The Kansas State Wildcats invited fans in for a spring showcase football event on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Here are some thoughts from the scrimmage, which served as the public debut for new coach Chris Klieman and several K-State players:
Skylar Thompson sounded like a completely new player when the junior quarterback spoke with media on Saturday afternoon.
The main difference: confidence.
Unlike his previous years in Manhattan, Thompson has already been penciled in as K-State’s starting quarterback. The only QB controversy around these parts is who will serve as his backup — John Holcombe, Nick Ast or Jaren Lewis. Klieman and his assistants have embraced Thompson, and their trust has allowed him to expand his game as both a passer and leader.
“From where he has gone in the last year is amazing,” K-State receiver Dalton Schoen said. “To see how confident he is and how well spoken he is, he just kind of protrudes confidence right now. That carries over to everyone else on the team. It makes a big difference.”
Thompson didn’t tear it up in K-State’s spring showcase, but he had his moments including a touchdown pass from midfield to Wykeen Gill and another score from 15 yards to Landry Weber. Thompson also showed some nice mental skills, opting to throw the ball away when his receivers were well covered, even during seven-on-seven drills.
He seems to have already mastered the main points of Klieman’s offensive system.
“We threw everything in the playbook at him,” Klieman said. “When we come back for the fall it will all be recall for him.”
Thompson was sad to see spring practices come to an end. He wants to keep working. From what he’s seen from his teammates over the past few weeks, he thinks the Wildcats will be able to achieve big things next season.
He’s hoping to lead the way.
“Practice doesn’t even feel like practice,” Thompson said. “Waking up at 6 a.m., it doesn’t even feel like work, because it’s fun. The coaches are taking time out of their day to get to know us as people, not just as players. It means so much to us and makes us want to go and do it that much more for them. It’s meant a lot to me. It’s been a great spring. I am really pleased with how far I have come. From day one to right now is night and day different. There is still a long way to go, but I am really going to dial it in and get ready to go for fall camp. We are going to be ready to go, I promise.”
More talent, depth at receiver
It seems odd to say the Wildcats look much improved at receiver, considering they won’t add any recruits at that position until the summer. But K-State already appears to have more weapons in the passing game.
Michigan State transfer Hunter Rison looks like the clear No. 1 receiver on the roster after sitting out last season, but it’s more than that. Malik Knowles is coming on after playing in four games and redshirting last year. Gill, a walk-on, broke away for three highlight plays on Saturday.
And that doesn’t even mention proven returning receivers Schoen and Isaiah Zuber.
“It’s funny how the receivers went from being this really low weak point of the team to now,” Schoen said, “what the coaches are saying about us is that we have a strong room with a lot of depth. Adding Hunter and Malik to the mix means a lot. And once we add Zuber back healthy we will have a lot of assets there at receiver.”
K-State fans will want to keep an eye on Gill. If he continues to play the way he did this spring, he could earn a scholarship before the start of his junior season.
“Every day we have seen a play like you saw out there today (from Gill),” Klieman said, “Somewhere along the practice he is going to hook up for a big play, and that is what he has got to be for us, a big-time playmaker.”
New position, big results
It seems like Sammy Wheeler’s position switch from quarterback to tight end is permanent.
The 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman from Lenexa became one of the stars of K-State’s spring showcase when he came down with a one-handed catch in the left corner of the end zone on the final play of the day.
One of his feet was ruled out of bounds, so it didn’t count, but the Wildcats raced to the end zone and celebrated the highlight play nonetheless.
Wheeler could still use some fine-tuning as a blocker, but he has the size, talent and knowledge of K-State’s offense to excel in the passing game. And he is already showing it.
He was unlikely to play at quarterback next season, but Klieman says he will be a factor at tight end.
“Ever since he switched over he just makes plays and works,” Thompson said. “He just has a great attitude. Sammy is going to be successful. I am so excited to have a guy like that, as much as we throw to the tight end.”
Figuring things out on defense
It’s probably too early to pencil any members of K-State’s secondary in to set positions for next season. Walter Neil spent most of the spring at nickelback, but played corner on Saturday. Denzel Goolsby and Jonathan Alexander were both working at new safety positions, and Wayne Jones was moving around.
“We are trying to find the best five back there,” Klieman said. “That will be something we continue to tinker with through August.”
Spring showcase vs. spring game
Klieman changed K-State’s spring game format to an informal spring showcase. Fans seemed to have mixed reactions to the new arrangement.
A small crowd turned out to watch, but those in attendance did learn a lot about the Wildcats while watching them practice and scrimmage for two hours. Coaches and players even participated in video-board interviews throughout the afternoon.
But there was no drama or really anything for fans to get excited about. It will be fascinating to see if Klieman tinkers with his spring showcase event next year.