Klieman Announces First Signing Class at K-State

MANHATTAN, Kan. (K-State Athletics release) Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman announced his inaugural signing class in Manhattan on Wednesday with the announcement of seven more student-athletes who plan on joining the K-State football program in 2019. With the seven signees on Wednesday, K-State's current class comes to 23 players.

The 2019 K-State signing class features a pair of FBS transfers in former Ball State running back James Gilbert and New Mexico safety Marcus Hayes in addition to community-college transfers Jonathan Alexander and Ty Zentner, while the remaining 19 are from the high school ranks. Of the 23 players, all four transfers and high school quarterback Jaren Lewis are currently enrolled at K-State and will participate in spring practices.

K-State’s Class of 2019 includes 12 players on offense and 10 on defense, while Zentner is a punter/kicker. The class is comprised of six defensive backs, four running backs, three defensive tackles, two apiece of offensive linemen, quarterbacks and wide receivers, and one linebacker, one fullback, one punter/kicker and one tight end.

In addition to signing five players from the state of Kansas and one from the Kansas City area (Clyde Price), the state with the highest amount of signees was Texas with six. The Wildcats also signed two from Illinois, two from Missouri, and one apiece from Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

K-State continued its recent stretch of tapping into the state of Georgia with now 15 hailing from the Peach State over the last six signing classes. The Wildcats also sourced the high school ranks in Florida for the first time since 2009, while running back Joe Ervin became the first prep player from the state of South Carolina to ink with K-State since at least 1998.

K-STATE SIGNING DAY PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES

Head Coach Chris Klieman

Opening Statement…

“Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to the second signing period. We are excited about adding seven players to the group of 16 that we had before. We hit a number of different areas. I think the biggest thing that we were looking for in the second half of the signing period was to continue to shore up our skill positions, as well as the defensive tackle position. As a staff this afternoon, we talked about the amount of speed that we have in this class. That was something that we went out and tried to make sure that we were able to hit those things, as far as getting the fast kids. Whether it is a running back or whether it is a DB or wide receiver, whatever it may be. They can play a lot of different things and they can be really versatile, to find the skill kids that can really run. We have a number of upperclassmen defensive linemen. Those are typically developmental guys, not that any of them could not come in here and play as a true freshman. We will give everybody that opportunity, but we need to develop some guys in the D-tackle position. Great job by our staff. We really hit the ground running in January after the convention. We had 10 days on the road without school, which really helped us to get into some people’s homes, go to schools, keep digging and finding players. Then, we had two recruiting weekends and those were big weekends for us, great weekends for us. We were able to get a few kids even in the last recruiting weekend, which typically is difficult to do because the last weekend a lot of times is set aside for either walk-ons only or late guys that maybe were additional. We were able to land a bunch of those on that last weekend, so the two weekends we had were really productive. I can’t thank the professors on campus, the campus community and the community as a whole enough, they did a great job with these young men and their families as they came in. President [Richard] Myers was even on a flight with a few of them and did a great job of selling Kansas State. He was an integral part of us getting a couple of kids, as well. The support that our staff has received, as well as the support that we have on campus when we bring these recruits in, I think is unmatched. With that being said, we will open up for questions.”

On West Coast recruiting and Mike Tuiasosopo…

“Moving forward it will be a part. We will stay on the West Coast. I think Coach [Mike] Tui has as good a name as there is in college football. When we interviewed him at the convention, he was a great football coach. We have a lot of great football coaches, but what I saw in Tui was a guy that could build relationships and had a ton of relationships on the West Coast. He was able to get in on some players that maybe we either did not have the opportunity or had not been in those specific schools’ locations. We told him, ‘Tui, hit the ground running.’ I do not know if there is a better recruiter out on the West Coast than Tui, and he was able to get a couple great ones.”

On defensive tackle Matthew Pola-Mao…

“Explosive. Relentless. Great motor. Really strong. Hungry kid. I so enjoyed having him and his parents here this past weekend. Matthew had a lot of opportunities and his parents did as well – going to see different places. They had a relationship with [Mike] Tui with their other son, and I think they felt really comfortable. Not only with Coach Tui, but once they came to K-State with all of us coaches. That was the thing that we tried to hit upon with every recruit that came here. You are not just going to get to know the position coach or the recruiting coach or the coordinator or the head coach. We are going to put you with everybody. All of us are going to spend the right amount of time with you so that you do build more relationships than just one or two guys. When you look at the guys that we were able to secure late, that was the thing that was the common theme that we had heard from the parents or the student athlete - ‘I felt comfortable with so many coaches on your staff and that is why I know my son is going to be in great shape’.”

On running back Thomas Grayson…

“He’s really fast – 10.7 hundred meter. A guy that, as a running back, he catches the ball out of the backfield, so in our system he can flex out and be a slot guy, he can be in the backfield, be a special teams guy, be a return guy. We’re excited as well. Jason Ray is from Tulsa, Jason’s our wide receivers coach, he’s from the Tulsa area and he has great ties down there. So, we are going to continue there but the Lockett name, it resonates with these kids and we are going to continue to utilize the Lockett name as well as many other names. But we’re really excited about Thomas.”

On where he sees Joshua Youngblood playing…

“I see Josh getting the football in his hands, however that is – receiving, running back, returns. Watch his highlight film. He is a special talent.”

On what defensive back Kenyon Reed brings…

“We think he will run a sub-10.6 this year in the 100 [meter dash]. He can flat fly. That’s something that you need to have at the corner position. We see him as a corner. He played a ton of wide receiver in high school, and I think a lot of people were recruiting him only as a wide receiver, but we needed corners, and we needed corners that could really run. That’s what excited him and that’s what enabled us to get him to come on the visit late. He had some really good offers, and we said we see him as a defensive player and that excited him and his folks. When you have the ability to run, one thing hard to change is speed and he has a great ability to run. And in this league, we need kids who can run to play corner.”

On if there was anything that still needs to be done…

“No, I like what we did. We were trying to find kids that can really run. That was the number one thing when you come into it. It’s difficult when you are going late to see how many kids you can flip and all those other things. We wanted to find guys that wanted to come to Kansas State. And when we would reach out to young men and we talked about Kansas State, if we could get them excited quickly, then we were going to stay in on them. If we couldn’t get them excited quickly, then in my mind they probably weren’t going to be a good fit anyway. So, when we found those guys, we attacked those guys with a number of coaches and it just happened to be the fact that the defensive tackle position was able to get enhanced. Then it was neat when a lot of those kids that were really excited could really run.”

On the approach to the redshirt rule…

“I hope all of them play four games. That’s the plan. All of them have an opportunity at some time. The great thing about me saying that is, does that mean you are going to have all 23 of these kids on an opening day lineup running down on kickoff and being on special teams? There will be a number of kids that mentally and physically aren’t ready to do that. [That] doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be ready to do that on October 1st or November 1st. That’s something that we are all kind of new to that process [from] last year. The experience that I received coaching for 15 games, I could see the benefit of it. It didn’t matter when you played that young man, if there was always that carrot that the more you learn and the more you understood, the more gameplan-wise, offense and defense, you could understand as well as the more your body matured, you were going to have a chance to play. It doesn’t matter when that is, those kids just want the opportunity. So, I will never put on it and say, ‘Boy, you are going to play the first four or the mid four or the last four’. We’ll see where they are at, but a lot of these kids are going to have an opportunity.”

On what K-State and Manhattan meant to recruiting…

“The people. It’s still the same thing. When we have these young men and their families on campus or I’m in a home or school visiting, you have to come and see the people. It doesn’t take much to see how great the people are here. I’ve not been here very long, but whether I’m on campus or off campus, people have been overwhelmingly supportive of myself and the staff, and that is what you are trying to sell. When we take a family to a restaurant or we are on campus or wherever we may be, how much they are welcomed, those people see it. The families see it. I pulled into a gas station – ‘Welcome to Manhattan, hope you enjoy your visit at Kansas State.’ Not only that, they all know who these kids are. That’s pretty special, too, when a kid comes in and says, ‘Oh, you’re the running back they are talking about.’ How’d you hear that? Word travels pretty quickly and there is social media that Wildcat nation is on and I love it. Those kids come in on a Friday and say, ‘Hey, I stopped at this gas station and a bunch of people knew who I was’. That’s Kansas State, that’s Wildcat football and that’s what I’m excited about and now you put on top of that the relationships our staff have with these young men and are developing, and I think you have a home run.”

On the ideal defensive line depth…

“We would like to play as many as we can, in an upwards of eight. If there is 10 that can play, we’d play 10. But we want to make sure that we have a young man as fresh in the first quarter as he is in the fourth quarter. If that means we play a kid for 40 plays and another for 60 plays, if you are able to give them a blow and give them a break somewhere along the line, it’s going to make them better when the game is on the line. Let’s be honest, we have to win in the fourth quarter. Our hope is with our style of offense and style of defense that we play, we will eliminate some of the 90-100 play defensive games... and 80 plays is a lot. I get on Coach [Messingham] so often to say, ‘It’s okay. Three and half yards each pop is okay. We can get that first down, keep moving the chains, keep our defense rested and keep that offense on the sideline.’ We will see how things play out in the spring, but there’s great competition there. I love the depth we have right now in the defensive line, but a lot of those kids are upperclassmen. That’s why we need to bring these young kids in.”

On handling the defensive coordinator situation…

“Well, when you hire great football coaches, great coaches are going to have opportunities. Not only that, but I’m hiring people I know. People I’m really familiar with. When I hired Ted [Monachino], he was a great fit and excited and then he got an opportunity to go to the Chicago Bears. I respect Ted, I love Ted, and that was the best thing for him and his family. That’s what we are always look for as head coaches, to help your assistants continue to improve in the profession. Is it difficult to lose a coach? You bet. But I’m not going to stand in somebody’s way that he feels is a better fit for his family. And then I was able to call Scottie [Hazelton]. Scottie and I worked together, and Scottie is a tremendous coach and a tremendous person. Because the players haven’t been around yet and we hadn’t started game planning because we were in the recruiting process, it has been pretty seamless in my mind.”

On losing Blake Seiler…

“I know Blake very little, but I loved him when I was here. He was great. I told a couple people when I first got the job, there were three people who were in my ear all the time. One was Taylor Braet, which I didn’t like him in my ear all the time but he was all the time, and the other two were Collin [Klein] and Blake. That told me that those two coaches not only wanted to get hired and stay here, but they really cared about Kansas State. Obviously, you can see that because they both played. I know Blake struggled with the decision and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Blake. Blake is a great man and a great football coach, and once again I want what is best for people and their families, and if that is the best move for him and his family, I’m going to support him because that is what we do as head coaches, try to support our coaches.”

On running back Clyde Price…

“Obviously with Clyde, he is a bigger back, which is something we were looking for. It is hard to find big backs that can really run and when you get them right in your backyard, you need to try to keep them. We tried to get Clyde on the early signing period. I respected him wanting to go through the process and getting to know the coaches we were going to bring in. I so enjoyed his parents. His parents felt comfortable with their son at Kansas State. Collin Klein and Conor Riley did a phenomenal job recruiting him and staying on him. In the end, Kansas State was the best place for him as a running back and a big kid that is one of the many in our offense to have an opportunity to play four games, 12 games or 13 games.”

On strong 2020 class in Kansas…

“That turns to the focus right now obviously after that 2019 class. The 2020 class in Kansas and Missouri has some extremely good talent there. We will go out and attack those guys as soon as we can, and we’ll try to get some of them on campus here this winter.”

On looking for more tight ends…

“We looked at length. As you can imagine, when you look for tight ends, especially in the offense we run, you almost look for glorified offensive tackles. We receive a lot of tapes on guys flexed out, catching the ball and running around, which is great, but it does not really fit the skill set that we are looking for. Not many kids put a highlight tape together of them mauling somebody at the line of scrimmage. We are going to find that within the program and that is something that as coaches we enjoy doing. Whether that is at a defensive end position, an undersized offensive lineman or linebacker, it is something we feel we are going to have to get in our program this first year. Moving forward when we have the full cycle, we will find a few more of the type of guys that fit our system.”

On using social media to help recruiting efforts…

“It is tremendously important and Van [Malone] does a great job. It is fun to watch him on weekends. All of our guys are active on social media. It is a new wave and we all are going to be active. It is a way to keep in touch with guys. Maybe they don’t respond in one form, but they do in another form. It is just trying to find that niche of how you can get a hold of guys. I think Van and all of our staff does a tremendous job of reaching out to these kids and maintaining a constant dialogue. The important thing is building that relationship. I am still a big face-to-face conversation guy, but you only get so many opportunities. When they get on campus it is important to get them and their families in front of as many coaches as you can and giving them quality time. That is where I think we do an exceptional job.”

On running back James Gilbert…

“I haven’t been here enough because I have been on the road the past three weeks. The few workouts I have been able to attend, I have been really been impressed with his movement skills and his ability to burst. I do not expect James to come in and lead an offense. I expect him to stay humble, learn from the guys and how to do it the Kansas State way. I appreciate the people he is following right now. They are the right guys to follow. I am excited for his skill set to fit well in our system.”

On quarterback Skylar Thompson…

“The biggest thing is to get comfortable with our system. There is some new verbiage, new language and meshing with Coach [Courtney] Messingham, Coach [Conor] Riley and Coach [Collin] Klein. All three of those guys are going to work in tandems. Conor is really an integral part of our run offense, so he is really going to work with Skylar as well as Collin in the passing game. Skylar just needs to be Skylar. That is what excites me about him. I just enjoy being around him because he is a servant leader. He makes others around him better. He is a sponge. He comes up into the office and wants to watch film and learn more. He is trying a way to get my old buddy Easton Stick out here because nobody ran our system better. He was 49-3 and he thinks he can learn a thing or two. Skylar is excited about that. If we can just do little things like that to get him comfortable with our offense and system to make him better.”

On community-college transfer Jonathan Alexander…

“The biggest benefit of not starting school until January 22 is being able to land Jonathan a week later. He was able to get in school here and not miss any classes. He is a wonderful athlete. A lot of times kids come in to winter workouts here to get into shape, and he is in phenomenal shape. He is a specimen. He is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and not an ounce of fat on him. He can really run and change directions. The learning curve will be big for him. How quickly can he pick up Coach [Scottie] Hazelton’s defense? The good thing is he is going to be on the same level as everybody else in Coach Hazelton’s defense. You know the guys already in Big 12 football are going to have the advantages because they are used to game plans and things. I have been impressed with him.”

On running back Tyler Burns…

“Collin [Klein] kind of set me up with Tyler. We just visited with him and he understands the need at the running back position. I visited with him and his father and wanted him to have the opportunity to come back. I heard nothing but great things about him. I asked the leaders of the team and they really enjoyed him. He is back and will have an opportunity to compete at the running back position.”