Kansas State will return most of its receiving corps this season, but the production it lost from its leading receiver might be the toughest to replace.
Chris Harper led the Wildcats with 58 catches for 857 yards and three touchdowns, and provided quarterback Collin Klein a target that was taller than most on the roster, still fast and athletic, and able to go up and get passes out of the air.
K-State freshman Deante Burton is hoping that he could be a guy to step up and fill Harper’s shoes.
“Chris was a great receiver,” Burton said. “I think something I can hopefully bring is a sense of versatility of size and speed — something Chris had. Hopefully I can use that with my athleticism, my jumping ability, be a jump ball, high-ball kind of guy. I’m sure coach (Bill) Snyder, coach (Dana) Dimel and coach (Del) Miller — those offensive minds — will find a way to throw me in there.”
Burton, a product of Manhattan High School, redshirted last season, learning the offense while utilizing his talents for the scout squad. It was there that he began to catch the eyes of the coaches, and when spring practices started, Burton started getting chances to work with both the No. 1 and No. 2 units.
“I think Deante has a chance,” Snyder said. “He’s getting repetitions right now, working with our number twos, has gotten on the field a snap or two with our number ones. (He) still has some growth to make mentally in terms of his preparations, but I think it’s obvious to us that if he continues to work and studies that he’ll be a quality player for us.”
Burton said finishing his redshirt year was something that felt great, and something that most players look forward to. He said it puts you in the spotlight, which can also be a little scarier knowing it places him directly under the eye of Snyder now.
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Burton said he has been getting stronger and grasping the offense, but the toughest part of being a college athlete for him has been learning to balance school with football. He said it’s far different than high school.
“You slowly adjust as time goes on, having to balance school,” he said. “Once you get past that, it’s really just knowing your playbook and knowing where to be on the field. Once you grasp those things it’s about going out and playing like you’ve been doing forever.”
Burton was close with former wide receivers coach Michael Smith, who left the Wildcats for a job at Arkansas this winter. He said he still speaks with Smith often, but has also embraced new wide receivers coach Andre Coleman.
He said Coleman has brought extra attention to detail and puts heavy emphasis on blocking.
“If you give great effort, he’s going to put you on the field,” Burton said. “He’s given me a few opportunities to play with the ones, and my goal is to make the most of those opportunities. The only thing you can control is your effort.”
Burton said he knows there is some expectation for him to step in and, eventually, be as productive as Harper was for the Wildcats. But he says as long as he plays his game, everything else will take care of itself.
“Pressure is something I’ve always felt is self-inflicted,” he said. “If you put more pressure on yourself than anyone, you’re going to handle it the way you do. I think the coaches have high expectations for me, and they have high expectations for all the players — that’s why they recruit these guys. If I work hard and do what’s asked of me I can open more eyes, and hopefully on a wider stage.”