Nate Jackson, a junior defensive back with limited playing experience, will start at free safety for Kansas State against UCLA at the Alamo Bowl.
K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes announced the decision at a news conference Tuesday.
Jackson will play alongside strong safety Dante Barnett. It will be his first start, though he played in four games, making nine tackles.
“The good thing about Nate is he is a mature player, a player that learns quickly,” Hayes said. “He’s had to, because we’ve had two injuries at that position during the course of the year. That is the next-man-up business that we’re in.”
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The Wildcats have been searching for a replacement at free safety with Dylan Schellenberg and Travis Green both sidelined by season-ending injuries. Schellenberg fractured his leg against Baylor. Green is recovering from ligament damage and will seek a transfer.
K-State coach Bill Snyder said last week he was also considering using Corey Jackson, a redshirt freshman, and Kaleb Prewett, a freshman, at the Alamo Bowl. But Nate Jackson won the job.
“He’ll do a good job,” Hayes said. “He’s a guy that’s detailed in his assignments and will be a good partner alongside Dante.”
Barnett said he was impressed by Jackson’s play in recent practices. So much so, that he says they can switch positions and play off each other in all situations.
“We have one strong bond,” Barnett said. “I feel like we can go out there on the field and compete against anyone. He practices good all the time. This is nothing new.”
Dual kickers — Freshman kicker Matthew McCrane has exceeded all expectations since taking over as K-State’s kicker four games into the season. He has made 16 of 17 field goals, connecting on kicks from as far away as 53 yards and breaking K-State’s scoring record by a freshman, previously held by Martin Gramatica.
That earned him honorable mention honors on the Big 12’s all-league team and freshman All-America honors from USA Today.
Special teams coordinator Sean Snyder can’t wait to see what he does in his final three seasons.
“I think he is just getting started,” Snyder said. “He is very young and he has to gain some more strength, but he is a very accurate kicker, as you can see.”
Still, McCrane hasn’t handled K-State’s kicking duties by himself. Jack Cantele, a senior and former Kapaun standout, has attempted kicks in six games, despite losing starting status after missing three field goals against Auburn.
At the start of practice Tuesday, Cantele and McCrane rotated on field goals.
Though McCrane will be called on in all pressure situations against UCLA, Snyder said he is keeping Cantele ready in case he is needed.
“He is a very, very mature young man and he handles these things very well,” Snyder said of Cantele. “He is realistic. He understands what is going on. He has a very good honest self-assessment, and he is ready. He could kick tomorrow if he has to go, and we would be confident in him.”
Snyder said Cantele earned respect by the way he handled the Auburn misses.
Opportunity knocked — In the winter of 1979, K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes was 31 years old and married, with one kid and another on the way. And he was jobless.
Hayes had spent one season as the defensive backs coach at Cal State-Fullerton before the man who hired him, Jim Colletto, bolted to take an assistant coach job at UCLA.
“(Colletto) told me not to worry, that he was going to be able to get me an interview with Terry Donahue, who was the UCLA coach at the time,” Hayes said. “And the day of the interview, it was this terrible storm, just pouring rain, and (Donahue) called and told me we could just do it another day, because it was like an 85-mile drive from my house to his house.
“I took one look at my wife and said ‘Nope, I’m coming’ and ended up staying over there for three hours and he offered me the job to coach defensive backs the next day. If I don’t go over there, who knows what happens next? Maybe that next day (Donahue) offers somebody else the job?”
Myles and Myles — Don’t be surprised to see UCLA linebacker Myles Jack chasing down K-State quarterback Jake Waters for a sack on one play, then covering Tyler Lockett downfield on the next.
“I don’t know if you could really call him just a linebacker, because we use him everywhere,” UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “He’s just a freak … he’s that chess piece you can move all over the field. He’s essentially a cornerback in a 235-pound body.”
Jack, a 6-foot-1, 232-pound sophomore from Bellevue, Wash., really does move all over the field … on both sides of the ball.
Last season, he was the Pac-12’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, racking up 75 tackles while running for 267 yards and seven touchdowns on 38 carries. He has 80 tackles this season, and has been used almost exclusively on defense.
“It’s crazy sometimes,” said Jack, laughing. “They tell me to get out there, offense or defense, I’m gonna be ready.”