Last Saturday, the K-State football team ran onto Sporting Park’s field for their annual spring game. For the first time in four years, however, No. 16 wasn’t among the purple and white jerseys, reminding us once again that Tyler Lockett’s time with K-State has come to an end.
With Lockett gone, a gap has formed not only at the wide receiver position, but also in the return game where Lockett will remain as one of the best in K-State and Big 12 history.
Last weekend’s game may have hinted at who on head coach Bill Snyder’s squad can step up and close the gap.
Blazing down the field at Sporting Park was a name not too many Wildcat fans were familiar with. But, by the end of the scrimmage, it was on the tip of the tongue of almost every purple patron in Kansas City, Kansas.
Dominique Heath, a redshirt freshman from Huntersville, North Carolina, was arguably the star on Saturday. From his electrifying 59-yard kick return to start off the game to his 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Heath racked up 374 return yards in a dominant performance.
“It felt good,” Heath said. “Especially with me redshirting, this was really my first game since high school. So just getting back on the field and getting out there and moving around and just playing ball again, getting back in rhythm, (was great).”
Snyder, who in the past had all punts fair caught in spring games to prevent injuries, decided to have allow his return specialists to display their abilities.
Heath took advantage of that decision.
“We just needed to work on our special teams,” Snyder said. “We did it exactly the way we practiced it with exception that we allowed them to be tackled. I thought Heath did a very nice job and bested some people. I think he is very, very viable. Now we just need to get some people to help him and get some blockers in front of him.”
Part of Heath’s progression as a return man is credited to a very important redshirt year last season where he was able to witness Lockett’s playmaking abilities firsthand.
“Coming in as a freshman, I wanted to get on the field,” Heath said. “When they told me I was redshirting, I was upset with it. But I stepped back and looked, and I learned from (Lockett). It really helped me, especially going into this year, in what I needed to work on and just watching him overall as a person. He taught me a lot of things.”
Heath could become the face of one of the best return units in college football. Since 1999, K-State leads the country in non-offensive touchdowns scored and has gone 10-straight seasons with a kick return for a touchdown, which also leads the nation.
The shoes that Heath will have to fill are large but the freshman is not daunted by the large shadow cast by Lockett’s legacy. Heath even has his eye on possibly rewriting a couple of record books before his time in Manhattan is through.
“Me and Lockett, we joke around,” Heath said. “I told him I’m coming for all of his records. Receiving, kick return and punt returning. We take it very seriously.”