K-State fans weren’t the only ones who felt the 2015 football season started their spiral of a tailspin when then-sophomore quarterback Jesse Ertz suffered a season-ending injury on the first play of the first game. Ertz, who had won the starting job last year, saw what he had prepared for all season slip from his hands.
“I could not ask for a more worse start to the season,” Ertz said. “I learned a lot from it. You get a lot tougher going through stuff like that. It was just a whole season of learning again, even though I could not play. I am still in there, and I still knew the game plan. I am still learning things like that.”
Now Ertz is back in the mix, looking to work his way back to being the Wildcats’ main gunslinger come this fall. He’s not alone in the hunt though, as freshman Alex Delton, who is also coming off an injury, senior Joe Hubener and incoming freshman Skyler Thompson, who has been on campus since the start of the semester, are keeping competition hot throughout the spring.
“It is a very competitive environment,” head coach Bill Snyder said of the three older guys. “I like the fact that each of them has a competitive spirit about them and are heavily invested into, first and foremost, what is best for the team. They are all three very team-oriented guys, and at the same time remain competitive at the position. They have each had their moments, up and down.”
Hubener is the most experienced of the group as he, along with graduated wide receiver-turned-quarterback Kody Cook, led K-State last season at the quarterback position. While he brought a toughness and tenacity to the role that has been a mainstay for K-State quarterbacks, his reign was not the best.
Between the two guys behind center last season, but primarily Hubener, the Wildcats threw for 2,288 yards. K-State hasn’t had that low of production from behind center since 2011, when then-junior Collin Klein threw for 1,970 yards. While that may seem low for the former K-State great remember, Klein also led the team in rushing that year, busting through for 1,141 yards en route to a Cotton Bowl Classic berth.
Game by game numbers also slid. In the 2014 season, the Wildcats threw for over 200 yards in every game that season. Granted, when you have players like Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters, that feat looks simple. Waters also had five 300-plus-yard performances during the 2014 season
Last season, the Wildcats only threw more than 200 yards five times, and they threw for less than 150 yards four times.
While this all seems fairly troubling for K-State, Snyder said he has been impressed with Hubener’s improvement in the offseason.
“(Hubener) has really elevated what he has done in the passing game,” Snyder said. “It has not moved him ahead on the depth chart, but (Hubener’s) numbers have elevated in the last couple of practices, and that is a plus.”
If Hubener steps forward and earns the starting job, he will have a chance to join a history of Snyder-taught quarterbacks who improve dramatically in their second and third year starting under center.
Since Michael Bishop, every single quarterback under Snyder has improved their passing yardage by at least 700 yards after their first year starting. Two of those quarterbacks improved by more than 1,000 yards (Bishop and Waters). With those numbers, a big improvement for the K-State offense in year two of Hubener would not be unprecedented.
While Ertz may have won the job last season and Hubener has the experience, neither have generated the buzz that Delton and Thompson have.
The jury is still out on Thompson, who comes in to K-State as a four-star recruit from Missouri with a powerful arm and more-than-serviceable legs. The Wildcats don’t get many high touted guys, so when Thompson put pen to paper on his letter of intent, K-State fans looked with excitement toward the future.
While we’ll see Thompson play in the spring game, general consensus is that the freshmen will redshirt this season to build his strength and knowledge of the position.
After jumping on the scene at last year’s spring game, Delton grabbed K-State fans’ imagination with his mobility that reminded them of many Wildcat quarterback greats. Delton worked his way to second on the depth chart last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“I am just trying to be the best player that I can be and just the best teammate I can be,” Delton said. “I know if I do my part, the guys next to me will do their part. I am going into this season and this spring with a year of experience now. It may not seem like a lot, but I feel more comfortable. I feel like I can do good things, and I feel like the guys around me can make me better.”
While Snyder doesn’t have a history of turning over the reigns to a freshman, Delton is receiving good returns from the coaches so far this spring.
“(Delton) has really gotten off to an excellent start and had three pretty good days of practice,” Snyder said. “He was not quite as productive on Saturday, but I appreciated the way he jumped in and picked up where he left off. He is a very competitive young guy and a little bit better player right now than he was last season before he got hurt.”
K-State fans will have a chance to see all four quarterbacks in action later this month on April 23 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the annual Purple-White Spring Game.