What does it say about the Kansas State football roster that 26 underclassmen — 16 sophomores and 10 freshmen — made the team’s first public depth chart of the season?
Bill Snyder was asked a similar question after the Wildcats’ spring game last April when many young players looked better than their veteran teammates. He paused and chuckled before providing an answer.
I guess it means we should be good in two or three years, he eventually replied.
An unusually high number of youthful contributors is, indeed, a good sign for the future. But K-State is also confident those players can contribute in meaningful ways this season.
Perhaps that is best illustrated at fullback, where redshirt freshman Winston Dimel is threatening to take playing time away from junior Glenn Gronkowski, an all-conference player. They are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, with the word “OR” separating them.
“A lot of guys say we don’t have the top-end talent like we did with Tyler (Lockett) or many four-year starters like we did with Curry (Sexton), but I think this is going to be a good year for guys to come out and prove themselves,” said junior receiver Deante Burton. “I love it. You have got to have competition. Competition breads greatness.
“We’ve got a lot of guys chomping at the bit to be the No. 1 guy and the big-play guy in a room. That is going to push everyone to play their best. All it has really done is sharpen everyone’s talents.”
K-State’s youth movement will be seen across the field Saturday when the Wildcats take on South Dakota. Five sophomores will start, including quarterback Jesse Ertz. K-State returns a veteran secondary, but even there you will find sophomore Kaleb Prewett starting at free safety. Other sophomore starters: Elijah Lee at linebacker, Will Geary at defensive tackle and Cody Small at tight end, Matthew McCrane at kicker and Nick Walsh at punter.
Sophomores, especially with redshirt experience, are not unusual on K-State’s two-deep. But freshmen, even with redshirt experience, are. So it will be different to see freshman Dominique Heath lining up at slot receiver and returning kicks. Same with freshman Dalton Risner starting at center, though he replaces a four-year starter in B.J. Finney.
Many other freshmen will likely see playing time as backups or on special teams. Snyder said there was a “strong possibility” Alex Delton, a true freshman from Hays, will see time at quarterback.
Snyder understandably does not expect perfection from the young roster. Still, he expects more than you might assume.
“The most important thing for us is just to show that we will be better on Saturday than we were during our workout on Thursday,” Snyder said about the opener. “It is just making improvement. I am looking for greater improvement out of the entirety of the offense, defense and special teams.
“That is what I have addressed in here as much as anything, the ability to do the things that make you competitive and not do the things that cause you to lose ball games. It’s the same old stuff you always talk about — the turnovers, the penalties, the assignment errors. Those types of things will be important to us, and to be a competitive football team on the field in terms of spirit and fight.”