The departure of linebacker Charmeachealle Moore was already difficult enough for the Kansas State football team going into the 2017 season. Then in early January junior linebacker Elijah Lee chose to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Just like that the Wildcats top two tacklers and playmakers are gone. 27 percent of the teams tackles a year ago are gone. There are big shoes to fill, but thankfully for the Wildcats there is no shortage of options to fill them.
Head coach Bill Snyder said that there are many players capable of stepping into a starting role next season at linebacker, but three players have stood above the rest during spring practices.
“I like Trent Tanking, I like Jayd Kirby, I like Sam Sizelove. I like all of them, but I think those three probably stand a step above the rest,” Snyder said. “I see them now playing with less tentativeness than before and that’s what comes from practice if you’re diligent about it. I don’t have any qualms about their capabilities, it’s just about being able to get acclimated to playing every single snap every single day, and they’ve done a good job of that.”
Snyder said he thinks the group is tackling as good as he had seen at any point in the spring a year ago.
“I like the play of our linebackers,” Snyder said. “I think our guys are flying around better. In my observation we’re tackling better than at any time a year ago at this stage of going through spring, they’re doing those kind of things better.”
With the loss of Lee and last year’s senior leaders Moore and Will Davis, senior linebacker Trent Tanking said this spring has had a different feel.
“It is a little different,” Tanking said. “Last year we were going into spring ball bringing everybody back, and this year we lost four guys that contributed a lot and played the last three years.”
With the losses, the competition at the linebacker spot has heated up. Tanking, senior linebacker Jayd Kirby and junior linebacker Sam Sizelove all have experience, and players like junior Da’Quan Patton, a transfer student, will also factor in at the position.
“It is tough,” Sizelove said. “We have four or five guys that are playing on a first-team level. Every day you have to bring your A-game and just be disciplined. Each of us is playing aggressively and trying to make as many plays as we can.”
Sizelove said that this group of linebackers is prepared to step into starting roles after working and crafting their game behind the talented departing group.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re not a weak link and I don’t think that we will be,” Sizelove said. “(We’ve just) kind of been waiting and seeing great linebackers before us like (Moore) or (Lee) or (Davis) so I feel like we’re prepared for this.”
The linebacking core will get their first chance to show what they can do this Saturday at the spring game in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.