Meet the Cats

Keenan Garber, a Kansas State wide receiver, signs fan memorabilia at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium during the "Meet the Cats" event last year. After redshirting last season, Garber hopes to work his way into the wideout rotation in 2020.

When Kansas State signed Keenan Garber, it was a coup of sorts. The Wildcats not only signed one of the best players in Kansas in the 2019 class, but they stuck it to their in-state rival, too, as Garber was an all-purpose, two-way star at Free State High in Lawrence. Try as they might, the Jayhawks couldn’t convince Garber to stay in town.

The significance of the signing — Garber owned the second-highest 247Sports Composite rating (0.8785) of any K-State signee in 2019, trailing only Chris Herron (0.8833), who has since transferred — didn’t immediately pay off. Garber redshirted and appeared in only one game last season. (Ironically enough, that game was the Sunflower Showdown.)

Garber breaking into the Wildcats’ receiver rotation in 2020 is no guarantee. But Jason Ray isn’t ruling it out.

“I think anything’s up for grabs,” said Ray, K-State’s wide receivers coach. “I think with spring ball, obviously not having a spring to evaluate a spring evaluation, right now we’re still in evaluation mode. But we’ve always said we evaluate everything. We were evaluating things while they were home and doing things like daily check-ins and just from a mental health standpoint. Were guys showing up to their Zoom meetings? So that was the standard that we had in terms of just sample size. What are we evaluating when they’re not on campus? How can we make evaluations, whether it was a Zoom meeting and we’re giving out quizzes about formations?”

In Garber’s specific case, Ray said “the mental side” trumps all. Garber and Ray have had numerous conversations about that intangible part of the game.

“(He’s) just continuing to grow mentally, learning the system and we get plenty of reps when we’re double repping,” Ray said. “So there’s a lot of film.”

There certainly were plenty of highlights during his high school career. As a senior in 2018, he was named to the first-team all-state teams compiled by The Topeka Capital-Journal, The Wichita Eagle and the Kansas Football Coaches Association in 2018 after totaling 814 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. He also was a finalist for the Otis Taylor Award, given to the most outstanding receiver in the greater Kansas City area.

He started to flash some of that talent last season. During one of K-State’s bye weeks, head coach Chris Klieman said Garber only was continuing “to get better.”

Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham pointed out Garber dealt with the peaks and valleys many freshmen face as they make the transition to the college level.

“You go out there with our corners, who I think are really good players, and there are times when he does great things and you go, ‘Wow,’” Messingham said last year. “Then there are other times when they lock him down and you say, ‘He’s a true freshman.’ It wasn’t that long ago when he was playing in a high school setting. Now, he’s playing out there in a Big 12 setting.”

Nothing’s written in stone. It’s up to Garber to force his way into the conversation.

“I think that as he continues to compete and grow, he’ll have opportunities,” Ray said. “There’s plenty of opportunities for evaluation for him, and now it’s just a matter of him taking the bull by the horns and continuing to get better.”

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