MANHATTAN — When Tramaine Thompson puts on a helmet, it's hard to tell him apart from Brandon Banks.
At 5-foot-7, they are the same height. At 164 pounds, they are similar in weight. They even run routes the same way. Like Banks, a former wide receiver who led Kansas State in catches the past two seasons, Thompson relies on his quick feet and reliable hands to make up for limited size.
"Whether it's special teams or on the field, he's always making plays," cornerback David Garrett said after covering the redshirt freshman in practice. "He knows how to run routes and catch the ball. He's a younger Banks."
The comparison is no doubt a compliment. Banks was one of the most explosive playmakers in the country a year ago, and Thompson is already following in his footsteps as a starter heading into Saturday's opener against UCLA.
Making his rise up the depth chart even more remarkable is the way coaches more or less ignored him in terms of preseason praise. Every chance they had to hype their receiving corps, they talked up three other wideouts.
They said Minnesota transfer Brodrick Smith is big, they described the previously injured Aubrey Quarles as tough, and they called Oregon transfer Chris Harper a go-to player.
Coaches like the trio's size and talents. Bigger, more physical than Banks and Attrail Snipes, able to be more helpful as blockers for the run game.
"I think we'll be a bigger, more physical receiver corps than we were a year ago," Snyder has said.
So when Snyder went back to the Banks-type receiver and moved Thompson into the starting lineup instead of Harper, a Wichita native, it showed how well Thompson played during camp.
"When he was going through his redshirt freshman year, there was not a great deal of attention," Snyder said. "But when he got into spring practice he really stepped up. He became a little bit more comfortable with the system. Consequently his quickness and his ability to change direction all of a sudden became second nature to him."
He also learned to show a great deal of toughness. While Thompson says he models some of his game after Banks, he likes to make catches in traffic more than his predecessor. He doesn't mind getting hit or sacrificing his body to go after passes that are off the mark.
Senior quarterback Carson Coffman can see the subtle differences.
"Tramaine is a hard worker," Coffman said. "He will dive for passes no one else will dive for. He's kind of reckless with his body, and a lot of guys respect him for that."
Like Snyder, Coffman has said he likes the toughness and size of his new-look receiving corps. It is a welcome change from a year ago that will help open up K-State's offense. But he also admits to overlooking Thompson. So does Garrett.
"No matter how he looks or what anybody thinks of him, he comes out every day and works hard in practice," Garrett said. "He makes plays. He's constantly popping up with the ball somewhere."