Losing a solid return man is bad. Losing an All-American returner is worse -- at least for most teams. But the Kansas State Wildcats have seen several of those come through the doors of the Vanier Family Football Complex. So while losing Tyler Lockett is a tough blow, the mantra among the K-State returners has always seemed to be "next man up". Oh yeah, the Cats also have a couple good kickers returning.
Matt McCrane returns as the starting placekicker for 2015 after replacing Jack Cantele partway through last season. Cantele had been solid replacing his brother in 2013, and started off the 2014 campaign well before catching the "yips" against Auburn that lingered through much of the season. McCrane came in and notched an 18-19 mark in field goals, including nailing both of his attempts from beyond 50 yards, and was true on 41-42 extra points. Ian Patterson will be the guy handling kick-off duties again after a 2014 season that saw him kick 83 times, averaging 61.8 yards with 25 touchbacks. And, last but not least, Nick Walsh will be the returning starting punter after averaging 41.3 yards on 44 boots for the Wildcats.
The only true hole to fill on the unit is at returner, but Wildcats fans can breathe easy knowing that half the kick return unit is still in place. Morgan Burns will be the lead kickoff return guy, and notched the Wildcats' only kickoff return for a touchdown in 2014. Next to him on kickoffs, while being the primary punt returner, is Dominique Heath. Heath came out in a big way during the spring game with a kick return of 59 yards and a 75 yard punt return for a touchdown.
Jack Cantele will be the primary backup kicker for both place kicks and kickoffs, but Dillon Wilson may seem some action in garbage time. Mitch Lochbihler is the only other punter on the roster, but did get in two punts in 2014. (Of course, one of those was a horror show of a play which resulted in Walsh taking over the next attempt.) Andre Davis fielded some returns in the spring game, and will likely be the primary backup, but basically anyone that can consistently catch kicks could see time as a reserve.
The kicking units should help keep K-State in close ball games with solid punting and lots of field goals. But Heath and Burns will be looked on to provide the sparks needed to help start the fire of the K-State offense, and maybe mix in a few scores of their own while extending K-State's nation-leading kickoff return streak that currently sits at 10 season.