In college football, teams are faced with the challenge of replacing talent across the field almost every season. That is the case for Kansas State as it inches toward the start of the 2018 season, and one of those positions is wide receiver.
Byron Pringle was a two-year starter at wide receiver for K-State, and after being signed as an undrafted free agent, Pringle is now participating in training camp as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dominique Heath earned a significant amount of playing time for three years as a Wildcat, but has transferred to Appalachian State for his final year of eligibility.
Some have been questioning how well the receiving core will fare in the absence of such veteran experience. The Wildcats return just two receivers with more than 20 receptions. Those some two are also the only receivers with over 200 receiving yards.
Despite that, neither of them are panicking at how they and their fellow wideouts will perform.
“I think we have a full group this year,” said Isaiah Zuber, a junior wide receiver out of Stone Mountain, Georgia, at K-State’s Football Media Day today.
Zuber said he is confident in young guys who played a little bit last year and just learned the plays, mentioning sophomores DJ Render and Isaiah Harris. He added that Wykeen Gill, a sophomore who redshirted in 2016 and was not a member of the team in 2017, has really been stepping up.
As for Zuber himself, he is the leading returning receiver for the Wildcats in nearly every statistical category. In 2017, No. 7 caught 51 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns.
That fact brings a lot of expectation with it, possibly a little bit of pressure as well, but that is not something he said he wants to think about. Zuber said he feels some pressure, but not really, and added that coach Andre Coleman tells his players to “just play their game and cancel out all the noise.”
Canceling out the noise and eliminating distractions appears to be a focus for Zuber. He said in order to be the number one receiver he must “keep my head focused, quiet out all the noise and not let anything get to me.”
While the 6-foot, 183-pound target wants to be mentally sound, he has also been spending a lot of time in the film room, and he said he has been paying a lot of attention to detail this off-season.
“I have watched film from every game last year and from practice to see everything that I messed up on,” Zuber said. “I have been meeting with Coach Coleman and he has told me what I need to work on and I have been working on those things.”
Zuber said getting off the line better and learning to evaluate coverages are areas he is trying to improve in.
Schoen, a junior wide receiver, heads into the 2018 season after snagging 23 passes for a total of 470 yards and three scores during his sophomore campaign.
Schoen’s impact last season was felt early on. In the season opener against Central Arkansas, Schoen caught his first career pass and took it 70 yards for a touchdown.
“That was an unreal moment for me,” Schoen said. “To dream about this my whole life and my first catch to go 70 yards for a touchdown was awesome. I feel like it just attributes to the work that I have been putting in.”
Schoen’s best performance of the season came in a loss at Texas on October 7 when he caught five passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Nearly a month later, on November 4, he had five receptions for 103 yards, including a game-tying two-point conversion that contributed to a tight overtime victory at Texas Tech.
Just one week later, Schoen’s season would be cut short after suffering a broken collarbone against West Virginia. He would miss the remaining two regular season games and the bowl game.
“Getting hurt during the tenth game of the year was really tough on me, having to sit on the sidelines and watch,” Schoen said. “I’m super excited to get back out here and perform. Going through spring ball and summer was all good, but I’m excited to play games.”
Schoen also addressed those who doubt this year’s group of receivers. He said the questions are understandable because the receivers seem to be one of the youngest units on the K-State offense, but that still should not count them out.
“We do have less experience than other groups, but we have a lot of young guys who are hungry, a lot of guys ready to step up and make big plays,” Schoen said. “I think our biggest strength is that we can do it as a group, and if we all get going, we can be a good unit.”
He named redshirt freshmen Chabastin Taylor and Landry Weber as two of those young guys, but added that there are others working hard and competing as well. That competition among the receiver group is something that Schoen said he feels has benefited the team.
Schoen has been crafting his game this off-season, too. He said a big focus for him is identifying what the defense is in and being on the same page with his quarterbacks so they know how he is going to run certain things to maximize opportunities.
He said he feels something he individually brings to the table is being “assignment sound, technique sound and fundamental sound.”
“I try to bring sound fundamentals and technique, then a little bit of intelligence,” Schoen said. “I want to be able to identify what the defense is doing and try to run my route to maximize my opportunity to be open, or to help the scheme as whole.”
It is not enough to just talk about the players. Indeed, they are the ones who take the field on Saturdays, but coaches have a large responsibility to equip players with knowledge and skill to execute on game days.
Andre Coleman has been the wide receivers coach for the Wildcats since 2013. During the spring, he was promoted to offensive coordinator as well.
With NFL experience on his resume, Coleman has a lot of expertise and knowledge to pass on to his players. Coleman was a Wildcat receiver before spending time in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I think Coach Coleman does a great job because he played receiver here and in the NFL,” Schoen said. “I think since he has done that and he is kind of a younger coach; he can really relate to us and he does a good job explaining things in a way that we can understand. We never have to question what he says because he has done it.”
Coleman said this group should not be doubted “because they are hard workers and they are very resilient.”
Amidst question of how a group of two experienced and many young receivers will perform this season, one thing is clear: much hard work is being put in and young players are competing and stepping up.
Pair that with a NFL-experienced coach in Coleman, who is confident in his players: “I think we’re going to be just fine,” Coleman said.