K-State football coach Chris Klieman makes first Wichita public appearance
Chris Klieman has been Kansas State’s football coach for six months, but his schedule remains as hectic as the day he was hired. He hasn’t settled into his office yet, let alone his house or his town. Everything still feels new.
Things will surely slow down at some point, but not right now. Not while he is hard at work preparing for his first season with the Wildcats and spending long hours recruiting for the future.
“Recruiting is always a priority,” Klieman said. “It’s a year-round thing. You have to multi-task to make it happen once the season starts, but that’s our job as coaches. We do it every single day, especially right now. There is nobody on our staff who is not out on the road. We have a full complement of guys out there — our assistants, our coordinators, you name it.”
The early results of that labor: 25 signees who could help as early as next season and five pledges set to arrive in 2020.
It will be several years before we know anything definitive about the current state of K-State football recruiting, other than that the Wildcats are operating with more urgency than fans were accustomed to under former coach Bill Snyder, but Klieman is “really pleased” with how things have gone so far.
He can say that with confidence, because it’s been a long time since the Wildcats have started this strong in a recruiting cycle. K-State usually has one or two prospects lined up by the middle of May, but it already has commitments from five 2020 recruits. That’s the same number as Texas and only two off the Big 12 lead.
Rivals ranks four of those five recruits as three-star prospects, and K-State beat solid competition for most of them. That’s also a bit of a change.
Louisiana receiver Makholven Sonn chose K-State over Arkansas, Houston, Kansas and West Virginia. Texas running back Chris Vaughn has offers from Arkansas, Missouri and South Florida. Olathe East defensive end Nate Matlack holds offers from Kansas and Syracuse.
Only California tight end Christian Moore chose the Wildcats without receiving much recruiting interest from other schools.
That’s a big reason why 247Sports currently ranks K-State at No. 44 in its team rankings and Rivals has the Wildcats at No. 51. There’s a long way to go until signing day, but the Wildcats are on pace for their best recruiting class in a decade.
Playing catch up
Still, K-State recruiting has been far from a dream under Klieman.
The Wildcats struck out trying to land some of the highest profile prospects in the Sunflower State this spring, and those misses have arguably been the most noticeable part of Klieman’s early recruiting efforts.
That much was obvious last month when Free State offensive lineman Turner Corcoran (Nebraska), Emporia offensive lineman Hayden Pauls (Iowa State) and Topeka running back Ky Thomas (Minnesota) all spurned the Wildcats in the span of a few weeks.
Those decisions were cause for panic among die-hard fans. Kansas is blessed with an usually high number of college football prospects at the moment, and K-State’s hopes of landing the best of the bunch were dashed.
Klieman arrived in Manhattan with talk of owning the state and landing lots of recruits from the Kansas City metro area. But that will be easier said than done.
“They have done some exciting things outside the area, but they have work to do locally and that is going to take time,” said Jeremy Crabtree, a former recruiting analyst at ESPN and Rivals who has followed K-State for decades. “It raises some flags when you lose a Kansas kid to someone like Iowa State, but they had been recruiting him for two years and K-State’s coaches just got here. They are playing catch up right now while they work to build relationships.”
Those misses didn’t seem to bother Klieman. The Wildcats followed that string of recruiting losses with a string of recruiting victories and assembled the makings of a promising recruiting class by landing all four of the players they hosted at their spring showcase.
And it’s not like he hasn’t found any in-state recruiting success. Manhattan offensive lineman Sam Shields and Matlack both call the Sunflower State home.
But Klieman wants more.
“It’s really important that we recruit well in the state of Kansas and give kids in this state an opportunity if they are interested in Kansas State,” Klieman said. “But it’s a challenge. We are trying to continue to build relationships and make in roads with all the high school coaches and potential prospects in our state. It’s a good state with lots of football talent.”
Close to home
How concerned should K-State fans be with the Wildcats’ lack of in-state recruiting dominance?
For now, it’s hard to say. But it’s been a while since K-State owned its home state. The Wildcats haven’t signed the top-rated Kansas recruit since Nick Patton in 2004, and it’s been at least a decade since they landed more than five in-state players in the same recruiting cycle.
Changing things will be a challenge, because there’s more competition than ever. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State treat Wichita as a valuable area. Clemson, West Virginia and Iowa State have recruiting ties across the state, and other power-conference teams are always looking.
The state’s top-rated football prospect hasn’t stayed home since 2006.
In other words, Klieman didn’t inherit a turn-key operation.
He hopes to “cast a wide net” on the recruiting trail. He will rely on Texas, Florida and California as well as neighboring states as much as he will Kansas. Much like during his time at North Dakota State, he will look for talent just about anywhere. But he is doing what he can to improve recruiting close to home.
That’s of extra importance with Les Miles trying to do the exact same thing with the Jayhawks.
Klieman visited high school coaching clinics in Wichita and Kansas City and invited coaches from across the state to attend K-State’s own coaching clinic this spring. And he has more visits planned.
“I am trying to make our program as open as we can so they know they are welcome here,” Klieman said. “They can come to practice and visit with our coaches any time they want.”
Klieman also hit the road to make some in-person visits to Kansas high schools shortly after he was hired.
Derby was one of them.
In recent years, the Panthers have sent Devin Hedgepeth and Trace Clark to Oklahoma State as well as DeAndre Goolsby to Florida. And K-State is currently in the mix for Derby offensive linemen Alex Conn, along with Arizona, Iowa State, Kansas, Nebraska and TCU.
Conn visited K-State and told his coach, Brandon Clark, that he felt at home watching the Wildcats practice. But he seemed more impressed when Klieman and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton dropped by his school for two hours and talked to everyone from Derby players to secretaries.
“It was amazing,” Clark said. “I was so impressed with those guys. You could tell they had some intensity, but they were just laid back, good guys. I think that goes a long way with our players. I know it meant a lot to Alex and some of the other kids that they talked to. They let you get to know them.”
Investing in recruiting
Klieman thinks it is important to use a personal touch on the recruiting trail.
That’s why he doesn’t pay attention to recruiting services and personally evaluates every player the Wildcats consider extending a scholarship. When it comes time to offer a recruit, he insists on doing it himself.
“I feel comfortable doing that and I would much rather it come from me than an assistant,” Klieman said. “I think that means more to a high school athlete, and I want to visit with as many of them as I can.”
But he also wants more help. For years, Taylor Braet has served as the team’s director of recruiting without much of a support staff.
As other schools have added extra on-campus recruiters, graphic designers and social-media experts to help connect with prospects, the Wildcats remained stagnant.
That isn’t Klieman’s style.
“We are working on that right now,” Klieman said. “It’s something we want to do and something we need to do. We are confident we will slowly start that process and catch up.”
K-State seems to be investing everywhere under its new coach when it comes to recruiting. It’s a priority for Klieman, and that’s not going to change.
Not even after he settles in.