Kansas State University

K-State fans get a glimpse of the future in backfield pair of talented freshmen

Watch K-State QB John Holcombe pick up 21 yards with his legs

Watch K-State QB John Holcombe pick up 21 yards with his legs
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Watch K-State QB John Holcombe pick up 21 yards with his legs

In the second quarter of Kansas State’s football game Saturday, James Gilbert was pulled off the field for a face he didn’t expect to see.

With a stable of running backs on the sideline, true freshman Jacardia Wright trotted onto the field in relief of Gilbert.

“I thought, ‘What is Coach doing this for? He’s only a freshman,’“ said Gilbert, a graduate transfer. “He got in, did his thing.”

It was Wright’s first time in a Division I game after sitting out in Week 1. He didn’t disappoint. Wright ran 14 times for 59 yards, including a 17-yard rip on an outside zone play in the Wildcats’ 52-0 victory over Bowling Green.

Wright took the handoff, followed his fullback and pulling guard. He turned up field with a shoulder fake to the outside and burst through the hole.

wright outside zone fb lead, mitchell pull

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It was just a glimpse of the future.

Freshman quarterback John Holcombe got valuable snaps, too. In the third quarter, Holcombe launched a deep ball for sophomore receiver Chabastin Taylor. His pass carried over Taylor, over the end zone. Gilbert joked it almost went over the stadium.

The ball traveled about 70 yards in the air. Holcombe, 20, said he can throw it that far flat-footed.

“I was actually throwing that ball away,” Holcombe said postgame. “I rolled out, nothing was open. The safety was over the top of Chabastin. It would be crazy to throw a go ball and get intercepted.”

Holcombe only finished 1-of-3 for nine passing yards, but he also got eight carries for 23 yards and one of the more eye-popping plays of the day.

Junior starter Skylar Thompson said watching the future of the K-State backfield was special. Thompson is the present and said when he is gone, the program is in good hands.

“It’s really just up to John on what he wants to do with all that talent, that’s the main thing,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be important for him to keep learning.”

K-State coach Chris Klieman said any snaps the freshmen can get are good. For Holcombe, Klieman said he wants to see more quick passes, short routes and easy throws.

Much has been made of Holcombe’s running ability. The Wildcats know what he offers in that regard.

“It’s about understanding the defense, seeing the reads,” Klieman said. “All those looks help him immensely.”

Klieman said the snaps are much more important for Holcombe. He said he isn’t throwing the freshmen running backs in the game to pass protect. He wants them to the ball in their hands and see what they can create.

Wright and fellow freshman Joe Ervin showed they can maintain the production. Ervin finished with eight carries for 28 yards and a touchdown. Klieman said their snaps can only build on each other as they gain experience.

Holcombe and Wright are a combined 12-feet-4 and 455 pounds. They have all the physical gifts to succeed in college football, but Gilbert said he believes more is in store for Wright long after he has left Manhattan.

“He’s one of those guys where you can look at him and tell, ‘He’s got it,’” Gilbert said. “As a running back, you dream to have the size he does. I tell him all the time, ‘You just got to keep getting better, stay consistent, keep working hard and the sky is the limit for you.’

“I see him in three or four years getting his name called on Sundays.”

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.