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Stepping Up: Andre McDonald

A series on the unheralded players who the Wildcats need to outperform expectations begins with senior tight end Andre McDonald.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The college football season is beginning to come into view, with about slightly less than two months until Kansas State’s odd Friday opener against North Dakota State. It feels, to me anyway, like it’s coming up a lot faster this year, probably because of K-State baseball and the fact that the Royals are not completely out of the running yet in the not-so-great AL Central.

As most of you are well aware, the 'Cats are going to be or already have been projected to be near the middle or even in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings. This is nothing new or particularly worrisome in and of itself, considering KSU was picked 8th in 2011 by the Big 12 media in 2011 and finished 2nd, then egregiously got ranked 6th last year before taking the league title.

Bill Snyder's magic and just an immeasurable adherence to fundamentals (as well as, let's be honest, some luck in 2011) can go a long ways. But that's not all that goes into exceeding expectations in spectacular fashion, as the Wildcats have done in the past two glorious seasons.

It takes some individuals rising above and beyond their projected role, notably guys like defensive back Jarard Milo (82 tackles), linebacker Jarell Childs (66 tackles) and first-year starter turned First Team All-Big 12 offensive lineman Cornelius Lucas, along with several others in 2012. Also, that Collin Klein guy might have made an impact by turning in a senior season even better than the most optimistic could have dreamed of.

That leads us to this new series cleverly hinted at by Anon in last Friday’s slate, in which I’ll be taking a look at players who could fill that role and have a breakout season this fall, thus helping Kansas State to, say, a second straight Big 12 title. The hope is I’ll get to 2 or 3 players a week, but of course, I can make no promises.

As Jon noted not long ago, K-State actually has four guys who could reasonably be picked as preseason All-Americans, so you won’t see their names on this list, even though you could make a case for Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson as wide receivers. You also won’t see any two-year starters, because while not impossible, history tells us it’s unlikely any of them will suddenly greatly surpass past production.

Andre McDonald

Now that the long and possibly boring intro is done, we can finally get started. The fact that for some reason I wanted to type Andrew McDonald (even though at the same time it felt wrong) tells me he’s the perfect player to lead off this series.

With the graduation of Chris Harper, Kansas State lost its most productive receiver and really the only one on the team that could be classified as a ‘possession receiver.’ It’s very difficult to see any one guy filling this role, but McDonald has shown flashes of the ability to be that kind of player on occasion.

From what I remember, he’s got some pretty good hands and obviously brings great size to the tight end position. K-State was solid there last year with him and Tannehill, whose 284 receiving yards were the most for a Bill Snyder tight end since Brian Casey in 2005.

Tannehill’s success and possibly McDonald’s preseason…ahem… issues (which cost him a game) kept him from catching a pass in 2012. But Tannehill is gone, and let’s not forget McDonald caught 14 passes for 212 yards in his first two seasons.

We’ve been over this many times before, but I’m still not as high on the KSU receivers as some folks in the comment section, so it would be great if McDonald becomes a legitimate threat. Obviously, his production would likely be higher if Jake Waters earns the starting job and (presumably) makes this offense more reliant on the passing game.

Ideally, McDonald would be most useful in short yardage situations to keep the chains moving, or near the goalline. That means working hard in the fall and making some catches in the nonconference to earn the trust of his quarterback(s), as well as the coaches calling the plays.

I’ve got some high hopes for the big senior who has proven to be an efficient blocker and shouldn’t have too much trouble beating out Zach Trujillo or juco transfer Andre Jackson for the starting spot. The big question will be whether McDonald can keep track of his dog make himself a more noticeable part of the offense by becoming a dangerous receiver.