K-State Spring Game, Nick Ast

Kansas State third-year sophomore quarterback Nick Ast (17) looks for a receiver during the spring scrimmage at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in April. Ast now is the unquestioned backup to starter Skylar Thompson following the transfer of John Holcombe II.

Courtney Messingham didn’t sense John Holcombe II was unhappy at Kansas State. So when Holcombe, a redshirt freshman quarterback, announced Tuesday night that he was transferring out of the program, Messingham admits the news blindsided him.

“I was somewhat caught off guard,” Messingham, the Wildcats’ first-year offensive coordinator, said Thursday, “and surprised.”

With Holcombe moving on, K-State now has to adjust its quarterback depth chart. Skylar Thompson remains safely at the top of the pecking order. And with Holcombe no longer around, third-year sophomore Nick Ast becomes the unquestioned No. 2 signal-caller.

Ast redshirted during his freshman season in 2017, a year in which he won the program’s Red Raider Award — by way of vote — as the top contributor on the scout team. He didn’t play in a single game in 2018.

This season, he’s appeared in three of the Wildcats’ first four contests. The only one in which he’s logged any stats, however, came in Week 2 versus Bowling Green, when he entered the game and completed all three of his passes attempts for 9 yards; Ast has one carry, which resulted in a loss of a yard.

If Thompson goes down with an injury, quarterbacks coach (and K-State great) Collin Klein said he’s “very confident” in Ast’s capabilities.

“He’s got some different skillsets than Skylar does,” Klein said. “We would make the game plan fit those skillsets. I can promise you there’s no one who prepares harder than Nick. He’s up there every single night after practice, watching all the tape and studying his butt off. We’ll go to work.”

The same, Klein said, went for the Wildcats’ other quarterbacks, true freshman Jaren Lewis and third-year sophomore Ryan Henington.

“Those guys will step up,” Klein said. “It’s about the room just providing, again, the best quarterback play we can for the team. I’ve got all the confidence in the world ... we’ll just keep getting after it.”

One possibility Klein dismissed: true freshman Chris Herron, who joined the team as a quarterback before shifting to receiver during preseason camp, returning to the quarterback meeting room this fall.

“I don’t think there’s anything drastic that we’ve discussed right now,” Klein said. “It’s business as usual, because really, (only) a few things are different. But we’re just taking it one step at a time and seeing how things progress on all fronts.”

Beyond Thompson and Ast, much of the talk this week has centered around Lewis, who joined the program during the spring as an early enrollee. The hope, Klein said, is that Lewis never has to take the field this season — Ast is “ready to go,” Klein reiterated — and can use this year to sit back and learn while taking a redshirt. Yet Klein knows that plans always are subject to change given the inherent injury risks in football.

“I know Jaren will prepare his butt off,” Klein said. “And as we know, sometimes years can get crazy. Heaven forbid nothing crazy happens the rest of the way.”

The Wildcats will continue to increase Lewis’ practice workload going forward — just in case. That began with Wednesday’s session, Messingham said, with Lewis taking as many live reps as he can. Messingham noted that isn’t easy when a coaching staff tries to split the snaps between four quarterbacks. But Lewis is making the most of his.

And he’s getting better by the day.

“We’re very happy with Jaren, as far as his arm talent, his ability to throw the football. ... Jaren has done a great job, down on the scout team, of continually progressing and getting better,” Messingham said. “We feel comfortable now moving him up and him being that ‘third guy.’”

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