As Alex Delton made his way through the postgame handshake line, he barely had an opportunity to acknowledge one person before another met him almost instantaneously. Though he’s no longer part of Kansas State’s football program, Delton hasn’t been forgotten by his former teammates.

The long line of well-wishers, in the moments after K-State’s 24-17 win over Delton’s TCU club, showed how much respect Delton still commands. That’s exactly what Denzel Goolsby called it: the “mutual respect” that exists from one athlete to another.

“When he was here, he was a great competitor, a team leader. He was a guy who gave everything to this program,” said Goolsby, a senior safety and a K-State team captain who, like Delton, was a member of the Wildcats’ 2015 signing class. “So I have all the respect in the world for a guy like that. He was a great person off the field, too. So (I have a) ton of respect for Delton, man. ... We just wanted to show our respect for him after the game.”

The in-game experience for Delton likely won’t be as memorable, however. Delton, who began the year as the Horned Frogs’ starting quarterback, has since been supplanted by true freshman Max Duggan. Delton took the field for only one drive Saturday, going three-and-out after TCU gained just 6 yards.

Delton’s final numbers: 2-for-2 passing for 6 yards; perhaps surprisingly, no rushing attempts for the fleet of foot Hays native.

K-State’s defense had prepared for more. Since Duggan moved into the lineup, the Horned Frogs still had specific packages that featured Delton. They were just few and far between Saturday.

For Jordan Mittie, even having the chance to lay a hand on Delton felt odd.

“We were talking on the sideline: that was our first opportunity to actually hit Alex, since he’s been our teammate in practice at quarterback,” said Mittie, a senior defensive tackle, referring to the no-contact rules most teams reserve for their quarterbacks in practice. “It was kind of weird, but I thought we did a good job.”

As Delton made his way toward the end of the handshake line, he had a particularly long embrace with junior receiver Wykeen Gill, who, like many of the other Wildcats who made their way to Delton, told the former signal-caller he “loved” him. Then, only one K-State player remained to greet Delton.

Fittingly, it was Skylar Thompson.

The pair battled for the right to become the Wildcats’ starting quarterback for the better part of a year and a half. Delton took over for injured first-teamer Jesse Ertz in K-State’s double-overtime loss to Texas in October 2017. Then, when Delton went down with injuries himself in back-to-back road games against Kansas and Texas Tech later that year, the team called upon Thompson. He responded by leading the Wildcats to victories thanks to his efforts in the second half of both contests.

Thompson, then a redshirt freshman, went on to start the final four games of the season. But when he struggled in the early going of the Cactus Bowl against UCLA, Delton came on to give the offense a spark. And it was immediate: Delton’s first touch of the game went 68 yards for a score. He went on to score two more times on the ground en route to winning the game’s offensive MVP award and spurring the Wildcats to a 35-17 victory.

From that point on, an intense competition ensued through the spring of 2018 and into preseason camp. Thompson eventually won it, starting 10 of the 11 games he played last fall.

Yet Delton did have one final flash of glory as a Wildcat: in a reversal of roles from the previous season, he saved the day in the Sunflower Showdown. With Thompson sidelined with an injury, Delton played mistake-free football, not committing a turnover while accounting for 181 yards (126 passing, 55 rushing) and two touchdowns. That included the game-winning score with 2:46 remaining, sprinting across the goal line from 21 yards out to lift the Wildcats to a 21-17 victory — their 10th straight triumph over the Jayhawks.

But that was the final time Delton ever took the field in a K-State uniform. He didn’t appear in the last two games of the Wildcats’ 2018 campaign. Following the retirement of longtime head coach Bill Snyder, Delton announced he was transferring: first to Texas-El Paso, where he would have joined former K-State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel; instead, he called an audible, linking up with Big 12 rival TCU.

The marriage didn’t end in a victory for his new team at Delton’s old stomping grounds Saturday.

Not that the tidbit, or the bygones of their shared past, meant much to Thompson.

“I just shook his hand and told him I was proud of him,” said Thompson, who scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:45 remaining Saturday. “Like I’ve said many times, he knows where our relationship is at, from the get-go.”

It’s a bond between two players who once were locked in a seemingly unending contest for the same job. Yes, Thompson said, that meant they “butted heads before.” And yes, it meant they didn’t “always agree on things.” But Thompson said that wasn’t noteworthy, either.

“You put two quarterbacks in a room who are competing for a job, it’s not going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time,” he said. “But at the same time, Alex and I always understood what our mission was and what the goal for the team was. To put two people in a situation like that, and to come out the way we did, I’m telling you: a lot of people (around) the country wouldn’t have come out the way we did.”

As they crossed paths for the final time at the stadium they once both called home, Thompson made sure Delton knew one thing: that his former teammate always will have his back.

“I love the dude. He’s a competitor,” Thompson said. “I wish nothing but the best for him. I’ve said that from Day 1. I just want him to be happy.

“Through everything we’ve been through, I know what he’s experienced, he knows what I’ve experienced and I think the both of us, we just want each other to be happy and enjoy this game of football. That’s what I wish for him, and he knows it’s all love from my end.”

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