Wykeen Gill is on track to return for Kansas State when 6 p.m. Saturday arrives. That’s when K-State tees it up against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, in a nationally televised game on FS1.
Gill missed last week’s loss to West Virginia because he was in concussion protocol, stemming from a blindside hit by Texas defensive back Jalen Green on Nov. 9. K-State head coach Chris Klieman said Gill practiced Monday “on a limited basis,” and provided Gill doesn’t suffer any setbacks between now and kickoff, he’ll be good to go against the Red Raiders.
That doesn’t mean it makes his absence last week any easier for his teammates to stomach.
“It always hurts not having one of your best receivers out there any time,” third-year sophomore Landry Weber said Wednesday. “Injuries always stink, but you hear us say it all the time: ‘We’ve got to go (with the) next man up.’ I think us as a unit really did our best to try and do everything we did. I feel like we had a good game.”
Gill has 12 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns this fall. With Gill unavailable against the Mountaineers, Weber praised the performance of redshirt freshman Phillip Brooks, who caught four passes for 63 yards in the 24-20 loss. Weber is glad Gill likely will return Saturday, though.
“We’re glad to have him back this week,” Weber said. “It hurts (that he missed a game), but I felt like we did a good job of picking up the weight and saying, ‘Hey man, we’ve got to step up.’”
It’s the same message that K-State great Michael Bishop relayed to the team the night before the Texas game.
“The one thing he told the guys, and he told us as a coaching staff, was, ‘Hey, next man up,’ and that was just in general,” wide receivers coach Jason Ray said. “He wasn’t speaking necessarily about Wykeen’s situation. It was just simply, ‘Hey, the next man has to be ready to roll at any given moment.’ That’s kind of the mindset that the guys have, especially when you hear it from a guy like Bishop.”
It’s a mentality that crosses generations.
“That’s how it was when (Bishop) played,” Ray said, “and that’s how it’s always going to be in football: if somebody is unable to go, you’ve got to be ready to roll.”
Ray didn’t mince his words: It’s “tough” that Gill’s injury occurred on a non-football play — a cheap shot of sorts. Throughout the rehab process, Ray said Gill has “handled it really well” given the circumstances.
Perhaps the lone positive is that it’s helped Ray more easily reinforce the concept of being aware of your surroundings at all times.
“You move forward and learn from it,” Ray said, “and just try to get guys to understand that, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to protect yourself as best you can. At the end of the day, you’ve always got to keep your head on a swivel, even if it’s a guy who needs to be blocking for him or whatever.’ He’s moved on from it, and I think he’s excited to get rolling.”
Ray hopes Gill can build off his showing against the Longhorns, when he caught three passes for 40 yards, which included a 19-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter. Gill didn’t make it easy, though, getting a hand on the ball but not able to secure until he batted it back to himself to haul it in.
Thinking back on it brought a smile to Ray’s face.
“It was a heck of a play,” he said. “You always want a touchdown. I think (Gill) even came back and said, ‘Coach, I double caught the football.’ But it was a good play. Great ball, good play, good route. The route was probably the most impressive thing. It’s always good to get to paydirt.”