For the first time this season, Kansas State junior quarterback Will Howard knows without a doubt that he will be starting under center for the No. 19 Wildcats this Saturday versus West Virginia.
Head coach Chris Klieman made the announcement Tuesday during his weekly press conference following the Wildcats’ 31-3 win at Baylor in which Howard dominated after coming in for an injured Adrian Martinez in the second series of the game.
It was reported by other outlets earlier in the week that the injuries sustained by Martinez during the Baylor game were season ending, but Klieman refuted that, while also saying that the starting duties for this week would fall to Howard.
“With regards to Adrian (Martinez), he is not out for the season,” Klieman said. “I had heard that was out there, but that’s not the case. He is not available this week. He will not be playing this week, but he’s not out for the season. So, Will (Howard) is going to be the guy. This is his football team, and I’m excited for Will. Everybody knows Will is playing at a really high level. He gets to play back closer to home. Jaren (Lewis) and Jake Rubley will be the backup to Will this week. But, excited about the challenge.”
Klieman did not offer any specifics on when or if the senior transfer from Nebraska would see the field again in a K-State uniform, but did say that he could return before the bowl game.
“I feel bad for him because he was banged up last year, came in here and was healthy, finally in fall camp, and played really well,” Klieman said. “Let’s not forget he probably had one of the top five performances in all of college football at Oklahoma. I think sometimes people forget that. But the kid probably had one of the best performances of any player in college football in that win, but I am frustrated for him that when he got dinged up against Iowa State, he just couldn’t get it back. And then when he finally got it back, something else comes up. It’s just kind of like there’s just bad luck.”
Howard’s had plenty of experience under center during his three seasons at K-State. He’s played in 18 games over the last three season and started 11 of them, including seven as a true freshman during the 2020 season. Of those starts, Howard began the week knowing 100% that he would be starting that week in maybe half.
Having that knowledge and assurance now is helpful for the junior as he prepares to return to Morgantown after losing there two years ago.
“It’s definitely a big mindset adjustment,” Howard said. “I mean, you want to say that you’re going to prepare like you’re the starter no matter what, but it’s a little different when you actually know. It’s a little more calming in a way. You can get all the the ones’ reps and prepare like you’re gonna be the starter. You kind of want to do that when you’re the backup, but it’s just a little different when you really know.”
There was hope when the season started that Howard would be able to preserve his redshirt and still have three years of eligibility left. That could still happen if he stops playing after Saturday’s game at West Virginia, but the concerns regarding preserving that redshirt have seemingly gone away following K-State’s win last week.
“We’ve had that discussion and dialogue over the last month since Adrian has been hurt,” Klieman said. “And then he and Coach Klein had another conversation today and with where we’re at and with how he’s playing, I know he’s comfortable (burning the redshirt). I know we’re comfortable with the fact that it’s a pretty special time for K-State football and he’s playing at a really high level and he’s excited about his opportunity.”
With Martinez out and Howard sliding out to the top spot on the depth chart, freshman Jake Rubley and junior Jaren Lewis step into the frey as options for the back-up spot.
Rubley has seen playing time in two games this season. He played mop-up duty in the Wildcats’ shutout of South Dakota and briefly came in after Howard was hurt at the start of the second half versus TCU. Lewis hasn’t played since last season.
“(Rubley) hasn’t gotten as many practice reps over the last month, and he’ll get more,” Klieman said. “Jaren also comes into that boat, we always give three guys reps. We always have given three guys reps. Dating back to when everybody was healthy, but now Jake and Jaren will split more of those two reps. And Jaren is kind of the forgotten guy that is a really seasoned guy. That’s an older guy that knows our offense really well. And so I’m excited that he’s on the trip because there’s a security blanket there because he’s played in environments like Oklahoma State, and then Jake continues to grow and get better. And so I’ll let (offensive coordinator Collin Klein) handle that here as he sees it, but we’re going to make sure that we have all three of those guys ready.”
Kickoff between the Wildcats and Mountaineers is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.