Kansas State wideout Landry Weber lined up at receiver. Left side, specifically, against West Virginia safety Tykee Smith. Weber let his hands drop to his sides and glared over at his quarterback, junior Skylar Thompson, waiting for the snap.
Thompson called for the ball. The 5-foot-10 Weber shot out of his stance and took off upfield, angling toward the sideline. He was sprinting stride-for-stride with Smith, jockeying for any type of position, and yet: He felt calm. Unbothered, even.
“I was never nervous,” Weber said, “never second-guessing anything.”
It paid off. Thompson unfurled a bomb to Weber, who pinned it against his chest with one hand, securing the ball just before Smith forced him out of bounds.
Thirty-five yards and a first down. Teammates cheered. One gave him a congratulatory slap on the helmet. It was Weber’s first reception in two weeks.
“It was no surprise to me when it happened,” Weber said. “It was weird. It was one of those calm, confident moments when you just knew, ‘All right, I’m going to do this.’”
It’s that type of confidence, Weber says, that has helped him produce his best season in the purple K-State laundry: He’s totaled seven catches for 117 yards.
Truth be told, the redshirt sophomore never has been the Wildcats’ No. 1 receiver. Not even their second or third options, either, because he’s only played receiver in six of K-State’s nine games this year.
Instead, he’s trafficked in special teams, which he’s parlayed into a more prominent role in the offense. K-State dropped a 24-20 decision to West Virginia last week, but Weber reeled off his best game yet: Two catches for 50 yards, plus a key block on running back James Gilbert’s short touchdown rush.
Again, nothing that will raise eyebrows. But this is a guy fighting for playing time on offense, and things are starting to pan out.
It helps that Weber has two years under his belt. In 2017, he redshirted. In 2018, he played in nine games, primarily on special teams.
The key element in both campaigns: Confidence.
“I feel that this year a lot more than last year,” Weber said, “just (having) another year of experience, being able to see the game and get used to the speed of it this year for sure, being out there a lot more at wide receiver this year than I did last year.
“Getting used to the speed of the game. It’s slowing down a lot. I’m able to see the defense. Plays like that continue to give you confidence. The more experience you get, the more confidence you get.”
And boy, does Weber have more experience this year. He started K-State’s season-opener, a home win over Nicholls back on Aug. 31. Hauled in two passes for 20 yards in that one. Two weeks later, he snared a 23-yarder in K-State’s road win over Mississippi State.
After that, he caught a 6-yard pass against Baylor and an 18-yarder against Kansas almost a month later.
You’ll notice, though, the gaps in Weber’s appearances in the offense. He still hasn’t played receiver in back-to-back games yet. He always plays special teams, specifically kickoffs, but he’s still the fourth or fifth option at receiver.
Which begs the question: How does this guy keep his confidence when he isn’t getting on the field on offense?
Pretty simple, actually.
“It’s really just practice,” Weber said. “When you’re out there, it feels like practice. When it feels like practice, that’s a good state to be in. I went a couple games really not getting in that much at wide receiver. Then, having to get thrown back in and play a lot, you could think, ‘Oh man, you haven’t been out here in two or three games.’
“But it really felt like practice. We get a ton of reps in practice, and I think those reps are extremely valuable.”
Weber’s acumen on special teams is worth mentioning, though, because that’s what his coaches have loved most about him this year.
Wide receivers coach Jason Ray lauded Weber’s consistency on special teams. Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham pointed out that Weber’s teammates trust him, which is “a big deal,” especially on offense, according to Messingham.
The big plays Weber has made on special teams have been few: Last year, he recovered a fumble on a kickoff against Kansas. Then, last week, he made the key block on Gilbert’s touchdown rush.
Special teams jobs generally are thankless, but to Ray, Weber has done the kind of dirty work that gets noticed.
“That’s something we emphasize during camp and spring ball: that we need wideouts to be able to play on special teams,” Ray said. “He’s one kid that has done that consistently for us, making plays on special teams. Even if it’s not a play where you’re recovering a kick or creating a fumble or anything like that — he’s in the right place. He’s a cover-down guy on punts. He’s protecting on punts. There’s things that you wouldn’t necessarily see live during a game to the untrained eye, but he’s doing his job.”
In fact, after Weber made the key block on Gilbert’s touchdown rush, time was already ticking.
He had another job to do.
“I was running, I celebrated with James and I run and get ready for kickoff,” Weber said. “Playing all those special teams, you’re running around a lot.”