Two years ago this week, Tyler Lockett told The Oklahoman that he wanted to redshirt in his first season as a wide receiver at Kansas State to get bigger and learn the system. It's safe to say he changed his mind, and we all know how that worked out.
Even after a successful senior season at Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, his rapid rise was fairly unpredictable, and it would be foolish to assume that kind of thing could happen again. Nonetheless, I'd like to take a look at some guys who could do something similar this fall with some hard work and, at least from their perspective, some good luck.
This isn't going to be a list of players who have made solid contributions before and are ready to take the next leap forward, or someone like Marquez Clark who is fully expected to see the field frequently this fall. I'm even disqualifying Angelo Pease, since I think he got enough playing time and yards to show us some serious positive potential if the need arises.
The chances of any of these Wildcats becoming key contributors (this season) are admittedly not great, and in some cases could only happen if something goes wrong. Yet they've still got some talent, and may only need the right opportunity to become the next Tyler Lockett.
Also, since I'm looking for someone who could come out of nowhere, it's quite possible I'll miss someone. Feel free to make any suggestions.
Since we're on the subject of Wildcats with well-known last names, we've got to bring up Kyle Klein. It's hard to imagine an unheralded redshirt freshman wide receiver making much of an impact in a run-first (and second) offense with its top three receivers returning, but since he's a mechanical engineering major, maybe he'll figure something out.
The more realistic choice for a breakout player at wide receiver is Curry Sexton, whose Spring Game numbers naturally raised some eyebrows when he racked up more than triple the amount of yards (153) he had all of last season (43). He'll have plenty of competition on the depth chart, and at this point even getting into the starting lineup seems like a long shot.
He's a bit undersized at 5-11, so he'll have to impress with his athleticism that while flashy at times, isn't going to earn him a chance to put up numbers by itself. For that to happen, he'll have to work hard on improving his route running and demonstrate a consistency that is generally lacking among a receiving corps that has been prone to injuries as well as massive fluctuations in productivity even when healthy.
It's pretty easy to come up with reasons why Robert Rose, a five-foot-four, 173-pound running back won't see much of the field as a junior. The two biggest reasons are John Hubert and Pease, but both of them have their weaknesses as well.
Rose has some serious speed and quickness that helped him post the highest yards per carry average (8.4) of all the running backs in the spring game, and he's already gotten farther than most backs his size. Who's to say he couldn't take that next step?
I'd love to see Daniel Sams show off his speed and strength as a quarterback while leading the Wildcat offense. Just as long as it happens with Kansas State up by 40.
Even though Collin Klein has still given us no evidence that he's not invincible, it's still impossible not to worry about injury with a guy who ran the ball 67 more times than anyone else in the Big 12 last season. Obviously, I'd rather not see it happen, but you have to admit it would be kind of fun to see the reaction of all the talking heads who say KSU would be nothing without HBCK if Sams were to step in and carry the ‘Cats to victory.
Justin Tuggle might as well be a newcomer, since he moved from quarterback to linebacker for his senior season. He's got a better chance at starting than anyone else on this list, and if he or Jarell Childs could step up to the challenge, it would give K-State the best linebacking corps in the Big 12.
Defensive tackle seems to be one of the weakest positions on that side of the ball for Kansas State, so why couldn't Chaquil Reed surprise some people and take advantage of his opportunity? Also, it might help that he played on the same defense with Arthur Brown at Wichita East before going to Butler CC.
The only reason not to put Ellwood Clement on this list is that the best offensive lineman on the best juco rushing team in the country last season might be too much of proven commodity to really qualify under my definition of "breakout" player. Offensive lineman don't get enough attention, though, so I'm putting him on here anyway.
Honestly, if he's not starting on an offensive line that lost three seniors, then something is probably wrong. At 6-5, 310 (gulp) he's certainly got the body to be a great bulldozer.
Just like Clement, juco safety Kent Gainous has a golden opportunity to start as Snyder looks for someone to fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Tysyn Hartman. With all due respect to jucos, it's safe to Gainous won't come close to matching Hartman in the classroom.
In the end, though, someone has to take the spot of one of the league's best safeties on the field. While his 35 tackles and one interception last season aren't exactly spectacular, Gainous has the speed and ability to get the job done.
Despite Snyder's track record, it feels like I have to include a true freshman on this list, and I think it has to be Tavarius Bender. The biggest thing going against the top prospect in all of Nebraska (suck on that, Huskers) is that he's a quarterback, which obviously means it would take some bad news for him to get on the field.
Then again, maybe he'd be a good player to use in the Wildcat formation or in some sort of trick play. Honestly, though, I think I'd rather see Klein dominate and allow K-State to redshirt Bender to save him for some great seasons in the future.