Countdown to Kickoff: 54 days away with offensive lineman Hadley Panzer, linebacker Kienen Gaskin

Leading up to the start of K-State's 2021 football season, the Collegian takes a look at what to expect and highlights every player on the roster. (Archive photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Small-town America gave Kansas State an explosive 6 foot 3 inch, 300-pound offensive lineman in Hadley Panzer, one of two players wearing No. 54 this upcoming season.

Coming out of Lakin, Kansas, Panzer played high school football under former Wildcat Chris Bamberger (2005-08). Although Bamberger was a linebacker at K-State, he still helped prepare Panzer for the DI level — even from a town of just 1,780 people.

Coaches decided to give Panzer a grayshirt this past season — his first year — meaning Panzer didn’t enroll to K-State until spring 2021, saving Panzer a year of eligibility. Despite already having been on campus, Panzer will technically start as a freshman on the team this coming season.

One possible reason he received a grayshirt is because of an incident Panzer went through during his senior season. In a first-round playoff win versus Ellsworth High School, Panzer broke his fibula, officially ending his high school football career.

Panzer was able to play competitive football once more during the 2020 Kansas Shrine Bowl but remained nervous because of his injury.

“Practice for me, just putting on the pads, I had butterflies in my stomach when I first put them on just because last time I put on the pads, it wasn’t such a good deal,” Panzer said in an interview with the Manhattan Mercury.

Panzer shined as a captain in the game, leaving him excited for Manhattan. Being from a small town in western Kansas, the level of competition never matched up to his large frame. The Shrine Bowl gave him a better idea of how the next level of football might look.

“I think [the Shrine Bowl] opened my eyes and helped me grow as a player to say, ‘Hey, I need to pick it up a little bit and get more physical if I want to play at the next level,'” Panzer said in his interview with the Manhattan Mercury.

A three-star prospect by 247Sports, Panzer was ranked the 29th-best center in the nation coming out of high school. At Lakin, Panzer was named first-team all-state by the Topeka Capital-Journal, Wichita Eagle and Kansas Football Coaches Association.

These accolades brought offers from DI schools Akron and Iowa State, but Panzer decided to stay in Kansas. Panzer accepted the offer from Coach Klieman just 48 hours after receiving it.

Panzer also shined as a wrestler in high school, taking home the state championship in the 285-pound weight class in 2019. Panzer took down future teammate Elliott Strahm in the semi-finals of the tournament.

Panzer isn’t likely to see playing time during his first year, but his frame and highlight reel show the impact he could have in the future. Panzer plans on majoring in agriculture.

The second player wearing No. 54 this season is Kienen Gaskin. The Lee’s Summit, Missouri, native brings speed and packs a punch from the linebacker position.

Gaskin redshirted this past season, meaning he also gets to keep a year of eligibility and could participate in practice and team events, unlike grayshirt Panzer. Redshirts are also allowed a limited amount of game time, but Gaskin never saw the field.

Standing at 5 foot 10 inches and weighing 207 pounds, Gaskin is small compared to the average DI linebacker. While he could still grow, buff up or transition into a strong safety role, his film shows he has the brains and drive to make up for his physique.

Gaskin decided to bet on himself by coming to Manhattan. After receiving offers from quality programs like Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Missouri State and Missouri Western — while also in talks with Iowa State, Kansas and South Dakota State — Gaskin decided to walk on to K-State.

Despite his walk-on status, Gaskin was ranked in the top 100 players in his class by Six Star Football, giving him a four out of six-star rating.

While Gaskin did not play this past year, the coaches still noticed his work ethic, naming him the Disciplined Player of the Week during spring practice back in March.

That discipline has kept him on the radar, as defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman and junior linebacker Wayne Jones named Gaskin as a possible competitor for a spot in the rotation this fall.

“We have a lot of good competition [at linebacker],” Klanderman said in an interview with K-State Athletics, “so I feel very comfortable with the athleticism we have in that group and the toughness we have in that group. That’s a group where we’re going to have some depth.”

As Klanderman pointed out, the biggest weakness for Gaskin’s playing time might be just how deep the linebacker position goes this year. Players like Jones, Daniel Green, Cody Fletcher and Ryan Henington could keep Gaskin at a minimal role.

At Lee’s Summit North High School, Gaskin racked up a whopping 328 career tackles, with 141 during his junior year — the second-most in the state. His play granted him three all-conference selections and two all-district selections.

Aside from football, Gaskin is majoring in business administration.