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K-State Announces 14 Early Football Signees

Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman walks off the field after a win over TCU in an NCAA...
Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman walks off the field after a win over TCU in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)(Richard W. Rodriguez | AP)
Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 4:58 PM CST
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MANHATTAN, Kan. (K-State Athletics) - Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman has announced the signing of 14 high school prospects – including four from the state Kansas – during the early 2021 signing period on Wednesday.

Also included in the Class of 2021 is Lakin, Kansas offensive lineman Hadley Panzer, who signed last February but deferred his enrollment to January 2021. Panzer will join five prospects that signed on Wednesday that are expected to enroll in time for spring practices.

This year’s early class includes eight players on defense and six on offense. The class is comprised of three defensive backs and linebackers, two apiece of offensive linemen and wide receivers, one defensive end, one defensive tackle, one running back and a quarterback.

Featured in the class are four players rated in the top 50 nationally at their respective positions by either Rivals, 247Sports or ESPN. Quarterback Jake Rubley (Highland Ranch, Colorado) was rated the 25th-best overall prospect and No. 3 pocket passer in the nation by ESPN. Offensive lineman Andrew Leingang (LINE-gang; Bismarck, North Dakota) was viewed as the 10th-best center in the nation by 247Sports. Linebacker Gaven Haselhorst (HAY-zel-horst; Hays, Kansas) ranked 22nd among all inside linebackers in the nation by 247Sports, and DaVonte Pritchard (duh-VON-tay; Gardner, Kansas) – who will play linebacker at K-State – was rated the 43rd-best safety in the nation by Rivals.Kansas State will look to add more prospects to the Class of 2021 during the regular signing period, which opens on Wednesday, February 3.

K-STATE FOOTBALL SIGNING DAY PRESS CONFERENCE

CHRIS KLIEMAN, HEAD COACH

Opening statement…

“Good afternoon everyone. I’m excited to announce 14 young men that have signed onto our program and a 15th that we will talk about a little bit later on. I’m really excited for our staff to be able to bring these young men into the fold. It’s been a challenging time as well all know, and to think about how long we have been recruiting so many of these players and the fact that none of them had an official visit and none of them we were able to see at the school, none of them we were able to have a home visit with. Everything was done virtual and via Zoom. A few kids have been on campus when they were juniors, which obviously helped us a little bit in the long run. I know a handful of guys that we don’t believe have ever been on campus, not even coming up on their own sometime this summer or fall. What a challenge that is and that shows the confidence these young men and their families have in us and what we are doing here at Kansas State, and the confidence in the relationships that they have been building with Taylor Braet and the recruiting staff, position coaches, recruiting coaches, and myself the head coach that we were able to sign such a quality class with limited resources and limited time that we had face to face with these guys. I’m thrilled for these guys. It’s such a special day. I don’t care what kind of pandemic or all the other stuff, what a special day for these young men and families to know where they are going to college and to be a part of the K-State Family. We are excited because it’s a great day for us at Kansas State to welcome these young men and their families, so we couldn’t be more thrilled for these guys. We had a pretty good Zoom with a number of them and celebrated. We did something different that we haven’t done. We had cameras put up all over Vanier – the weight room, outside my office, trophy area, offices – and had a bunch of them on together and started to build that bond together, and it was a pretty cool morning. So, I’m excited about these guys.”

On if any players took a big leap between their junior and senior seasons...

“It’s probably hard to answer that because a lot of them we didn’t see as juniors other than on film and maybe didn’t see their body frame. Then you watch a limited amount of games that they did have in their senior year. Some guys played only a handful of games and some guys got a full season and some guys maybe only got one or two games. Someone that jumps out at me that I was able to go see in person was DaVonte Pritchard in person play when he was a junior, and I thought right away there’s a kid that is a Big 12 football player that will come in and will strike you and was a really good athlete on offense as well, but on defense is where we will play him. DaVonte was a kid that jumped out at me really quickly who is going to be a phenomenal Big 12 defensive player.”

On recruiting restrictions with no visits...

“I don’t know that for a fact, but I know this, the ones that we have been on and stayed on and have had phenomenal communication with and committed to us early, we were able to hold. That’s the thing that I was excited about. Give Taylor Braet and Chuck Lillie so much credit because they were the behind-the-scenes guys who kept us up to date as coaches and kept in contact with those guys. We are excited about this class, and I know there are some tremendous football players in here.”

On wide receiver RJ Garcia II and Brenen Hawkins...

“RJ is a really talented player from Berkeley Prep. His dad is a basketball coach, so he’s grown up in the coaching world and understands it. He’s a really mature player and has put on some added weight already. He had a good season for them his senior year, and he will be here in the summer and are excited about him, as well as Brenen Hawkins, who is a big body, 6-foot-4 wide receiver who will be here this summer as well. So, we feel good about adding two wide receivers.”

On quarterback Jake Rubley...

“We are excited about Jake. We’ve been recruiting him for an awful long time. He’s been on campus a few times. I go way back with his father, T.J., who grew up in Iowa, a Davenport, Iowa, guy, and I hosted his dad on an official visit at Northern Iowa back in the late 80′s. So, I’ve known T.J. for a while. I know the pedigree. T.J. played in the NFL for a while, a great quarterback at Tulsa, and Jake’s very much the same mold as his father. Jake loves the game of football, and that’s what you are looking for at the quarterback position is someone who loves the game of football, that is a sponge and wants to learn from Coach (Collin) Klein and Coach (Courtney) Messingham and get in our system quickly. He has a really strong arm and is a really accurate player, and we are excited to add another piece to our quarterback room.”

On if Jake Rubley’s commitment helped land other players...

“Absolutely. He actually committed to Coach (Collin) Klein and I the day of the Liberty Bowl last year. That was really great news that day and lifted our spirits after a tough game, but he absolutely did a great job of trying to help out and reach out and kids reached out to him. When you land someone of Jake’s caliber, people take notice, and it definitely helped us.”

On offensive lineman Andrew Leingang...

“So excited. Andrew came down for our Iowa State game last year and got to see the cold, windy day and said that was a typical day in North Dakota and is really used to it. Andrew knows how to win. All they do at Bismarck Century is win state championships, and he won another one this year. We were fortunate enough to land Andrew, a versatility offensive lineman that can play guard or tackle. He’s very athletic, very physical with a great personality. People are going to enjoy getting to know Andrew. That’s Carson Wentz’s high school as well, so Coach (Ron) Wingenbach helped us out to get another guy from Bismarck Century, and we are just thrilled to have Andrew and his family join our family.”

On if any players have a chance to make an early impact...

“We hope they all can have an impact early. You don’t know when that’s going to be based on positions, based on needs, based on injury, based on all that stuff. We’ve told everyone to be prepared to compete. The four-game rule is such a huge factor, I don’t care if you’re a linebacker to a wide receiver to a lineman. Carver Willis played, and I know this was a free year, but Carver played for us as a true freshman on the offensive line. Everyone has that opportunity, and that’s something that I know excites people right now with us building our roster and continuing to build depth for our football team. If you show up and do things the right way, learn our system, buy in, be a team guy first, you have a great opportunity to see the field early.”

On pursuing transfers...

“We are going to have to a little bit. We are still having conversations with seniors, so we don’t know where that is going to land with a handful of guys who haven’t made that decision on if they are going to come back or not. We, like everybody else, will continue to try to build our roster and make sure that we are equipped at all positions to be able to handle that tough Big 12 schedule for 2021.”

On Skylar Thompson’s decision...

“He and I are visiting later on this week. That was the plan all along was he was continuing his rehab and I was going to get through signing day. Then Skylar and I – probably on Friday – will have a conversation about where his mind is at.”

On if they were worried about any of the commits signing…

“You know, no, and that’s what’s really neat about this class is we’ve been talking to these guys for so long and communicating with these guys for so long, and they have been communicating with each other for so long that they’ve really developed a bond together. So, we had all of them in relatively early today based on what time zone they were in. Last night when we had a staff meeting middle of the evening, we talked about that, were we worried about anybody, and we really weren’t. We were very confident that these guys were going to sign, and they’ve been with us all along. They knew the struggles of COVID and the struggles this year that everybody has had, and they never wavered. That’s the sign of the right kind of guys that are going to impact your program.”

On if their recruiting approach has evolved any in the past two years…

“Well, we’re learning. For sure it’s evolving and it’s evolving every year, and we have to continue to talk about it as a staff. This year was so unique, that for us finding guys in a drivable distance was very, very important. Moving forward we still need to win in the state of Kansas. That’s first and foremost. We need to win in the state of Kansas. We’re winning games with a lot of Kansas kids, and that’s going to be our focal point, and then branch it off from there and have a circle around that and see who can drive here four, five, six hours. Then, obviously, we’re going to still hit the areas of Texas, and Georgia, and Florida, and some upper Midwest kids, obviously like we did with Andrew from North Dakota from a specific position with it being O-line. So, we’ll still have our main footprint, but in the same respect, we have to go inside out. We have to be able to win in Kansas first.”

On if they will use the February signing date to fill out this class...

“That’s a good question. We’re still evaluating some. We still have some scholarships available. We’re still really looking hard at some kids to give them an opportunity to walk-on because there so many kids that have walked-on to this program dating back to when Coach (Bill Snyder) was here, to just in the last couple years. So many walk-ons have earned scholarships here. It’s a great place for walk-ons to come because they know they are going to get an opportunity, they know they are going to get treated fairly, they’re going to get treated well and have a chance to make an impact and earn scholarships. So, we’ll continue to take a look at some walk-on guys as well as keep looking at our overall depth. We still probably need to wait a week or so, get some answers from some seniors and see where we need to fill in.”

On withdrawing from bowl game consideration...

“Yeah, I was disappointed. If you would’ve asked me a week ago how the preparation for bowl games were going, I would’ve said really well. I had a number of conversations with Gene Taylor and we fully believe we were going to be invited to a bowl. I expressed that to the guys that it was probably going to be between one or two bowls and do you guys want to play, and they all were like, ‘Yeah, we want to play.’ So, we were working just with our young kids all of last week and had some more great practices with kids that had not practiced or had missed 30-plus days. Then over the weekend we had several kids not feel well and a handful of those guys tested positive. Then you throw in the close contacts to those handful of guys that we had test positive. We have really smart people around here in our medical profession that the track record says when you have the amount that we had in a two-day span, we’re probably going to get a few more whether it’s in three days, five days, seven days when you look at having to pause. We were actually having a little dodgeball tournament and I got a call from Matt Thomason that we were going to pause. So, you combine those things, not knowing when you’re going to restart as well as the amount of kids that are bandaged together or are either scheduled to have surgery or have already had surgery, we just didn’t think we could probably pull it off. We did not want to be in a position where we would’ve accepted a bowl invitation on Sunday, then we have a testing on Monday and then we would’ve had six more kids test positive and put ourselves in a position where we would’ve had to renege on something. I just didn’t want to do that. I’ve had long conversations with Gene Taylor, and I’m at peace with the fact that we’re doing the best we can for the health and safety of this football team, now and moving forward. So, hopefully these kids that have gotten positive aren’t going to be real sick and can get through it.”

On what stands out about running back Devrin Weathers…

“Well for starters, he comes from a tradition-laden program and Webb City has been phenomenal for decades. Devrin was fun to watch because we didn’t know to project him as a defensive back, a linebacker, we knew he could be a running back. So, at his size and athleticism – he’s a phenomenal baseball player too – but at his athleticism, we said we just have to get the kid in the program. We have to find wherever we can to put him. Then as you kept watching his senior tape unfold, it became more and more clear to us that he’s that big back that has great speed, great elusiveness, can run through arm tackles, that we’re excited to be able to pair back there in the backfield and utilize him there and be a great special teams player. I just think, athletically, when you have somebody with his skillset and his ability to run and be physical like he is, he was going to be a can’t miss and was going to help us somewhere, but we’re going to start him out at running back.

On the two linebackers they signed...

“Well, we’re excited. We talked about DaVonte already, and I saw him play. Then you want to watch a kid on film in Gaven Haselhorst. You’re not going to see a kid that loves the game and plays the game as hard as Gaven does on an every-down basis. He’s played some defensive end, he’s played some stand-up for Hays – and we see him as a kid that we know could play that – but we see him at the next-level being an inside linebacker, just how physical he is. He doesn’t get blocked. He plays the game the right way. He understands the game of football well, so it gives us some really good young players in there to be able to build off of. I’m excited about those two guys because they love football and their physical guys.”

On if they look at what other Big 12 schools are doing when they recruit...

“No, we just focus on ourselves more than anything and how they can impact our program offensively, defensively, special teams. How they can impact what we’re doing as far as getting the right kind of guys with high character and integrity in here. Do they want to play at K-State? We’re not going to beg anybody to come to Kansas State, it’s too special of a place. We have kids that generally want to be here. So, for us, we just focus in on what we’re looking for and what we need. It’s just like if somebody is a 2-star, 3-star, 4-star, whatever, do they fit what we’re looking for and that’s the most important thing for us.”

On if he expects running back Joe Ervin back next season…

“Yeah, the plan is for Joe to come back once we start the second semester, you bet.”

On the 15th signee of the day…

“Well, I get to announce our 15th signee in Gunar Reed. We call him G-Man. Gunner is from Overland Park, Kansas, was born in Salina and will graduate from Shawnee Mission West High School this May. But you talk about somebody that embodies toughness, resiliency, character, integrity, always has a smile on his face, G-Man has been through an awful lot. G-Man’s been through 36 surgeries and three open heart surgeries. We had a Make-a-Wish foundation day with G-Man on our Zoom with some players a few weeks ago, and he had an impact on all of us. To see what he’s fighting through on a daily basis and to see the fight and resolve that he has gone through with a smile on his face puts everything into perspective for me. So, as we continued on and visited with him, shoot, we had him on the sideline with Taylor (Braet)at Baylor during pregame and showing him some things, talking with our guys during pregame. I sent him an Audience of One bracelet that I got from Carson Wentz, and Carson helped me get another one for G-Man. G-Man is wearing that thing with pride because we do it for the Good Lord and for everybody that has blessed us to have the opportunities we have. G-Man is our hero. I had a chance to visit earlier this week with Coach Braet, and Taylor and I decided that we’re going to sign him. He’s going to be a Kansas State Wildcat for life. As tough as this has been for us as a season, as tough as this has been for these players, nobody is as tough as Gunar. Nobody is as tough as G-Man. Nobody is as tough as his family, to persevere and to go through what he has gone through his whole life and to do it with the pride he has. He loves Kansas State, he loves the Chiefs, and he loves the Royals, and I know that those three teams help him through every day. Any bit of joy we can provide for him, we’re going to do that. I can’t thank our players enough for reaching out to him on so many different occasions and lifting his spirits, because this is a young man that’s going to be a Wildcat for life and EMAW. We love you, G-Man, and we’re always rooting for you, we’re always praying for you, and so happy to welcome you to the K-State Family.”