Last year, K-State’s receivers weren’t considered a particular strength. But as often happens in a Bill Snyder offense, sometimes that doesn’t tell the whole story.
It isn’t unheard of for a Wildcat squad in this exact spot in the evolution cycle to come off a season where the run game was paramount only to suddenly become a serious threat through the air with a senior quarterback. In their junior years, Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson and Collin Klein were all ground-based threats, and their arms (or accuracy) were questioned; as seniors, they all put up creditable seasons which naturally paid off for the guys catching the ball. Darnell McDonald blossomed with Bishop. James Terry exploded with Roberson. Klein had four receivers begin blossoming in his senior year.
With that in mind, and with the talent returning, it’s not hard to imagine several purple passcatchers to make their mark this season.
Two of the three receivers who held down starting roles depending on the formation return in 2017, and they’re still only juniors: Big 12 first-team return specialist and honorable mention wide receiver selection Byron Pringle, and honorable mention return specialist Dominique Heath. Heath led the team in catches last season with 45, while Pringle led in yards with 631. As is probably obvious from that, Pringle is the deep threat while Heath is a go-to possession guy (who still has some moves).
In a bit of a surprise, although the absence of Carlos Strickland from the open practice session at Fan Appreciation Day may cloud matters, the third spot would appear to belong to Dalton Schoen. Based on the spring game, this isn’t a complete stunner; Schoen hauled in four balls for 54 yards in April.
That said, some other returning receivers with game experience also cycled through the first team at open practice. Leading that pack is sophomore Isaiah Zuber, who led everyone in the spring game with 96 yards and 8 catches, and who made some big plays for the Cats last season. Strickland, a transfer from California who is also a sophomore on the clock, is also obviously part of the mix. He had a big fourth quarter in the spring to put his stamp on the proceedings.
No, we’re not done yet. Junior Zach Reuter saw a fair bit of action the last two years, and figures to again, and redshirt freshman D.J. Render has opened enough eyes to have also found himself getting important reps. And then there’s Isaiah Harris, who wasn’t too visible in the open practice but did snag four balls in the spring. Like everyone else with experience, Harris has had some big plays in Big 12 games.
The problem K-State has at receiver, if anything, is depth — as in having a ton of it. That’s eight guys we’ve already talked about as potentially making meaningful contributions, and there are six freshmen chasing them. A couple of Texas boys, Bernard Goodwater from Dallas Carter — who came to K-State as a running back but moved to the outside — and Chabastin Taylor from Giddings, probably won’t get much play in 2017, but are definitely worth remembering for 2019.
As for the tight ends, well, this is K-State. They’re pass blockers, right? But another feature of the returning quarterback trope has been tight ends who actually catch the ball a bit. Justin Swift, Brian Casey, and Travis Tannahill ring any bells? So keep an eye on the trio of junior Dayton Valentine, sophomore Blaise Gammon, and redshirt freshman Nick Lenners. The former two have caught the ball in games, albeit sparingly, while Lenners had a 36-yard snag on a POP pass in the spring game.
K-State may not have a dramatic one-two punch like they have in years past when a starting quarterback returns, but it won’t be because the passing game is ineffective. It’ll simply be a matter of not enough balls to go around.
Expect Pringle to have a big year, while Heath puts up something reminiscent of Curry Sexton’s junior season, with Sexton’s senior season as the upside. (And remember, this is the Curry Sexton Fan Club, so that’s definitely a compliment.) Strickland could also step up in a big way, and Zuber will likely make an impact in quality if not quantity. The top eight guys should all get some play, and it wouldn’t be surprising if K-State had, say, six receivers with at least 250 yards each when it’s all said and done.