Thompson expected to return, team expresses confidence in Howard

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Sophomore quarterback Will Howard passes the ball down the field during the game on Sept. 11, 2021, against Southern Illinois. (Madison Riebel | Collegian Media Group)

Head coach Chris Klieman gave some clarity on the Kansas State quarterback situation at his midweek press conference. Starting quarterback Skylar Thompson went down with an injury in the first quarter of K-State’s win over Southern Illinois.

He started by confirming the Kansas City Star’s Kellis Robinette’s report that Thompson is expected to return this season.

“I really don’t have a timetable for you guys. I know he’s not out for the season, that’s the positive side of things,” Klieman said. “We’re going to take it week-by-week. He is going to be out this week, then we’ll reevaluate it.”

In the meantime, the Wildcats turn to sophomore Will Howard. The 19-year-old started the last seven games of this past season after Thompson suffered a season-ending injury.

Earlier in the season, Klieman said Howard was the best backup quarterback in the country. That vote of confidence means a lot to the Wildcat signal-caller.

“I wouldn’t rather play for any other coach in the country and knowing that he and all the other coaches have just kept pounding that ‘you have all of our confidence.’ They do a great job of telling me that and keeping me going,” Howard said.

Howard threw for 1,178 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 90-168 and appeared in nine games.

Behind Howard on the depth chart are redshirt sophomore Jaren Lewis and true freshman Jake Rubley.

“I’m excited to see him getting more reps with our second-team offense. You don’t take many when you’re the third guy,” Klieman said of Lewis. “I saw the great improvement that he has made over the last year and so he’s one step closer to playing. … If something happens or there’s a situation that dictates that he can play, we’re going to have no problem using him.”

He said that in-game experience is the biggest gap between Howard and Lewis. Howard has taken live snaps during games, while Lewis has not. Klieman also said Rubley missed out on some spring practices because of an injury.

In the meantime, sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn said the Wildcat offense has Howard’s back.

“That’s our guy. He’s the next man up and we’re going to rally behind him,” Vaughn said. “We’re all going to rise up with him and go play some football. I have 100 percent confidence in Will Howard and what he can do.”

Howard had a rough go of things in relief of Thompson against Southern Illinois, throwing a pick-six and fumbling in the second quarter. In the second half, he put together a pair of important third-down throws and led K-State to a win.

“We won the game, but obviously we know there’s a lot to work on,” Howard said.

He finished the game 8-17 for 76 yards and an interception.

“He didn’t play tremendously well on Saturday for what our standards are for Will and what Will’s standards are,” Klieman said. “I look forward to seeing Will have a full week of practice and play the way he knows he’s capable of and we know he’s capable of.”

K-State will send Howard out against Nevada in the final game of the non-conference stretch Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. with TV broadcast provided by the Big 12 Network on ESPN+ and radio broadcast provided by K-State’s student radio station Wildcat 91.9.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.