Countdown to Kickoff: 15 days away with quarterback Will Howard, defensive tackle Robert Hentz II

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)

The first player on today’s countdown is the 6 foot 4 inch, 235-pound sophomore quarterback from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, Will Howard.

Playing for Downingtown West high school, Howard found success under head coach Mike Milano. During high school, Howard threw for 5,308 yards and 48 touchdowns, including a 2,543 yard, 27-touchdown senior season where he led the Whippets to a 13-2 record and a trip to the state semifinals.

That run was the first time Downingtown West had won a conference championship since 1996.

The previous season, Howard again led the Whippets to an 11-2 record and a trip to the state playoffs. He rushed for 512 yards and 21 touchdowns during his high school career.

Howard also excelled in basketball, earning a pair of All-Area honors and left the Whippets as a 1,000 point scorer by the end of his career.

Howard earned plenty of honors, including being named the All-Southeastern Pennsylvania Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer and was named to the All-State team by the Pennsylvania Football Writers his senior year. He was also named the Maxwell Football Club Pennsylvania Player of the Year as a senior.

Out of high school, Howard was rated a three-star athlete by Rivals, was named the 33rd best pro-style quarterback and the eighth-best player in Pennsylvania by 247Sports.

Howard received offers from schools across the nation, including Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Harvard, Minnesota, Rutgers and many others.

Howard ultimately committed to Kansas State, making the decision public after posting to his Twitter on June 23, 2019.

A few months later, Howard gave a second update, announcing he was put on scholarship in August of 2019.

Going into the 2020 season, senior quarterback Skylar Thompson seemed to have the position locked down, leaving Howard to wait for his turn on the field. However, the season ended up taking a much different route.

Thompson suffered a season-ending injury early in the year against Texas Tech, putting Howard on the spot.

Howard became the team’s starter, playing in nine games and starting in the final seven of the 2020 season. He was just one of four true-freshman quarterbacks to make at least seven starts this past season.

Howard went on to have one of the better true-freshman seasons in K-State history.

He threw for 1,178 yards and eight touchdowns over the season while rushing for 364 yards and three touchdowns. He set the school record for passing touchdowns by a freshman while his passing yardage and total offense ranked him third all-time (1,542).

Howard ranks fifth all-time in school history among freshmen in rushing yards, the only quarterback to reach the top-five in that category. He ranks second-highest nationally in yards-per-completion (13.09) among all true freshmen.

He is the first K-State true-freshman quarterback in school history to win on the road in his first career start. Howard won the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week Award for his efforts against TCU.

Howard’s 80-yard run against the Horned Frogs is the second-longest run by a quarterback in school history and the seventh-longest run by any player in school history.

Howard made history again the following week against Kansas, becoming the first quarterback to win his first two back-to-back games as a starter. His 243 passing yards against the Jayhawks also ranks him fifth all-time in school history for passing yards in a game by a true freshman.

Howard hasn’t lost any steps in the offseason, earning the Committed Core Value of the Week honor and Prizefighter of the Week award back in March of this year.

With senior quarterback Skylar Thompson coming back for one more season, there are talks of both Thompson and Howard taking snaps on the field.

The second player on today’s countdown is the 6 foot, 285-pound senior defensive tackle from Batesville, Mississippi, Robert “Dee” Hentz II.

Hentz comes to Manhattan from South Panola High School, where he played under head coach Ricky Woods. During his high school career, Hentz earned All-State and All-Regional honors. He helped lead the Tigers to a 9-4 record and to the first round of the Class 6A State Playoffs as a senior in 2017.

Hentz totaled 85 tackles, 25 tackles-for-loss, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles throughout his senior season. He recorded his season-high 15 tackles in a game against Columbus.

Out of high school, Hentz was rated a three-star athlete, was ranked the eighth-best defensive tackle in the nation and was the 13th best player in Mississippi by 247Sports.

Hentz decided to stay in Mississippi and played for Northwest Mississippi Community College to start his collegiate career.

At NW Mississippi, he played under head coach Benjy Parker and earned NJCAA Second Team All-America, All-Region 23 and All-Conference honors in 2019. Hentz helped the Rangers go 8-3 and reach a No. 6 ranking in the final NJCAA poll.

In his time with the Rangers, Hentz totaled 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in his sophomore season — also adding on a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, five pass breakups and a blocked kick.

Those numbers are even more impressive when compared to his 2018 season, where he played in all 10 games, finishing his freshman season with 26 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks.

Hentz’s time at community college ended after receiving an offer and committing to K-State before the 2020 season began.

During the 2020 season, Hentz was a productive rotation member for the interior defensive line, totaling 11 tackles on the year, including a season-high two tackles against Arkansas State and Texas Tech.

Hentz’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, earning him Student-Athlete of the Week honors from the football program in March of this year.

Hentz looks to be an even more productive force for this group of defensive tackles consisting of Jaylen Pickle, Eli Huggins and recent transfer Timmy Horne.