Some of the players looking to make an impact on this year’s defense have been fixtures on Sean Snyder’s special teams unit.
Some of the other Wildcats looking to make an impact on the field aren’t as well-known.
Some have never taken a snap for K-State.
Let’s meet three of them.
Sizelove, a junior linebacker, recorded five of his seven tackles on special teams last season, and like Tanking, had his best game in the regular-season finale at TCU.
Sizelove feels his experience gives him an edge along with his physical style of play. He’s seen action in all 13 games each of the past two seasons.
“I felt this spring, I’ve made a lot of progression on knowing the defense completely and not making any mistakes,” he said.
Sizelove looks to have an increased role especially because fellow junior Elijah Lee declared for the NFL Draft. He found out his roommate wasn’t coming back for a senior season while on vacation with his family.
“The moment I found out, I looked at my dad, and we started talking about the mindset I would have to have going into the offseason workouts and spring ball because the whole ‘Mike,’ ‘Will’ and ‘Sam’ linebackers are open,” he said.
Sizelove knows no starters are set in stone yet, though he’s been working at the the will, or weak side, but is also learning the ‘Sam,’ (strong side) position. It will take consistency to separate from the pack.
“We have four or five guys playing at a first-team level,” he said. “You’ve got to bring you’re a-game every day and just be disciplined but also playing aggressive and make as many plays as you can.”
While Tanking is the vocal leader on defense, Sizelove keeps things light.
“Things get tough here, and they guys get down,” he said. “I try to make sure everybody’s doing good, and if they need to talk, they can.”
Sizelove has helped younger guys like Justin Hughes, Elijah Sullivan and Patton during the workouts and has been impressed with Hughes and Patton.
“I told (Patton), ‘No one’s expecting you to know this defense coming into spring,’” Sizelove said. “But I’ve never seen anybody catch on as quickly as he did. And so he’s made great progression, and he’s definitely getting the hang of it out there.”
Though he’s never taken a snap in a Wildcat uniform, Patton, a junior college transfer from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas has already impressed coaches and teammates. He originally committed to Cal before flipping to K-State when Bears coach Sonny Dykes was fired.
A quieter guy who prides himself on speed and athleticism, his teammates see a change in him once he puts his helmet on.
“Da’Quan’s probably one of the most athletic linebackers I’ve ever seen,” Sizelove said. “He brings the hammer when he hits people. Great guy, great teammate, and I see a bright future for him.”
Patton earned high accolades at the JUCO level, including second-team NJCAA All-America honors, making 89 tackles (six for lost yardage), 2 1/2 sacks and one interception.
Sean Snyder has seen “flashes” of Arthur Brown, the 2012 Big 12 defensive player of the year, from Patton.
“He’s a really good athlete,” Snyder said. “Runs around really well, got some good speed to him and has some good strength to him as well. Right now, it’s a matter of just figuring everything out. He’s learning the defense, learning what he needs to do, where he needs to be. He flies around on the field, really, really well.”
Patton said talking with current players as well as the possibility of significant playing time early drew him to K-State.
“(Wide receiver) Carlos Strickland, he had said something to me, he was like, ‘This is a very great program. I feel like something special is about to happen,’” he said. “It’s true. I feel like I want to be a part of it.”
Patton said learning the defense hasn’t been difficult thanks to his coaches and teammates.
“I’ve been learning stuff every day,” he said. “It’s been going very fast. The coaches, players, they spend a lot of time with me, helping me learn the plays, so it’s been good.”
First a running back on two-time 5A state champion Bishop Carroll, then converted to wide receiver, Goolsby is starting to feel comfortable — at safety.
“It’s been, obviously, a big learning experience, but at the same time, I find myself a lot more comfortable with it,” he said. “So I’ve just got to get better at different technique things and stuff like that, but in the long run, it’s going to be a lot better of a fit.”
Coaches approached Goolsby about making the switch to safety at team camp last August. Before that, the last time he had lined up on defense was his freshman year at Bishop Carroll.
“I remember (secondary coach Tom Hayes) telling me my junior year, ‘Yeah, if you ever want to switch over, just let me know,’” Goolsby said. “So I think it was always kind of in the back of his mind, maybe, that I could move over to that side of the ball.”
The sophomore finished second on special teams with 10 tackles last year and looks to help replace Dante Barnett in the secondary.
“Goolsby’s getting in there,” Sizelove said. “He’s still learning the ins and outs of the defense, but he’s definitely progressing well.”
Goolsby is getting to the point now where the Wildcats’ defense is second nature.
“For Denzel, who is a very good and gifted athlete, everybody goes through the transition of the processing and how fast the game is being played,” Sneyder said. “With his experience last year, I expect him to be a completely different player on special teams. I think it helps him on the defensive side of the ball there.”
Goolsby is grateful for his time on special teams but is hungry for as much playing time as possible on defense.
“The game itself is just so fast at this level,” he said, “so you learn to adapt to it on special teams and it just carries over to starting on defense.”