Countdown to Kickoff: Previewing the 2021 football season

Sophomore wide receiver Malik Knowles excites the crowd before a kick return on the Oct. 3, 2020 game against Texas Tech. The Wildcats beat the Red Raiders 31-21 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Archive photo by Dalton Wainscott | Collegian Media Group).

The K-State football team did not achieve what it wanted to this past year, finishing with a 4-6 overall record and 4-5 in conference play to finish seventh in the Big 12.

The Wildcats will lose some key players going into the 2021 season, most notably defensive end Wyatt Hubert. Other losses include tight end Briley Moore, defensive back AJ Parker, linebackers Justin Hughes and Elijah Sullivan and kicker Blake Lynch.

With the team losing key players on both sides of the ball, multiple returning starters and seniors will need to contribute more to the team.

Key players returning on defense include senior Justin Gardner, who finished last season with 16 solo tackles, two interceptions and one touchdown.

Senior defensive back Jahron McPherson will use the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility to return for one more season with the Wildcats. McPherson finished last season with 36 solo tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended.

Senior linebacker Cody Fletcher and senior defensive end Bronson Massie step into the shoes of former players Hubert and Hughes to bring senior leadership to the defensive side of the ball.

Key players returning on the offensive side of the ball include younger talent as well as senior leadership.

The most notable returning player on offense is breakout star running back Deuce Vaughn. Vaughn finished his freshman campaign with 1,076 total yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns.

Vaughn was named the 2020 True Freshman of the Year by 24/7 Sports, received Big 12 Second Team All-American honors and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by coaches in the Big 12.

The Wildcats maintain most of the receiving core, including receiving yards leader Chabastin Taylor, Malik Knowles — who led the team in receiving touchdowns — and First Team All-Big 12 kick and punt returner Phillip Brooks.

The most exciting thing for K-State fans is the return of quarterback Skylar Thompson, whose senior season was cut short this past year because of injury.

Thompson currently sits at fifth all-time in total career yards at K-State with 6,104 total yards. Thompson also ranks seventh in school history for total career touchdowns with 52 throughout his career.

K-State will kickoff its 2021 season in Arlington, Texas, going against the Stanford Cardinal.

The Cardinal finished this past season with a 4-2 record, finishing 3rd in the Pac-12 South Division. The last time the Wildcats and the Cardinal faced one another, Stanford beat K-State 26-13. Current NFL running back Christian McCaffrey ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats in the Cardinal win.

Over the next 100 days leading up to the Stanford game at AT&T Stadium on September 4, we will highlight each player on K-State’s roster — starting from number 99 all the way down to number 0.

Check the Collegian website daily for the player highlight of the day up until the season opener in September.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect spelling of Skylar Thompson’s name. The Collegian regrets this error and it has been fixed.