MANHATTAN — Moments before he returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown against Missouri State, Tramaine Thompson decided he could relax.
The junior receiver took off his helmet and began watching the game as a spectator.
With Kansas State leading by 35 points late in the fourth quarter, no one questioned his sideline demeanor. He had already caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. His time in the game appeared over.
But when the Bears sent their punting unit onto the field with about two minutes remaining, K-State coaches had different ideas. Top return man Tyler Lockett had already returned two punts, and they wanted to get a look at someone else. So they told Thompson to put his helmet back on.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be in,” Thompson admitted later. “They just kind of threw me in late.”
He responded by cleanly catching a punt at the 11-yard line and cutting past defenders until no one stood between him and paydirt. It was a perfect example of how Thompson can sometimes be overlooked.
He is fast and agile. He is exciting as a receiver and explosive as a return man. But he doesn’t play a full-time role on offense or special teams.
Thompson has always factored into K-State’s plans on offense and special teams, but not as much as others. He is arguably the team’s No. 3 receiver behind senior Chris Harper, an Oregon transfer who led the team in receiving yards last season, and sophomore Tyler Lockett, who made so many exciting plays last season that he was named a freshman All-American. And he is arguably the No. 2 punt returner behind Lockett.
He started at receiver on Saturday and will see plenty of playing time there. But it might be a while before he is considered a go-to player.
He will speed up that process if he continues to gain 141 all-purpose yards with two touchdowns, though.
“It built my confidence up,” Thompson said. “Anytime you get into the end zone, you start getting more confidence and picking up large chunks of yardage. Every time that happens, you feel like you’re ready to start rolling.”
Thompson is used to being overlooked. At 5-foot-8, that comes with the territory. But he has been a steady contributor for K-State. He made 19 catches for 258 yards during an injury-shortened freshman season and then caught 21 passes for 338 yards as a sophomore.
He has never been viewed as more than a change-of-pace player. But he is beginning to show signs that he can contribute more.
“He is shifty,” senior quarterback Collin Klein said. “He really is. He makes people miss and makes a lot out of nothing. He does a great job.… He does play a lot bigger than he is and a lot of that is heart and determination. (He has a) never-say-die mentality and he really works hard. He is fun to be around.”
That much was evident on Saturday, when Thompson scored K-State’s first and last touchdown against Missouri State.
The first came in the third quarter on an 18-yard pass from Klein in the left corner of the end zone. Finally, the Wildcats managed more than a field goal. The second came when Thompson thought his night was finished. The exclamation mark on a blowout victory.
“It kind of caught me off guard,” Thompson said. “I got to the sidelines and looked at the scoreboard. I don’t do that often, but I was like, ‘Wow, the score really went up fast.’ We started rolling and started making some plays. I was lucky enough to make one of them. It shows us what we are capable of doing.”
Looking for another sellout — K-State has already sold out four of its seven home games and is confident of sellouts for two more, Texas Tech and Texas. That leaves one game that may have available tickets: Miami.
K-State announced that nearly 1,200 tickets remained for the game as of Tuesday afternoon.
“I assumed the game was already sold out,” senior linebacker Arthur Brown said. “Whatever we’ve got to do to get a full house, we need to do it."
Added Klein: “We need to maybe cut practice a little early and start peddling them to see if we can’t get this place filled up.”
The Miami game had tickets remaining for likely three reasons. It’s the most expensive single-game ticket ($75), kickoff is 11 a.m., and the game will be televised nationally by FX.
Status updates — Snyder said that offensive lineman Ellwood Clement, a junior college transfer, will not play this season. But he is expected to arrive at K-State next semester. Another juco transfer, Hakeem Akinola, won’t play on K-State’s defensive line for a while, either. Snyder said his eligibility is in question through no fault of his own. Offensive lineman Nick Puetz’s playing status on Saturday is also undetermined. Puetz suffered an injury against Missouri State.
Trash talk — Klein may have come as close as he ever will to trash talk on Tuesday. When asked for his thoughts about playing Miami at home, he said “We’ll show them a little Manhattan hospitality.”
When asked to elaborate on what he meant, Klein chuckled.
“Open-ended is the best way to leave it,” he said.
Rankings — K-State moved up one spot to No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25. It also moved up one spot to No. 20 in the USA Today poll.