Kansas State football coach Chris Klieman can’t predict when Joshua Youngblood will become a major part of the Wildcats’ offense. But Klieman is willing to guarantee it will happen at some point, and probably this season.
That’s how good Youngblood has looked early on during preseason camp. The 5-foot-10 receiver from Tampa has too much talent to watch games from the sideline, even as a freshman.
“Joshua Youngblood is a kid that makes splash plays,” Klieman said. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing right now, but he makes splash plays and will probably be in the mix somewhere.”
Simply put: It’s a question of when, not if with Youngblood.
That says a lot about Youngblood and K-State’s coaching staff. In previous years, it was rare for a K-State freshman to crack the depth chart, let alone see meaningful action or start in games. But Klieman views rookie players much differently than former coach Bill Snyder. If a freshman is good enough to play, Klieman won’t hesitate to get him on the field.
And Youngblood is definitely good enough to play. Klieman has hyped him up since the moment he signed with the Wildcats last winter, calling him the steal of his inaugural recruiting class. Klieman then followed that up with more praise over the summer.
Like it or not, Youngblood will begin his college career with high expectations.
“My goal is to play this year,” Youngblood said. “I wouldn’t have come all the way here just to sit and not try to get on the field. I am trying to play and to make a statement.”
The main thing Youngblood brings to the roster is speed, and he has flashed his quickness as both a receiver and as a returner in practices. But he also has good hands and a high football IQ. That’s because he played quarterback throughout the majority of his high school career.
That’s the main reason he thinks he wasn’t heavily recruited. He says Army, Navy and South Florida liked him as a quarterback, a few other schools wanted him to play defensive back, and K-State thought he could shine as a route runner. No one could agree on where Youngblood fit best in a college offense.
Youngblood liked his future at receiver with the Wildcats and purchased a purple suit to celebrate his decision. But he will always have a QB1 mentality.
“I feel like it has helped me a lot,” Youngblood said. “Some people were like, oh his routes aren’t going to be good, but playing quarterback helped me with identifying defenses. I can tell the difference between Cover 4 and Cover 2 or when they start out in Cover 4 and roll to Cover 2 so it’s really Cover 6 roll. It just helped me become smarter on the field.”
Still, he has faced a steep learning curve since practices began earlier this month.
“Learning the playbook is my biggest thing right now,” Youngblood said. “Athletically, I am competing with everyone right now. I still have to clean up some things, some mental errors. But athletically, physically I am doing well. I just have to learn the playbook, the motions and everything like that.”
Once he does, his teammates are eager to see what he can do with the ball in his hands.
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson recognized Youngblood’s talent immediately and took him under his wing the moment Youngblood arrived on campus. Youngblood may not surpass Dalton Schoen, Malik Knowles or Wykeen Gill as the team’s go-to receiver, but he could play a big role within the offense following the offseason departures of Hunter Rison and Isaiah Zuber.
Thompson wants him to play as a freshman.
“He is a really dynamic player,” Thompson said. “On special teams, kick return and punt return, that dude gets the ball and it’s like holy cow. His eyes just get huge and he is really aggressive. It’s the same thing on jet sweeps, he gets out there and runs hard.”
Once he masters the playbook, he could be a valuable member of K-State’s offense.
The Wildcats want to use him in the slot as well as on the perimeter. They might even occasionally use him as a runner. Maybe he even attempts a pass. Who knows?
He has a high ceiling for a K-State freshman.