ARLINGTON, Texas — Dalton Schoen had a vision for how this fall would unfold for Kansas State’s wide receivers.
Along with Isaiah Zuber, he would provide senior leadership for the group. After sitting out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Hunter Rison would be another weapon for the Wildcats’ passing game. But now, both Zuber and Rison are gone. Zuber transferred to Mississippi State — ironically, K-State plays in Starkville, Mississippi, on Sept. 14 — and Rison left for a community college in California, a departure stemming from his domestic violence arrest in April.
Schoen could only chuckle at how much things have changed with the Wildcats’ wide receivers in less than three months.
“It sucks how quickly I feel like we went as a receiver group from being viewed as a strength to a weakness of the offense,” Schoen said at Big 12 Media Days Tuesday. “But it just goes to show that somebody else has to step up. So the opportunity is there. I can’t say how it’s going to turn out from there for sure. But I’m excited for these young guys, because there’s a lot of guys who are hungry in this group.”
K-State head coach Chris Klieman said he remained excited about the unit, ticking off a list of potential contributors.
Wykeen Gill. Chabastin Taylor. Malik Knowles. Phillip Brooks. Josh Youngblood. Just to name a handful.
One thing Klieman didn’t do is waste time on the past.
“I’m worried about the guys who are here,” he said. “Those are the guys who stuck with us. People leave programs for a lot of different reasons. You wish them well and you move forward. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Schoen said with Klieman’s first-year coaching staff in place this spring, every pass-catcher “was back to square one.” It staved off complacency.
“People had to go out there and earn their spot every single day, so I think that helped,” he said. “And that competition, I think, shows somebody is going to step up in camp. We’ll see what happens when we actually get on the field.”
With Zuber no longer around, Schoen said he’s had to shoulder even more responsibility as the group’s lone senior.
“I’ve tried to pick up the entire slack, but I think as a group they’ve done a great job of not only stepping up some, but also allowing me to lead more. You can’t lead if no one is going to follow,” Schoen said. “So they’ve done a great job of going wherever I’m taking them. Other guys have stepped up; Wykeen Gill has been a presence, too. So I think as a group, we’ve got a lot of guys who are either leading or who are willing just to go with the group, which has been huge.”
Skylar Thompson said that’s exactly what the wideouts need to do. Find their role. Settle into it. Then excel.
“There’s still so much talent there. We’re just young,” said Thompson, K-State’s starting quarterback. “I’ve just been trying to get with those guys as much as possible and throw, build trust with one another (through) continuity and watch film. That type of stuff can’t just be built overnight. It’s going to take time.”
With the pecking order at receiver undergoing such a substantial transformation since the spring, playing time is there for the taking. But Thompson cautioned it will be anything but easy.
“What I’ve just been hoping and praying for is that those younger guys who are going to get those opportunities because we lost some guys, that they really embrace the opportunity and take it by the horns and not just hope, ‘Oh, this just fell in my lap. This is awesome,’” Thompson said. “Instead (I hope they) try to capitalize on the opportunity and make the most of it.”
With Rison and Zuber moving on, Thompson acknowledged outsiders will label the wide receivers corps a question mark. Or worse, a potential liability. But the Wildcats have dealt with that before — as recently as last year, Thompson remembered the preseason evaluation of the receivers being “the weak link of the team.” The current receivers see the naysayers.
Thompson believes that’s a positive.
“What I’ve been trying to tell them is just to embrace that as motivation and it should burn in your belly,” he said. “The days that you’re thinking about not getting in extra work or watching film, if you think about that, and that doesn’t get you going, then what will? So that’s what I’m trying to focus on emphasizing to those guys.”
Others can worry about state of the wide receivers.
Thompson won’t be one of them.
“We’ve just got to take a deep breath when we get out there,” he said, “and go make some plays.”