Wildcats have strong competition for backup QB spot

By Joel Jellison

It became pretty clear last spring when Daniel Sams moved to receiver and then transferred that Kansas State’s quarterback job belonged to Jake Waters.

But with Sams gone, another big question remains.

Who will be the backup quarterback?

Behind Waters, there are exactly zero candidates who have thrown a pass in a college football game.

Three players are vying for that backup spot — Joe Hubener, Jesse Ertz and Taylor Laird — all of whom have different levels of experience within the program.

Hubener is a big quarterback entering his sophomore year after three years in the program. The Cheney native appeared in the Iowa State game last season and rushed twice for 5 yards.

Co-offensive coordinator Del Miller said Hubener has done some nice things that remind them of another former K-State quarterback.

“Joe Hubener is coming up and really doing some fine things for us,” Miller said. “He’s challenging at that position. I like the things Joe’s doing. Joe’s been around a little bit longer, but has some skills.

“He’s sitting there at 6-5, 210, runs pretty well, kind of reminds you a little of the things Collin (Klein) might do. He’s got a really strong arm.”

But the guy who’s really impressing Miller is Ertz, a redshirt-freshman from Burlington, Iowa. Like Hubener, Ertz is tall at 6-foot-4 and known to coaches for an ability to throw and run. Ertz impressed coaches last season, earning K-State’s Red Raider Award for the top player on the scout squad.

“Jesse Ertz is doing a fine job,” Miller said. “He’s improving each time out, he’s got some talent, and obviously can throw the ball well. He’s very intelligent and he can run — he’s got good speed. He’s kind of in that growing process, much like Jake was last year.”

Ertz said he and Hubener have both tried to learn from Waters, who’s a good role model at the QB position. When Waters came to Manhattan last year, he dedicated much of his time to learning the playbook and developing relationships with his teammates, something the other quarterbacks want to emulate.

Ertz said Waters also gives them pointers when he watches them in practice.

“He’s been great, there’s definitely a lot of things you can learn from Jake,” Ertz said. “He commands the offense well, he works hard and he does a lot of great things. He’s been good to me personally, just letting me know anything I can do differently. Just helping me out with certain mistakes I make.”

The quarterbacks also have another asset this year with the return of Klein as a member of the coaching staff. Although the former Heisman Trophy finalist is officially listed as a defensive graduate assistant coach, Klein has been able to help the young signal callers and guide them forward.

“That’s another guy that’s got a ton of knowledge,” Ertz said. “It’s like having another coach. He’s a great source to go to and he definitely knows what he’s talking about.”

Laird, who transferred from Sacramento City College, was injured in his second game last season and didn’t lose a year of eligibility as a result, making him a freshman this season.

Miller said bringing Laird on board gives K-State another option to make the battle for the backup job more competitive.

Ertz said they’ve tried to help Laird, who officially joined the team this summer, get up to speed faster.

“We’re trying to help him out any way we can,” he said. “We’re all looking out for each other. More competition is always going to be a good thing. It’s going to make the play of your group of quarterbacks better because everyone will elevate their play.”

Miller said he’s been happy with the progress the quarterbacks have made so far, and he said the time Huberner and Ertz had on the scout team in their careers at K-State has given an edge with experience at the position.

Ertz said it doesn’t matter who wins the job as the backup quarterback. What matters is that they continue to improve, and that whoever the backup is capable of leading the offense if needed.

“We all need to get better,” Ertz said. “Coach Miller says that we have the potential to be the best group of quarterbacks he’s had. We got to get to where we’ve got to get before we worry about who’s playing.”

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