K-State football looks to open season with a bang against Nicholls

New head coach Chris Klieman talks about his gratitude towards the K-State family in welcoming him to Manhattan at a press conference in December. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

The last time Chris Klieman was on a football field, he was celebrating his fourth Football Championship Subdivision National Championship with North Dakota State. Nine months later, he will begin a new era at Kansas State against Nicholls State this Saturday, taking over coaching after the retirement of Bill Snyder.

All the talk comes to reality as Klieman hopes to bring success to Kansas State, a program that looks to right the ship after a mediocre 5-7 season with five losses coming on the road.

Many players are looking to erase the sour taste in their mouths after dropping a crucial game on the road against Iowa State and failing to become bowl-eligible last season. During that game, the Wildcats held a 38-21 lead with 12:27 remaining before the Cyclones scored 21 unanswered points to win 42-38.

Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson has been waiting all off-season for this Saturday.

“It’s kind of surreal, but it’s been a time that I have been anticipating for the past eight months since the last game versus Iowa State,” Thompson said. “The fire I had in my stomach walking off that field, this is a moment I have been waiting for and working for this whole offseason.”

Thompson enters the 2019 season as the outright starter for the Wildcats.

Kansas State junior quarterback Skylar Thompson prepares for the snap to begin his next play for the Wildcats. Kansas State played Mississippi State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 11 a.m. this Saturday, falling to the MSU Bulldogs 30-10. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

K-State will return 71.7 percent of the receiving production from last year along with the quarterback that is responsible for 71.5 percent of the passing production.

Klieman said fans may see true freshman wide receiver Joshua Youngblood play this week.

“I see him in the mix of six or seven guys,” Klieman said. “Whether you put a two-deep for us either at wide receiver or tight end, we’ve always played a lot of those guys anyway. I would envision Josh playing this week.”

Youngblood will most likely receive limited playing time during the season to keep his redshirt eligibility.

Nicholls is fresh off a 9-4 finish in the Southland Conference and will be facing its first Power Five opponent since defeating Kansas 26-23 in overtime last year. Saturday will be the first meeting between programs as well as the first time a Klieman-led team will face the Colonels.

Klieman spoke highly of Nicholls senior quarterback Chase Fourcade.

“A great quarterback, a guy that I have a ton of respect for,” Klieman said. “I’ve watched him for the last couple of years because we’ve played teams that they’ve played in the [FCS] playoffs.”

In 2018, Fourcade led the Colonels to a 7-2 conference record and a Southland Conference title but fell in the second round of the FCS playoffs, losing to the runner-up Eastern Washington who played North Dakota State in the final.

“He’s got a bunch of moxy; he’s an athletic guy,” Klieman said. “He’s not a very big guy, but he plays big. He runs the ball extremely well. He throws the ball with accuracy. He just knows their system so well.”

Fourcade rushed for 838 yards and 13 touchdowns and threw for 2,930 yards with 21 touchdowns in 13 games in 2018.

It may be easy to assume that the division level is enough of a gap, and traditionally K-State has a dominant history, but the Wildcats narrowly escaped last season with a 27-24 win over South Dakota and suffered a 24-21 home loss to North Dakota State where Klieman was the defensive coordinator at the time.

“I know what those teams are going through and I know that you prepare all summer and fall camp for your opportunities to play an FBS opponent,” said Klieman.

“I try not to get caught up into one game being more important than another, but this is the game we are at, and I know we are going to get Nicholls’s best,” Kleiman continued.

At the Tuesday press conference, position changes were also discussed.

Junior corner Walter Neil Jr. is one of the many players who have made a position change. Neil played eight games as a nickelback and will be the starting corner for the home opener.

“At first I was like ‘Oh snap,’ new coaches and moving back to corner because that’s what I came in as,” Neil said. “But as camp went by, I started getting used to and adjusted to it. Now I’m looking forward to taking on a new challenge.”

Junior nickelback Jahron McPherson, who appeared in 10 games including a start against Kansas, will replace Neil.

There will be plenty of new festivities and fanfare that have already been announced, but Klieman gave fans something to look forward to come Saturday.

“This is a players game, and they have had some input on what we are doing too,” Klieman said. “The players have the biggest job; the plays and I want those guys to be excited and have energy coming out. We have talked about some things, but we’ll let it unfold on Saturday.”

The Klieman era has already featured more access to fans through social media as well as fan interactions with the team. The Wildcats will kick off the season at home against Nicholls on Saturday at 6 pm on ESPN+.