the most of any state in the country except Mississippi and Minnesota. They offer a second chance at earning a scholarship to Division I programs.

And the best news is many of Kansas’ junior-college programs are among the best in the nation. Klieman said that is a huge benefit for his program in Manhattan.

“We’re within driving distance to go see them, go check them out and have them come here,” Klieman said. “It still has to be the right fit, the right situation, and you still have to do a great job recruiting because that’s the other thing about the great system of junior colleges we have here: Everyone else wants to come see them.”

K-State has 17 players from junior colleges in its program. Senior center Adam Holtorf said junior offensive lineman Noah Johnson is just as good as anyone else in the Wildcats’ starting five. He came from Butler County after graduating from Wichita’s Bishop Carroll.

Kansas’ 27 college football programs are more than all four of surrounding states and more than many others in the region. Here is how several other states stack up:

Nebraska, with 10, has among the fewest in the region. It is also Holtorf’s native state. He said if he didn’t get a scholarship offer from K-State, he might have gone to North Dakota State, South Dakota State or Wyoming. He wouldn’t have stayed home.

“In Nebraska, if you don’t get a scholarship to (the University of) Nebraska, you walk on or go to a surrounding state,” Holtorf said.

There are three Division I universities in Nebraska, but only one offers football. There are three Division II schools that all have football programs, but Holtorf said he skipped that level in recruitment.

Holtorf said he received his K-State offer early, and the Division II schools never came calling. Sophomore KSU defensive end Wyatt Hubert said the same thing.

“I committed to K-State three days after I was offered,” Hubert said. “That was my first offer at any level. I had other schools interested afterward, but I never got a scholarship offer from them because I committed so early.”

Senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon had a different experience in his recruitment.

A product of Horton, a Class 2A community about an hour and a half northeast of Manhattan, Dishon helped take that program from seven wins his first three years of high school to seven wins as a senior in 2014.

Dishon was verbally committed to Northwest Missouri State. Two weeks before National Signing Day, he received an offer from K-State and jumped on it.

“Coming from Horton, no one has ever gone D-I in football,” Dishon said. “We had one guy go D-I in basketball, but that was back in the ‘90s. This was big. When we had coaches showing up at the high school in K-State gear, everyone stops.”

Although there are 27 college football programs in Kansas, just two are Division I. Thirteen compete in the NAIA. Only two players have ever made it to the NFL from Kansas’ NAIA programs: Mike McCarthy went to the Green Bay Packers from Baker University in 1987, and Leon Lett went from Emporia State to the Dallas Cowboys in 1990, when Emporia State competed in NAIA.

Klieman said there is some great football played across Kansas — and opportunities were just more scarce in North Dakota.

“The great thing about Kansas is there’s so many great junior colleges, so many great Division II schools, that everybody comes here,” Klieman said. “It’s a credit to the state, and it gives kids more opportunities. In the state of North Dakota, there’s not this many opportunities.”

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