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K-State Inks 23 During 2020 Early Signing Period

Published: Dec. 18, 2019 at 6:38 PM CST
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Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman announced Wednesday the first part of his second signing class in Manhattan as 23 student-athletes have signed National Letters of Intent to play for the Wildcats in 2020.

The early signing period saw K-State ink 18 high school student-athletes and five community-college transfers. It is the second time in the last three years the Wildcats signed five transfer student-athletes.

Thus far, K-State’s Signing Class of 2020 includes 12 players on defense, nine on offense and there are two athletes. The class is comprised of five defensive backs, three defensive ends and offensive linemen, two apiece of defensive tackles, linebackers, running backs and tight ends, while there is one quarterback and one wide receiver.

Of the five community-college players, four played in Kansas with two coming from Butler Community College (Dawson Delforge and Derick Newton) and two coming from Hutchinson Community College (Kirmari Gainous and Justin Gardner). Newton originally signed with K-State as a prep in 2018 and redshirted that season with the Wildcats, while Gardner signed with Oregon State out of high school in 2017 and played as a redshirt freshman in 2018.

The Wildcats again put an emphasis on Kansas and the Kansas City area as four are from the Sunflower State, while one is on the Missouri side of Kansas City. Texas leads all states with six, while Georgia remains a hotbed for the Wildcats with three more from the Peach State this year in Newton as well as defensive backs Tee Denson and TJ Smith. K-State has signed at least one from Georgia every year since 2015 for a total of 18 during that time.

The quarterback in the class, Will Howard, hails from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and is the first player from the state to sign with the Wildcats since 1990 (Andre Coleman). Offensive lineman Witt Mitchum is the first player from Tennessee to sign with K-State since 2000 (Will Martin).

Kansas State will sign more players in the regular signing period, which begins Wednesday, February 5.

K-STATE FOOTBALL SIGNING DAY/PRE-BOWL PRESS CONFERENCE

CHRIS KLIEMAN, HEAD COACH

Opening statement…

“Excited about the amount of kids and the number of guys that we signed for the early signing period. The early signing period is becoming the signing period now. We identified positions and identified the players. I am really proud of our staff and thought we did really well today. Obviously time will tell but we are really excited about the class that we signed. We are in the middle of finals, in the middle of game prep, and the reason that we are heading to practice (today) is we had one small window because the guys have finals until 3:50 (p.m.) and then start up again at 6:10 (p.m.). Our window to practice is really about 3:50 to 5:30. Prep is going well, probably four solid days into it now, and I am excited about where we are at. The guys are working hard, and I know they’ve got a lot on their plate but they are doing a good job of separating their academics and football once they get over here.”

On the heralded community-college players signed…

“The awards aren’t a big thing to me. We just saw them as being fit. We were able to evaluate film but more importantly see practices and that was the key to go see some guys run around in practice. We were able to do that during the two weeks we were out. Those were two big areas - the defensive tackle position we needed to try to fill some holes because we are losing a lot of seniors. Our offensive line, obviously we lose a lot of guys there. It is another area where we’re happy with what we’ve done and we are still doing some work there too.”

On offering Carver Willis…

“We saw the physicality in film, and we wanted to see the athleticism. The athleticism was there in camp and that was the big thing that we needed to see - the ability to take his steps and the ability to move his feet. You could tell he was a technician. Once we saw him do those things we felt pretty comfortable.”

On the corners that signed…

“Length. That’s the biggest thing we see we need to recruit to is length, getting some size there. We need to have corners that are heavier guys. We need guys that can go put on 10, 15, 20-pounds. At the corner position you always want a guy that is taller but we need length, we need weight and all those things. That is not only with the guys coming in but the guys we have coming back too. We just need to get bigger and stronger there.”

On defensive back Tee Denson…

“Really smart player, he won a state championship in Georgia and played a lot of football. They do an awful lot at his high school so he is a really intelligent kid. He has the length, has the size, and he’s a competitor. Obviously he is a young player but we feel like he has an opportunity to compete right away.”

On quarterback Will Howard…

“His favorite player is Carson Wentz, that’s for starters. That was a big sell. When he and his parents sat in my office and saw the pictures of Carson Wentz and knew my background with Carson and the success he had within the system (played a big factor). He’s a really, really smart football player, he’s athletic, and he has a really strong arm. He’s a sponge that wants to learn. He comes in at semester, which is huge for us to be able to get him in. The same thing with Jaren (Lewis) last year it is a big advantage to get those guys in at semester. We are excited to continue to bring competition to the quarterback room.”

On Will Howard enrolling at semester…

“Being around Skylar (Thompson) for starters because he can be a sponge from Skylar since Skylar has a year of eligibility left. Being a sponge around Collin Klein too since he has done a phenomenal job with Skylar. Getting around our older guys, the system and Coach Messingham as well. Will is excited about coming at semester. He’s had it planned in the summer and to be able to hold onto him for six months was key. I’m so excited because he's got the ability and the want to learn what we are doing.”

On running back Chris Vaughn…

“Deuce is an electric guy, he’s a home run hitter. He’s got great quicks, but he’s got a second gear to take it the distance. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield as well. He has really good hands so he will allow us to do a lot of things. Whether we have him in the backfield, which we plan on, putting him flexed out like we have done with Phillip (Brooks), or the return game. You can’t have enough explosive players and he brings that to the table.”

On the offensive line signees…

“The offensive line we’re excited about. Dawson Delforge the Wamego kid from Butler has played an awful lot of football. We are excited to bring him back closer to home. Talor Warner is going to start on the offensive line. Talor is as good as an athlete as I have seen at the high school level coming into the fold for college. Obviously he has to continue to gain some weight and get a little bit stronger. The tight end, fullback position, we have a number of guys that we feel are going to fit that. Will Swanson is one of them, Christian Moore is one, and we are hoping Cody Stufflebean can play either defensive end or tight end. We have not settled on where he is going to start out, and he has the size and length to be a really good athlete for us.”

On offensive lineman Witt Mitchum…

“Witt was a tremendous defensive player on film but we saw with his length the ability to bend and to be a really good athlete in space. We’re projecting, and that is something our staff has done a good job of especially Coach Riley has done that a bunch at NDSU, guys that we think are long, good athletes that can run and we feel that with Witt. He is a physical kid. We’re going to plug him in at tackle, he has enough length and height. He needs to gain weight and do his other things but we are excited about his athleticism.”

On defensive end Nate Matlack joining the class early…

“Huge. Nate has been a catalyst for Taylor Braet and continuing to bring in other guys in the fold and communicating with them through social media. Nate’s a tremendous football player, a better kid from a great family. They love K-State and want to be a part of K-State. We need guys from the state of Kansas, from Kansas City specifically. We need guys that want to be a part of K-State football because there are such great players in that region as well as the state. Not only from this years class but moving forward will help us in the future with other kids in the state.”

On linebacker Jay Harris…

“The fact that he’s playing for a state championship this weekend (is huge). I want winners and guys that have been at a championship level. He and Trip (Ronald Triplette) are both playing in a championship game. I’m excited for those guys, and success breeds success. Winning is a habit, and those guys know how to win. Same thing with Tee Denson - he knows how to win and played for a state championship. That’s huge. Will Howard was player of the year in the southern part of Pennsylvania, led his team as far as they’ve ever gone. Being from successful programs is important, and that’s something that we look at. Is it the almighty thing? No, but it’s something that is important because the expectation is high here to be successful. We want those guys who have been at that expectation and that know that winning is the most important thing.”

On Ronald Triplette at defensive tackle or defensive end…

“We love his athleticism, so we’ll see where his body goes. He can play defensive tackle in a speed package right now like we do against a lot of the spread teams. Where will he go in the next year and a half? That’s what we have to find out, but Tripp’s a really good athlete.

On the benefit of satellite camps and if that trend will continue…

“It was a benefit - maybe to weed the numbers down more than anything. I’m still a big proponent of getting them to your campus, because that’s the key. You guys know this. Manhattan, Kansas, is a hidden gem. Once you get here, people are like wow, this place is unbelievable. Witt Mitchum, came here this weekend and didn’t know anything about Kansas State, said ‘holy cow, this is really cool.’ Justin Gardner from Hutch, came here this weekend and was like wow, this place is awesome. They were sold right away, not only with the people but with the facilities, community, all those things. I still want them to come to our campus. I don’t know where that’s going to go. I think NCAA legislations might even make some adjustments to that.”

On if the team’s success during the year impacted the recruiting efforts…

“Potentially, but a lot of those relationships we built before we played a game. Without a doubt, we had a lot of kids here for the Oklahoma game, and I think that opened up more eyes which is always a good thing. Without question, our success doesn’t hurt us. I still believe that your relationships with the family and the young man are the most important thing to those kids making a final decision.”

On Coach Jay Klanderman recruiting in Texas…

“Joe can recruit anybody from anywhere. Joe is one of the best recruiters I’ve ever been around. He builds a relationship with kids. He builds relationships with families. Joe is real, is genuine. Joe is a special talent, not only as a defensive backs coach but as a recruiter. He’s as thorough of a guy that I’ve ever been around.”

On playing Navy in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl…

“It’s a real big challenge. It’s had us up late at night and doing a lot more game planning, probably taking away a little bit from the developmental side of things we want with some of the younger guys. We’re practicing all the developmental things, but probably not getting as much time watching and reviewing the developmental tape because there’s a new formation that we’re trying to get everybody aligned to. This is foreign territory from what I understand talking to Coach (Taylor) Braet and Coach (Collin) Klein. We haven’t faced this in a long time here. I’m fortunate, Van Malone and Buddy Wyatt were at SMU and those guys faced Navy every year. We have enough familiarity on our staff, what we know is great, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t know it as a player. We’ve just had to go slow, with easy steps. That’s why it’s so important. Last weekend we got a little bit of work in and this week is finals. I know these kids have a lot on their plate and we’re not out there very long from a practice standpoint, but we have to get a lot of stuff done this week because it is very challenging. If you’re not right with everybody’s responsibilities, eyes and reads, the quarterback is going to run for 400 yards. It’s a big challenge.”

On tackling properly…

“There’s one guy assigned to that and if he misses a tackle, I can’t leave my responsibility or I’ve already tackled my responsibility, it’s going the distance. You have to make up for some of that with running the football, with your eyes correct. The corners in this defense are essentially a man coverage, but you better have some zone eyes in case something pops because they’re not going to throw it 25 times against us. Our biggest concern right now is getting our scout team to play the offense. That’s a huge challenge. It looks great right now, but it’s slow motion football that’s going to happen so much faster on December 31. Right now, our scout team is doing really good but the first three days, it didn’t look like option football. Now, it’s starting to. The other thing is the cut block. It’s no fun as a defensive tackle. You’re playing off of cuts all day long at practice, but we’re not going to cut you all day at practice. We’ve got to be really smart and be able to say ‘Here’s where you’re going to get cut,’ and we’ve got to work those drills.”

On the defense’s preparedness…

“It’s been unbelievable the amount of focus that they’ve had. I think they’re excited to learn something, excited to see a different offense, excited about the challenge of facing the Naval Academy because it’s the Naval Academy. I think our practices have been really good. I’m excited because some guys are playing positions they’re never really played before. So what that you’re a strong safety, that doesn’t mean anything in this defense or the defenses that we’re playing. Just the fact that there’s eye discipline and there’s responsibility. Everybody knows that if we mess up, that was whose responsibility? So there’s a lot of accountability as well.

On challenge adjusting from playoffs to a bowl game…

“Yes, it still is. I’m still trying to piece together some things as far as the schedule. But we were on the road for two weeks, which I’ve never been on the road, because we had just been going to playoff game to playoff game. This week’s probably a little bit more of a routine as far as there’s finals, we’re finding times to practice. The fact that there’s not a culmination at the end of every week. There’s culmination on December 31, so you don’t have to be quite as diligent as far as we have to get this done today and this done tomorrow. I’m learning on the run, utilizing resources that I have at the Power 5 level.”.

On balance development and bowl prep…

“You owe it to the seniors first. That's the first and foremost thing. You owe it to the seniors to send them out with an opportunity to win a football game by preparing the best you can. Then, you owe it to the program to make sure that we continue to develop. There’s not going to be a practice that we don’t work on development. Every practice we’ve had so far, we’ve dedicated some substantial time to development. But had this been a conventional offense, maybe we’d spend more time with development. Because of the unique offense that we’re facing, you have no choice but to be able to spend a little more time trying to scheme it.”

On defensive backs staying in assignment against an offense like Navy…

“One, we’ve got really mature defensive backs. I’m excited because Denzel Goolsby is excited about facing this. Wayne Jones is excited, (Jahron) McPherson’s excited, Jonathan Alexander, Brock Monty, Ross Elder; the core people that are going to be in the mix a lot are excited. The corners, it’s tough because you’re on an island a lot and if you get a crack, you’ve got to replace it. It’s not as taxing on those guys mentally as it is the linebackers and safeties. I think they’re excited about the challenge.”

On young guys that have stood out in bowl practice…

“Tyrone Lewis is going to be a really, really good football player here. I’m excited for him because it’s clicking to him. I think Will Jones is going to be a really good player for us. We have a lot of young defensive linemen that are getting better. I think all of our running backs because we’re using all of our running backs in the development phase even if they’ve played like Joe (Ervin) and Jacardia (Wright) have. We’re using all of those guys and those guys are improving.”

On injured players…

“I think everybody has practiced, Wykeen (Gill), Malik (Knowles), are all practicing now. We’re not going to-the-ground tackle, so I believe everybody. Justin (Hughes) is still doing his normal running with our training staff. AJ (Parker) is running in the pool. I would doubt AJ would play in this game. Maybe he could, but we’re not in a hurry to rush him back. He is doing well jogging, but I don’t envision him playing.”

On balance between early signing day and bowl prep…

“It’s going to be pretty typical anyway. The early signing period has just rushed everything. I think the bigger thing that it’s done is force you into having more official visits during the season. Where in the past, if it were a February period, you’d bring some guys in during the season but the core of your guys, you’d bring in the month of January. I know everybody that signed with us came sometime between June and the first of December.”

On envisioning a good first year at K-State when he started…

“Absolutely, that’s the way you have to envision it. I envisioned it being challenging. We’ve had some challenges, we’ve had some rough spots. But if you continue to do all the things we talk about, you have a chance to be successful if you keep believing and keep having great days. Our guys have done that. I felt better about if after I met all the seniors because there were so many of them and they were committed to getting back to the postseason. Getting back to the postseason is one thing, now how many games can we win. It’s difficult to win in this league and we had some really tough battles. We found ways to win games in the fourth quarter, which I hope our young players see that and it carries us into the future.”

On relationship with Skylar Thompson…

“I love him, he’s a great kid. I love his competitiveness. I love the fact that he’s wanting to be great. That he’s challenging his teammates to be great, to come with him. He makes everyone around him better. When he’s in the game, when he’s at practice, everybody’s a little bit better. He’s just got that energy to him. I know he has a bright, bright future in this game and so excited for myself that I get to spend another year with him because he’s impacted my life and hopefully I’ve done the same to him.”

On the Army-Navy game being played recently…

“You watch it and you look at it but they are so similar to each other. You have that rivalry that you pull out all the stops and stuff. I don’t know if that is the case but I know they play each other so often and so well. We were recruiting that whole day so we did not really see the whole game but we have seen it now on tape. One thing we know is that they are really aggressive on defense. Offensively it is the challenge of being able to defend a great quarterback that has their offense running on all cylinders.”

On Jacardia Wright and the running backs…

“We expect him to play in the bowl game, but I’m hoping we have a healthier James (Gilbert) and Jordon (Brown). Those guys deserve the opportunities as seniors but yes Jacardia is in the mix. So is Harry (Trotter) and at least we will be better at tailback because we have a lot more bodies.”

On Navy quarterback Malcom Perry…

“He’s as good as I've seen, and I saw Jerrick McKinnon at Georgia Southern play quarterback and he played running back with the Vikings and is now with the Forty Niners. I think he’s better than what he was at it. That is saying something because Jerek McKinnon is a one thousand yard rusher in the NFL and this kid is really special. He is a talented kid that breaks tackles, he’s quick, fast, makes the great read and he is playing at a high level.”

On Navy’s passing game…

“It’ll be more play action, verticals, and get your eyes wrong and slip you past the safeties, or corners.

That’s where the eye discipline with the corners and safeties has to be on point. You have to make those guys move the field.”

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