The recruiting process that brought James Gilbert to Kansas State was as short and sweet as they come.
“I didn’t know anything about Kansas State,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t know what the school looked like. I didn’t know what Manhattan looked like. All I knew was Coach (Chris) Klieman wanted me here, and I wanted to take a chance with him.”
As a graduate transfer who rushed for 2,806 yards at Ball State, Gilbert didn’t need to be wined and dined like a high school recruit.
The only thing he wanted was an opportunity to finish his college football career in a power conference. So when Klieman reached out to Gilbert last December with a scholarship offer, that was all the senior running back needed to hear. He signed with K-State later that week and enrolled for the spring semester.
He’s been all business since.
“I didn’t come in thinking, wow, I’m at a power five school,” Gilbert said, “or this is crazy after starting out at Ball State. I just took it day by day and tried not to let anything distract me from what I am here to accomplish.”
He wants to be K-State’s starting running back next season, and all signs currently point to that happening.
The Wildcats were desperate for an experienced running back after losing Alex Barnes, Justin Silmon, Dalvin Warmack and Mike McCoy. They are basically rebuilding their entire backfield, and Gilbert is the center piece of their running game until the team’s younger ball-carriers can mature and prove themselves.
So far, Gilbert and K-State have been a good match.
“We needed someone with some playing experience,” running backs coach Brian Anderson said, “so to get a guy of his caliber was really, really good. You are already seeing his upside, big time. Some of the things he does, you can see he has got soe playing experience. He’s not a thinker as much as some of the other guys, because they haven’t played in games. he has been through it.”
Gilbert will get his first opportunity to prove himself in front of K-State football fans at the team’s spring showcase event on Saturday.
He’s looking forward to his public debut, but he has already turned heads behind the scenes.
“James came in really not knowing a lot about our system and has picked up things really well,” Klieman said. “He’s an extremely coach-able guy. He sees the hole and hits it. He has to continue to work on pass protection, running the routes and those things, but I’ve been really pleased with James right now.”
One other thing he has done: become a leader.
That isn’t always easy for a newcomer, but Gilbert has found a way to help his fellow K-State running backs Harry Trotter, Cornelius Ruff and Tyler Burns.
“I feel like I didn’t really have to do anything. It just happened on its own,” Gilbert said. “Me being an older player who has been around football for a long time, I feel like I just took on that role. At Ball State, I was always the younger guy learning from the older guys.”
“So I feel like coming in here I had the opportunity to be a leader and help the younger guys out with what to look for and give them tips like how to read defenses. I feel like being a leader I can do those kind of things.”
His true test won’t come until August when he tries to duplicate the 1,300-yard season he produced as a sophomore at Ball State. But he has taken steps in the right direction this spring at a place he knew nothing about a few months ago.