Jesse Ertz doesn’t know whether to introduce himself as a sophomore or a junior.
That’s how bizarre his college football career has been.
“I’m old, whatever I am,” Ertz said Tuesday at Kansas State’s first media session of the spring. “It’s unfortunate, but it is also a good opportunity to learn, gain experience and improve.”
Ertz, a quarterback, began taking college courses in 2013. So in academic terms he is a junior on track to graduate next year. But Ertz also likely has three years of eligibility remaining. By athletic standards, he is a redshirt sophomore.
Two nasty knee injuries placed Ertz in this position. A native of Burlington, Iowa, Ertz suffered a torn ACL in his right knee as a high school senior and chose to sit out his first season in college with a redshirt. Then after working all the way up to starter last summer, he tore the same ligament on the season’s opening drive.
His 2015 statistics: 1 rush for 5 yards. He is now hoping to obtain a medical redshirt, which will allow him to play through 2018.
Without Ertz, backup quarterback Joe Hubener started the next 11 games before giving way to converted receiver Kody Cook in the Liberty Bowl. K-State struggled at the position all season, completing 47 percent of its passes and ranking 113th nationally out of 127 teams in passing efficiency.
“I couldn’t have asked for a worse start to the season,” Ertz said. “I learned a lot from it, though. You get a lot tougher going through things like that.
“I had high expectations for myself. Obviously, not having any previous game experience, there was some wonder going through my mind on how this was going to go. But I was looking forward to it.
“I was thoroughly disappointed when it (the injury) happened. There were a lot of emotions: disappointment, a little embarrassed. I had a lot of family there.”
Still, it wasn’t all bad.
If not for the season-ending injury, Ertz wouldn’t have pushed himself harder than he knew possible to reclaim K-State’s starting quarterback duties. Doctors told Ertz it would take him six months to rehabilitate his knee. Instead, it took him four.
Ertz was ready when spring practice began last week.
“I am full-go,” Ertz said. “I feel good. I feel like I have been 100 percent for two months.”
A healthy Ertz has to be considered the favorite to win K-State’s quarterback job next season. He won a similar competition in practices a year ago, and Hubener did little to pass him on the depth chart last season.
But K-State coach Bill Snyder says it is a three-man race among Alex Delton, Ertz and Hubener. He complimented all three on Tuesday.
“Joe has really, in the passing game, elevated what he has done,” Snyder said. “I thought Alex has really gotten off to a really good start and had three good days of practice. … I really appreciated the way he jumped in and took off from where he left off. He is probably a little bit better player than he was.
“Jesse is still kind of working the kinks out, but you have seen the growth in four days. He has moved along quite well.”
Delton expects all three quarterbacks to push each other until the season-opener at Stanford on Sept. 2.
“All of us feel comfortable and feel good,” said Delton, healthy after recovering from a knee injury of his own. “It is very competitive every day. We are all competing at a high level.”
Freshman Skylar Thompson could also enter the mix, but Snyder said it’s difficult to envision him overtaking the other three at this moment.
Ertz hopes he wins the job the same way he did a year ago.
He is cautiously optimistic about his chances. His latest injury may have slowed him down, but he has never been more motivated.
“It puts a lot of doubt over me from other people that maybe I’m not durable,” Ertz said. “I don’t really pay attention to what people think. It doesn’t correlate to reality. It definitely made me work harder. I think it made me a better player.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett