Chris Klieman walked into K-State with the weirdest running back situation I’ve ever seen. He was without a single scholarship running back, and his entire game plan revolves around running the football. Even as little as five years ago, he would have been stuck recruiting junior college backs. Now, this isn’t a slight to JuCo’s, but it generally takes a season to make the D1 transition, and the Wildcats needed help now.
Enter James Gilbert, a grad transfer from Ball State, and Jordon Brown, a grad transfer from North Carolina. Klieman needed experienced backs to run his offense, and found two guys he could plug into the lineup and play from day one.
The benefit of bringing in grad transfer backs was two-fold. It provided a functional 2019 backfield and it allowed the collection of freshmen backs (five all-together) the chance to sit and get accustomed to the college game. When you’re recruiting at the Kansas State level, it’s always nice to give your 3* guys a chance to mature on the bench before tossing them onto the field (there are obviously some big exceptions to this).
The running back board wasn’t as desperate a need this signing period, and the coaching staff went with two dynamic backs that complement last years haul of physical backs.
Deuce Vaughn - 5’6, 166 - 3* (85) - Round Rock, Texas
Keyon Mozee - 5’7, 170 - 3* (83) - Lees Summit, Missouri
Deuce Vaughn Skill Set
It’s impossible to avoid making a Darren Sproles reference when talking about a short, speedy, running back with a knack for catching passes who just happens to play for K-State.
I’m not saying that Deuce Vaughn is Darren Sproles.
I’m not saying that Deuce Vaughn will have 1 percent of the impact Sproles had on K-State.
What I am saying is the Vaughn’s skill set is reminiscent of Darren Sproles.
He’s a little guy that can run between and outside the tackles. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can flex out and play slot receiver. He can snatch your ankles and leave you lying on the field holding your hamstring in shame as he blazes to the end zone.
Vaughn isn’t Sproles, but he’s got potential, lots of potential.
I have no idea if he’ll reach that potential, and if I did, I would be in an NFL front office right now, but the raw ingredients are in place for Vaughn. He needs to get in the weight room and work on getting some Sproles-sized thighs, but it takes a few years to become a breathing, sentient, fast twitch muscle . Until then, he might not be an every-down back, but he’ll make a difference when he is in the game.
Keyon Mozee Skill Set
The coaching staff needed to add some speed to the Wildcat backfield, and did just that with Mozee. At The Opening (the nationwide high school combine) he ran the third fastest 40 yard dash (4.43 laser timed) in the nation, and had the best shuttle time (3.8). He was at the top of the board with 5* running back Zach Evans in most categories. Granted, Evans is 5’11”, 200 lbs., and Mozee is 5’7”, 172 lbs., but their athleticism is similar.
Mozee is a surprisingly physical runner, and player in general. He’s not a big dude, but he’s willing to stick his nose in the mix and hit someone. It’s not unusual to see guys like this limited to outside runs and screens, but his high school team utilized him as a between the tackles runner. He’s got solid feet, good eyes, and when a hole opens up, it’s all over because when he hits the gas, no one is catching him.
I think you’ll see him utilized as a Swiss Army Knife player in the Wildcat attack. Messingham will line him up in the backfield, shift him out to the slot, and he’ll play a role on special teams. Much like Vaughn, I doubt he’ll end up as a 20 carries a game feature back, but that’s fine. If he’s touching the ball 10-15 times a game on runs, catches and returns, he’ll be vital cog in the Wildcat attack. This is always going to be a multiple back attack, and it’s nice when one of those backs can take it the distance on every touch. Just lining him up makes the defense take notice.
One of the big issues with the K-State attack this year was lack of explosive plays in the run game. Brown brought some of that to the table, but he was injured most of the year. It’s hard to move the ball in small chunks down the filed against good defenses. Sometimes you just need a guy to make a play outside the offense and bust something big. Vaughn and Mozee both bring that ability to the game.
It will be interesting to see what happens with these two guys in the 2020 season. I think one will play and one will red shirt, but that’s going to come down to spring and fall camp. Whichever guy is the most physically ready to compete will get the nod. I don’t expect either to be a game changer from day one, but both could provide the occasional spark to help win a game. If you’re looking for a Josh Youngblood-type impact in this class, it’s either going to come from Vaughn or Mozee.
What Next at Running Back?
No guarantees, but I don’t think the staff is done at running back yet. They took two grad transfers last year, and I would be surprised if they don’t add a more experienced lead back to the mix again this year. Jacardia Wright showed some ability in limited action, but I’m not sure Klieman is going to roll with Wright as the lead back just yet. His time will come, but another year as a spark off the bench would be of value for both Wright and K-State.
After the success of Gilbert and Brown this season, Manhattan should be a sought after destination for a grad transfer back. I’ll keep an eye on the options and report back later if something looks promising.