MANHATTAN – Dominique Heath was the star of Kansas State’s spring football game.
With 217 yards as a kickoff returner, on top of 157 yards and a touchdown as a punt returner, the redshirt freshman was far and away the most exciting playmaker on the field, constantly making defenders miss and beating tacklers with his speed. If the Wildcats awarded a MVP trophy after the exhibition, Heath would have been a unanimous selection.
“I thought Heath did a very nice job and beat some people,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “I think he is very, very viable. Now we just need to get some people to help him and get some blockers in front of him.”
Those words paint a much brighter scenario than many expected of Kansas State’s return game four months removed from the end of Tyler Lockett’s distinguished career. Without Lockett, the top statistical receiver and returner in school history, the Wildcats most assumed it would take time for the Wildcats to develop a replacement.
Snyder said a half-dozen players, including Morgan Burns, Dalvin Warmack, Andre Davis, Judah Jones, Alex Barnes and Heath were rotating between kick returner and punt returner in practice. And Davis started the spring game as K-State’s punt returner. The simple fact that Snyder allowed returns at the spring game instead of mandating fair catches, as is usually the case, shows how curious he was to see them all compete in a public setting.
But when Heath flashed his speed, the committee of return men disappeared. He took over.
“I was extremely excited, because that is just another chance to get the ball in my hands,” Heath said of the heavy workload. “Especially with us losing Lockett, I think (Snyder) wanted to see how we would come out and look. He was a big part of our returns last year. I think coming into this spring game he wanted to see where we stand and what our identity is. I think I did a good job.”
His best play was a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I was thinking about fair catching it, but I took a peek and decided I only had to make one guy miss,” Heath said. “I made him miss. It was a right return so I had to get to the edge and once I got to the edge it was just about me using my speed and beating everyone to the end zone.”
What made the afternoon truly special for Heath was knowing that Lockett was watching.
“Me and Lockett joke around. I tell him I am coming for all his records, receiving and kickoff reutrning and punt retuning,” Heath said. “So we take (replacing him) real seriously.”
Heath joined K-State a year ago from Huntersville, N.C., as one of the most intriguing members of his recruiting class. At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, he has the same build as former starting receiver and punt returner Tramaine Thompson. He also clearly has speed.
But he didn’t play well enough during summer practices to warrant serious consideration for playing time, and the coaching staff asked him to redshirt. He failed to catch a pass in the spring game, so he still has work to do as a receiver. But his skills as a return man will get him on the field this season.
When asked what he did best during the spring game, Heath said he was above average in all areas but had room to grow. He gave himself a B grade.
“I want to keep working until I’m an A,” Heath said.
K-State’s return game appears to be in good hands while he works in that direction.
“Let me tell you, he is hard to tackle,” junior receiver Deante Burton said. “He is shifty and he gives us fits sometimes in practice, so it was no surprise for us when he caught it and took off. I knew he was going to get a touchdown. He is a very talented guy.”