Kansas State’s 2019 football season remains more than a week away and the coaching staff already has a dilemma on its hands.
Senior Adam Harter, the presumptive starter at fullback who played in all 12 games last season, will miss the entire 2019 campaign with an injury.
K-State coach Chris Klieman revealed that much at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, adding that the injury was “kind of a non-contact deal in practice.” The Wildcats will apply for a medical hardship in an effort to give Harter one more year at K-State, Klieman said.
The trouble there may be that Harter redshirted his first year at Butler Community College in 2015. So his future is in the air.
“It’s unfortunate that Adam was injured,” Klieman said, “but it’s not like it happened two days before a game, so we have a number of guys that we’ll keep rotating through.”
The players Klieman noted could help plug the hole at fullback: redshirt freshman Sammy Wheeler, sophomores Nick Lenners and Logan Long, seniors Blaise Gammon and Luke Sowa — even true freshman Jax Dineen.
They aren’t all fullbacks, at least not officially. Wheeler, Lenners, Long and Gammon all are listed as tight ends.
Sowa and Dineen are officially fullbacks. In Klieman’s eyes, though, there isn’t much of a difference.
That’s important because K-State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham likes to use both in formations and playcalling.
“Everybody that’s a tight end is also a fullback,” Klieman said. “There’s not going to be a set (where), ‘The only thing you are is a tight end, and the only thing you are is a fullback.’ We have to continue to push the guys and see how much they can absorb and understand to play multiple spots. It’ll be a revolving door there. But a lot of guys are going to play, too.”
Fletcher sidelined with lower leg injury
Elsewhere on the injury front, Klieman said junior linebacker Cody Fletcher, in the starting mix, will miss K-State’s Aug. 31 season-opener against Nicholls with a lower-leg injury.
Klieman said he expects Fletcher to miss “maybe two more weeks” and that “there’s potential” that Fletcher could make his season debut Sept. 7 against Bowling Green.
Either way, the team will re-evaluate him between Week 1 and Week 2.
In Fletcher’s absence, Klieman said three likely starters have emerged: redshirt freshman Daniel Green, junior Eli Sullivan and senior Da’Quan Patton, with redshirt freshman Nick Allen “in that rotation as well,” according to Klieman.
“We’re pushing those top three guys to learn multiple positions,” Klieman said.
What he means: Green is honing in on the Mike linebacker spot, Patton on the Will linebacker position, while Sullivan and Allen can play both, Klieman said.
Another key here is that senior linebacker Eric Gallon can play both defensive end and linebacker, adding depth to both positions.
Still, the injury hurts K-State — especially because Fletcher also figured to be a key cog in the Wildcats’ special teams units.
“We’re fortunate that we’re not losing Cody for very long,” Klieman said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to be smart with him.”
As Aug. 31 draws closer, Klieman also said there are “eight to 12” freshmen that could play this season. He didn’t specify who, but even so, that’s a departure from the ways of previous head coach Bill Snyder, who mostly avoided playing freshmen in any capacity.
“If none of them play in game one, does that mean we won’t play any of them the rest of the season? Not at all,” Kllieman said. “There are a few that are probably further along just because of what’s between the ears and understanding what we’re doing offensively and defensively. There’s a number of them who have the ability to play right now but mentally haven’t caught up to what we’re doing schematically.
“We have to understand they’re just freshmen. It’s going to take a little bit more time for those guys to really understand what we need them to do offensively and defensively. I think weekly we’ll sit down as a staff and say, ‘Here are the guys we’re going to earmark to help us out,’ whether it’s on special teams, offense or defense.”
Backup QB battle rages on
Also important ahead of the season-opener: the backup quarterback spot.
Junior Skylar Thompson has the starting position locked down, but redshirt freshman John Holcombe Jr. and sophomore Nick Ast are vying for second-string duties.
Under the Snyder regime, the backup position took on more importance because the coaching staff liked to run the quarterback, which resulted in injuries. That may not be the case with Klieman, but still, he said the selection process is “a daily evaluation for us.”
“I’ve been pleased with Nick at times, and I’ve been pleased with John at times,” Klieman said. “It’s the consistency that they both have to bring to the table as well as the ability to take care of the football. That’s what’s going to determine who that backup quarterback is.”