True freshman wide receiver Joshua Youngblood has blazing speed. He is explosive. At 5-foot-10-inches and 180 pounds, he doesn’t have the size as other wide receivers in the Big 12, but he uses his agility to his advantage.
He didn’t play much at wide receiver this season due to Kansas State’s depth at that position — he had just nine receptions for 73 yards on the season — but he made an impact in a big way through returning kickoffs.
Youngblood grew up in Tampa, Florida, where his three uncles trained him hard starting in the sixth grade. He wasn’t listed as a wide receiver and wasn’t returning kickoffs in high school where he played at Berkeley Prep as a quarterback.
He also played basketball, but he said he wasn’t good enough to receive any Division I offers. He was a hustle player with speed, and that got him a lot of steals, but nothing worth a Division I scholarship.
But football was a different story.
Youngblood originally committed to Temple University. Then Chris Klieman came to K-State as head coach. The crazy thing? The Tampa native had never heard of K-State until Klieman got ahold of him and offered him a scholarship a few days later.
Youngblood did his research and accepted the offer.
After a 26-13 loss to Oklahoma State in week four, the coaches put Youngblood with the special teams unit to return kickoffs. He had never returned a kickoff in his career.
He went on to have 13 returns for a total of 495 yards, an average of 38 yards per return — along with three touchdowns.
“He is an electric kid,” Klieman said. “He can flat fly. He has got a knack. Kickoff returns are a knack of being slow to it and then hitting it at the right time and understanding where your blocks are at. He has that second gear.”
In week 11 against Texas, the Wildcats got an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but couldn’t muster any points in the second and third. They fell to a 24-14 deficit. The Wildcats needed a spark which Youngblood provided in a 98 yard return.
In a back-and-forth battle against Texas Tech in week 13, Youngblood responded to a Texas Tech touchdown with a 100-yard kickoff return to put the Wildcats up by 10 points.
In week 14 against Iowa State, he got the game going for the Wildcats as he raced for 93 yards on the opening kickoff to score a touchdown, opening the way for a 27-17 victory.
“It sets the tone,” senior running back James Gilbert said. “Special teams wins or loses the game. For [Youngblood] to be making plays like that week in and week out, it definitely gives the offense and defense momentum.”
Youngblood’s kickoff returns have been a surprise to many viewers because he has come out of the shadow as a freshman – especially with never returning kickoffs before. But to the members of the Wildcat football team, it’s nothing new.
“He is from Tampa; he always preaches it’s a different speed down there,” Gilbert said. “For him to accelerate and watch from the sideline, it’s a good view. But we see that every day in practice, so it’s no shock or surprise. He is going to be really good at football for years to come.”
His 100-yard kickoff return against Texas Tech earned him the title of Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week, a title he won two weeks in a row.
Youngblood did not take credit for the award. The day after receiving it, he sent a message to the whole special teams unit to tell them each one of them deserved the award, and he couldn’t have done it without them. He thanked them for the blocking.
“If it was one of the other returners returning the kick, they would’ve scored, too, because the blocking was there,” Youngblood said. “I really haven’t done much. I just follow the blocks and run through the holes. It was the other 10 guys that did their job. The first team’s unit, we want to go get another one. We just want to be dangerous every time we touch the field.”
His returns this season brought on comparisons to K-State great Tyler Lockett.
‘The sky is the limit’
Youngblood will have more chances at returns next season, but this season he learned a lot from fellow wide receivers: senior Dalton Schoen, redshirt freshman Malik Knowles and junior Wykeen Gill.
“I’m just happy this team is full of selfless players — a lot of them after I scored told me that was a good return and stuff like that,” Youngblood said. “It has been a great year so far in terms of people supporting me, like the older guys. I really appreciate them taking me under their wing and telling me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong.”
Schoen said Youngblood has a lot of potential he could grow into.
“The sky is the limit for [Youngblood],” Schoen said. “He has had a phenomenal year this year and when you think about it this year, he hasn’t done as much at receiver as he could. He has made huge plays in other areas of the game and so if you add what he has the ability to do at receiver on top of that he is going to be a dynamic player for years to come. We all know it.”
Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson said he and Youngblood have the foundation to establish a solid quarterback/wide receiver duo.
“He’s a freshman and he can be as good as he wants to be, and I’m going to do my best to push him every single day and just encourage him to not be satisfied and continue to be hungry,” Thompson said. “He is a great teammate, and a great person with a great head on his shoulders that he really understands where he wants to get to and what it’s going to take to get there. He is really special. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to compete at this level as a freshman.”
Because he played this season and missed out on a year of development with other freshman, the offseason will be huge for Youngblood as he works to becomes a prominent wide receiver in the Big 12.
“[Skylar and I] just got to work every day, just build each other and have the chemistry,” Youngblood said. “That is really it. It’s going to come with time and effort.”
Klieman — the one who brought the flashy wide receiver to Kansas State – said he looks forward to seeing Youngblood grow as a player.
“I’m really excited about his future with — obviously for a true freshman to do what he has done is pretty cool to have,” Klieman said. “We are excited about his next three years with us.”