It may not be surprising to see Kansas State finished last among Big 12 teams in total passing offense last season.
Through two games this year, they’re ninth at 189 yards per game, just more than 30 ahead of rival Kansas. Anyone who’s seen K-State play knows how committed head coach Bill Snyder is to the run game, especially with a run-first quarterback in Collin Klein.
In a league that features some of the best aerial attacks in college football, keeping up with the Joneses is no easy task, especially if your coach is more interested in running out the clock and managing the line of scrimmage.
All that to say, it’s no surprise that K-State’s receiving corps is mostly unheralded when talking about the league’s top threats at wideout.
But this year has the chance to be different.
K-State’s top three receivers in yardage — Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson — are all back after an offseason that saw the entire group of receivers grow closer as a unit, both on and off the field.
“We talk about how Kansas State is a family atmosphere, and it really is, but especially at the receiver position,” Lockett said. “We don’t just hang out in football, we hang out in the classrooms — we went bowling before camp. It’s just that kind of stuff. Everybody likes each other. We want the best for each other, and I think that’s what makes our unit so special.”
Harper said the improvement in chemistry didn’t come overnight. In his first year at K-State, things were much different.
“That first year, we weren’t glued together like that,” he said. “But ever since the second year, we’ve had the guys that personalities and chemistry have been good. We’ve been like brothers, like family-type close. You’d think we’d have known each other since we were little kids.”
On the field, the group worked hard together over the offseason to get to where they are now. Abilene native Curry Sexton, who caught his first touchdown pass as a Wildcat against Miami last week, said this year’s group had the benefit of being an entire season ahead.
“The chemistry is already there,” he said. “Coming in to last season, we had to develop that chemistry and build it as the season went on. We already had that established this offseason, so that’s huge for our confidence.”
Sexton said the team spent the bulk of the offseason working together outside of practice to improve the passing game.
“Since January, we’ve been throwing almost every single day, five days a week for the last eight months,” he said. “Obviously that’s big time. You go out there and you build that chemistry. We did extra work. We’d be off for the weekends but we’d come in on Fridays and Saturdays and throw and stuff like that, just to build that chemistry and get a little more confidence in our games and in each other.
“I think it helped.”
The Miami game featured more of an aerial attack than the opener against Missouri State, perhaps a sign that this group is ready to take the next step, especially as teams key in on stopping Klein on the ground.
“Hopefully that was the start of something great,” Lockett said after the Miami game. “We did a lot better this game than we did last game. So you can see us improving as a team, and not just at the receiver position, but on offense, defense and special teams.”
Harper said the receivers are constantly hanging out off the field, grabbing dinner and spending time together as if they were actually brothers.
“We’re around each other like all the time,” he said. “We’re a little more of a loose group, so it’s a little more personal. It’s not just football with us, you get to actually know the guys really well in our group, and that’s how we play.”
Receivers coach Michael Smith is responsible for teaching the receivers how to be successful within Snyder’s system. While blocking is a huge part of that equation, Lockett said on-the-field success comes down to execution.
“He played here, he knows the position, he does the game planning,” Lockett said. “All we have to do is listen to Coach Smith. We know that Collin is going to have his game face on and he’s going to know what play to put us in so we can be successful, so all it comes down to is executing.”
Harper said Smith fosters the family-style relationships and encourages the group to play for each other.
“He gives us the freedom to be ourselves,” Harper said. “Sometimes a coach might try to restrict you from being who you are. Out on the field, when I’m blocking for Lockett or somebody, if I miss this block and he gets messed up, he’s supposed to be my brother.
“I’m not going to let that happen.”
Perhaps the close relationships fostered over the offseason will lead to more success in the passing game, maybe it won’t. But the group will undoubtedly leave K-State better men for it, which is Snyder’s ultimate goal in the first place.