MANHATTAN — They lost their best player to graduation. They lost their position coach. Now they are adjusting to spring practices with two unproven quarterbacks.
For Kansas State’s wide receivers, that’s an ugly combination. Just don’t tell them that.
Even though traditional wisdom might suggest the unit is headed for a rebuilding year, players insist that is not the case. If anything, they think K-State’s receiving corps will be stronger than it was a year ago, when Chris Harper led the way with 58 catches for 857 yards and Michael Smith was their tutor.
“Every year we are always going to be looked over. I am fine with that,” senior receiver Tramaine Thompson said. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life. I don’t care what anyone writes about our team. I know who we are and I know how much talent we have. That’s all that really matters to me. In this conference, I feel like we can be the top receiving core.”
Though Harper is on his way to the NFL, the Wildcats return every other receiver who played a significant role last year.
Thompson and Tyler Lockett will provide breakaway speed and leadership. Torell Miller, Curry Sexton and Kyle Klein will add experience and depth. And redshirt freshman Deante Burton might be good enough to turn a few heads.
Their go-to target is gone, but the unit will feature plenty of depth and speed.
“We have a plethora of wide receivers who are pretty decent players,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
Still, they may need to prove themselves all over again, especially with a new quarterback.
Lockett has established himself as one of the top deep threats/kick returners in the Big 12. He caught 44 passes for 687 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season. But can he handle added attention as K-State’s top receiver?
Thompson changes directions well and is hard to tackle. He showed that by catching 37 passes for 526 yards and returning a punt for a touchdown last season. But he has never caught more than six passes in a game. How will he handle a bigger workload?
Lockett and Thompson are confident they can embrace their new challenges.
“Me and Tramaine are going to have to step up and take over that leadership role that Chris did,” Lockett said. “We need to be able to train the younger receivers coming in so we won’t miss a beat. That will be pretty hard, but we can try to fill them in as best we can.”
Sexton, Klein and Miller combined to catch 11 passes. Burton was a standout player on the scout team, but he hasn’t played in a college game. Can they take their games to new levels?
“With the growth and experience we have I think we realize that even though we lost Chris and Coach Smith we should be excited about where we are going as a group,” Sexton said. “We have more depth than we’ve ever had. We’ve got older guys. We’ve got younger guys who are all very capable of coming in for us and making plays on Saturday.
“Then you’ve got Tyler and Tramaine. Those guys have been there and done it in the Big 12. They have made plays in crunch time. If the rest of us keep on working, things are going to work out well for us.”
K-State receivers have been working with new position coach Andre Coleman, and they feel like they are making progress. Coleman used to play receiver for the Wildcats and knew everything about K-State’s roster before taking the job. Players didn’t face much of a transition switching from Smith to Coleman.
He stresses different techniques and concepts, but no one complained about the new style.
“He has done a tremendous job teaching us how to be detailed in our route running,” Lockett said. “How we are supposed to get off the line and stay vertical, you know, all the things we kind of struggled with coming into winter conditioning and spring ball. Learning from him and seeing what he has to offer is going to help us a lot.”
Thompson is ready to show what he has learned in K-State’s spring game April 27. He thinks fans will be impressed by the entire unit.
“We have a lot of speed, especially with me and Lockett,” Thompson said. “We have some good size and I feel like we are athletic enough to be a strength on our offense.”