Isaiah Zuber return vs. South Dakota

K-State wide receiver Isaiah Zuber celebrates on the way to the end zone on his 85-yard punt return in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against South Dakota. Zuber also caught a 10-yard touchdown in the final period, helping K-State overcome a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 27-24.

Kansas State might lose a key cog in its aerial attack.

A spokesperson for the K-State football program confirmed in a text to The Mercury Thursday afternoon that Isaiah Zuber, the team’s leading returning receiver, has entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal. Zuber, a rising fifth-year senior, still can return to K-State, and remains listed on the team’s official roster on the athletics department website.

A Georgia native, Zuber led the Wildcats in nearly every receiving category last season, including receptions (52), receiving yards (619), touchdown receptions (five) and yards per game (51.6).

But he also struggled on special teams.

After returning a punt for a touchdown in the comeback win over South Dakota in the season opener, Zuber couldn’t find consistency in the return game the remainder of the fall. He muffed the opening kickoff of the second half against Baylor; the Bears went on to score a touchdown less than a minute later, and the Wildcats went on to lose 37-34. On Nov. 3 at TCU, Zuber couldn’t hang on to a punt following a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession. The Horned Frogs capitalized, scoring a pivotal touchdown in a 14-13 win over the Wildcats.

Zuber sat out spring practice after offseason hip surgery.

His up-and-down junior campaign didn’t bother new K-State head coach Chris Klieman, though.

“What you did last year, I really don’t care about,” Klieman said March 8. “I want to know what they’re going to do today, and what they’re going to do tomorrow. Sometimes I think we get labeled, whether it’s a coach or whether it’s a player, (by) what you did in the past. I know there are some merit to some of those things, but let’s move forward on some guys, and he’s one of those guys I know is excited about getting healthy, for starters.”

Despite the hip surgery preventing Zuber from taking part in spring practice — at least in a physical sense — multiple coaches praised the pass-catcher for working with the Wildcats’ underclassmen.

“What I’ve been impressed (about) with ‘Zube’ is talking to the young receivers about route combinations or how they should run a route or where their eyes should be or what the coverage was,” Klieman said. “That’s what we have to have out of the receiver position, especially the leaders who are our seniors.”

Receivers coach Jason Ray was every bit as pleased, saying Zuber had been “essentially a player-coach” while sidelined, both on the field and in the film room.

“He’s actively involved in practice,” Ray said. “He’s making sure the guys are getting lined up correctly.”

Zuber’s willingness to help in any way possible, Ray said, was “rare” among modern-day athletes he’d been around. All to often, Ray said a player’s intensity, and drive to improve, tend to lapse when they’re injured and know they’re not going to play.

Zuber didn’t show any signs of letup in the Wildcats’ 15 practices this spring.

“I think the message and how you communicate is the most important thing as a coach,” Ray said. “The communication to those guys, and specifically with Zuber is, ‘Hey man, you need to be involved. You need to make sure that you’re taking care of business, that you’re showing up on time to meetings, that you’re engaged in meetings.’ That’s what he’s done.”

Whether it will be for naught, at least for K-State, is still to be determined.

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