What to watch for as K-State football concludes spring practices

Kicking off the new era of coaching, Kansas State head football coach Chris Klieman and his coaching staff held a spring showcase game to introduce themselves to the K-State Family and show off what their players can do. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

The first glimpse of change for the Kansas State football team was seen at the Spring Showcase on Saturday inside Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

With head coach Chris Klieman now at the helm, fans can possibly see a different style of football on Saturdays in Manhattan.

Although the coaching staff is different, the Wildcats lost 19 starters and retained 19 starters from last year’s team.

The position that probably won’t be changing is the quarterback spot.

Junior Skylar Thompson seems to be the one with a grasp on the position. He said he feels more comfortable knowing that his team has confidence in him.

“My teammates believe in me and trust me and that allows me to go out there and not second guess myself,” Thompson said. “It’s elevated our offense so I’m thankful for that.”

Thompson is coming back after playing in 11 of 12 games a year ago and throwing for 1,391 yards, also with had 14 total touchdowns.

“His constant ability to want to learn more within the offense has impressed me,” Klieman said. “Our coaches continue to give him more and more information and he’s able to retain. That’s maybe what impressed me the most about him. We threw everything in the playbook at him, but when we come back in the fall it will all be recalled for him.”

However, there is some competition for the spot; freshman John Holcombe is Thompson’s heels.

“I like the competition we have at the quarterback spot,” Klieman said. “All of them are doing some special things and learning the system. Skylar has a big advantage because he has played in Big 12 games before.”

Klieman also said he likes the transfers that he has got for his team this season. The most noteworthy are sophomore Hunter Rison, who is coming to Manhattan from Michigan State University, and James Gilbert, who transferred from Ball State. Both players are competing for a running back spot.

“Justin has probably been the most impressive, that’s why he didn’t take as many snaps today,” Kleiman said. “We have great competition, but you’ve got to have a variety of guys, not just one.”

A tough guy to replace, K-State senior linebacker Justin Hughes tore his ACL last week, Klieman said, and will miss the entire season.

“He’ll be back and he’s got an opportunity to take a medical hardship and he’s going to do that,” Klieman said. “The challenge for him now his for him to be that leader from the sideline next year. I think he’ll learn from and be back for 2020.”

Freshman Sammy Wheeler is a tight end to keep an eye on for next year after a one-handed catch caught many by surprise in Saturday’s spring game. He was originally going to be a quarterback, but he came to the coaching staff and wanted to change his position.

The defense will have big shoes to fill after eight defensive lettermen did not return. K-State had a top-five defense in nearly every Big 12 category last year including third in scoring defense, allowing an average of 25 points per game.

“We’ve got a number of bodies inside that I like,” Klieman said. “The defensive front is where it starts for us and we’re learning in the secondary.”

The Klieman Era will officially start on Aug. 31 when the Wildcats host Nicholls State.