ARLINGTON, Texas — With preseason football practices set to begin in about two weeks, now seems like a good time to analyze a handful of K-State players who might be ready to make the leap from under-the-radar contributors to dependable playmakers next fall.
Chris Klieman agrees.
During his time at Big 12 media days earlier this week the K-State football coach went out of his way to single out some potential up-and-comers.
The brightest one of the bunch might be Joshua Youngblood. The freshman receiver hasn't played a game for the Wildcats, but Klieman and K-State's captains are eagerly awaiting his debut.
"I am tremendously excited about a true freshman named Josh Youngblood," Klieman said, "who I think will be an impact guy who we kind of stole out of the central Florida area ... He's the one that probably jumped out at me the most."
Klieman has been high on Youngblood since the moment he signed with the Wildcats last winter. ESPN rated the 5-foot-10 speedster from Tampa as the No. 75 athlete in his recruiting class. He played quarterback, running back and receiver in high school and flashed difference-making potential while rushing for 2,221 yards and 26 touchdowns during his final two years of prep competition.
Starting quarterback Skylar Thompson is already a fan.
"First time I met him I could tell he was a special dude and a special player," Thompson said. "He really cares about our football program. You could tell his sense of energy when he arrived in June that he was fully invested and wanted to learn the offense and I think he realizes he has a good chance to play this year. He has the type of speed you can't teach."
Freshmen rarely contribute at high levels with the Wildcats. Tyler Lockett was the last receiver to truly shine in K-State's offense fresh out of high school. But odds are good offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham will find creative ways to get the ball in Youngblood's hands right away.
K-State needs young receivers to help Dalton Schoen in the passing game, and Youngblood will get an opportunity to do so.
"For a freshman he has got a ton of athletic ability," Schoen said. "You can see the explosiveness right away. I think he is going to help us."
Here are some other unsung K-State football players to keep an eye on this summer:
Walk-ons no more
Klieman was so impressed with three of K-State's walk-on players that he promoted them to scholarship status earlier this month.
That suggests he is expecting big things from running back Harry Trotter, receiver Wykeen Gill and return specialist Phillip Brooks.
All three deserved the good news, but Gill was the most obvious candidate to receive a scholarship in the spring. The Wildcats need a deep threat on the perimeter, and Gill has been exactly that in practice. Every time K-State went long, Thompson seemed to target Gill. And they connected for some big plays.
The junior from Atchison has played in 10 games for the Wildcats and is ready for an expanded role.
Trotter sat out last season after transferring from Louisville, and he made the most of his time with the scout team. Expect him to see carries along with James Gilbert, Jordon Brown and Clyde Price.
"I am really excited about Harry Trotter," Klieman said. "He is a guy who has been in our program. He is a hungry guy. He will play for us."
Brooks played in four games last season as a freshman and preserved his redshirt year. Klieman thinks he could lead the way in the return game this season.
If John Holcombe doesn't make it as a quarterback at K-State he can always try out for the basketball team.
Holcombe, a redshirt freshman from Humble, Texas, threw down a jaw-dropping dunk at an outside court in Manhattan this week, and video of the slam went viral.
"He's a freak athlete," Klieman said, "and he's a very talented young man."
Holcombe is one of the most athletic players on K-State's football team. That could help him while he serves as Thompson's backup.
QB of the defense
Who will fill in for Justin Hughes at linebacker while he recovers from a torn ACL?
All eyes are on Elijah Sullivan. Several K-State football players say the junior from Tucker, Ga. has had an impressive offseason. He will start alongside DaQuan Patton, after recovering from an injury of his own.
"Elijah Sullivan is going to be that guy," defensive end Reggie Walker said. "He is so fast. A lot of guys sleep on him, but I can't wait for him to go out there and show what he can do."