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Kansas State Football: 2021 Running Back Preview

Deuce is the primary weapon, but some other guys could make noise this season as well.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

There are only 25 days until kick off, and we need to kick these position group previews into high gear. Speaking of a running back geared high (this is called a segue), Deuce Vaughn is back for another shot at the Big 12 after one of the most surprising freshmen seasons in the nation. There is no question the 5’5” dynamo sits on top of the Wildcat depth chart, but after Vaughn, there’s a bunch of shoulder shrugs and “maybes”. That needs to change if Kansas State is going to reach their full potential and keep their star running back ambulatory for the duration of the season.

Starters - Part Deuce

Deuce Vaughn

I’m going to come out and say it. I was shocked (and still am) at Vaughn’s freshman season. Everything was stacked against a freshman (any freshman, much less a 5’5” overlooked 3* freshman) coming in and taking over as an offensive star. Deuce wasn’t slowed by trivial things like a global pandemic limiting practice time and forcing the coaching staff to shuffle their lineup every week depending on who wasn’t sick or in quarantine. Skylar Thompson getting speared against Texas Tech, eliminating any chance for a “balanced” offense, didn’t cause him to miss a beat.

Deuce Vaughn Rushing

123 642 5.2 7

Deuce Vaughn Receiving

25 434 17.4 2

Deuce Vs the Traitors

Oklahoma 8 32 4.4 1 4 129 32.3
Texas 10 125 12.5 2 4 45 11.3
Total 18 157 8.45 3 8 174 21.8

When he lined up against the Sooners in Norman, he showed no mercy against the undermanned and underfunded (right Sooner Nation?) Oklahoma program. He single-handedly spared the Big 12 from yet another first round CFP exit by letting Lincoln Riley ring up the scoreboard in a losing effort in the regular season (buuuut maaah QB staaats!)

When the skeleton crew of a K-State team faced off against the soon-to-be 5th or 6th best team in the SEC West, Deuce was not intimated when the Longhorn defenders explained market saturation, television ratings, and their fossil fuel fueled athletic budget. He rolled up 125 yards on 10 carries, and was next in line to play defensive tackle for the Wildcats by the end of the game.

It will be interesting to see how Deuce does in his second go around against the “Blue Blood” Big 12 program and Texas. I’m told by both groups that money is the most important consideration in college football. I’ve got it on good authority that they will be throwing hundo bands at Deuce (literally) in an attempt to slow him down this year.

I don’t have much else to say about Vaughn that you haven’t heard, or witnessed before. He’s a small guy with amazing acceleration and the ability to make some of the most athletic people on the planet look ridiculous. My only concern (and it’s a big one) is the temptation to ask him to do too much on a game-to-game basis. It’s going to be up to Coach Klieman and Messingham to figure out how to utilize him to his full potential without burning him out in the first half of the season.

Someone is going to step up in the running back room and offer the coaching an alternative to “hand it to Deuce, throw it to Deuce, and let Deuce return the kicks (another segue).”

The Other Guys

It’s no secret that Courtney Messingham’s offensive system works best when he has a stable of running backs to throw at an opposing defense. While Deuce will be the “primary” guy, there will be other guys that will see lots of time in the backfield, either when Vaughn needs a breather or is flexed out to the slot.

Jacardia Wright

The vast majority of the “people in the know” outside the program had Wright penciled in as the starter in 2020. The vast majority of us looked dumb after his 6 attempt, 17 yard “season”. To be fair, at the end of 2019, it looked like the light turned on for Wright, but that light didn’t so much as flicker last season.

I’m not sure what Wright’s deal was last year, and it doesn’t matter. 2020 (for a laundry list of reasons) was a trash year and I’m glad it’s over. I’m sure Jacardia is glad it’s over as well. I’m looking for him to regain his 2019 form in 2021. He’s still the big, fast, physical back we saw as a true freshman, and if Wright is right, he’s the perfect compliment to Vaughn. He’s 6’0”, 220, and runs angry and fast, mainly in a straightish line. If a defender gets in his way, he’s liable to catch a straight arm to the grill.

Wright has the frame and skill set to be the “thunder” to Deuce’s “lightning”. Ideally, he’s back to end-of-2019 form, gives the coaching staff another dependable back, and helps take some of the load off Deuce’s shoulders. He’s got the talent to make this a legit running back tandem if (and it’s a big if) he can put it all together.

Joe Ervin

Ervin showed solid potential in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season and returning home to Rock (Thrill) Hill, South Carolina for the year. That alone shows toughness, because I grew up in South Carolina and the only reason to spend time in Rock Hill is family obligation. No one stays in Rock Hill a second longer than required (just kidding Joe).

I had Ervin penciled into a time share with Wright in 2020 before everything went sideways. I thought he would bring what Deuce brought to the offense last year. He’s a small (5’8”, 178), quick, elusive back with solid hands out of the backfield. He doesn’t have the power that Vaughn has between the tackles, but he’s got speed to burn on the outside.

He’s another nice piece at the coaches disposal in 2021. His skill set overlaps with Deuce, so he’s not the ideal compliment, but if things go well, there are more than enough carries to go around in this offense. I also see his potential on return teams (although Brooks is the obvious ace in terms of kick returns).

Clyde Price

Clyde’s the guy who needs to make a move in fall camp. I was fan of the Wildcats signing him late in their initial recruiting class, but he’s yet see any snaps outside of a handful of special teams snaps.

Don’t get me wrong, he was always a bit of a project coming out of North Kansas City, and he still has time to fulfill the potential I saw in his high school film, but he needs to get this thing pointed in the right direction. That starts by getting on the field by any means necessary (read special teams). He’s a physical 6’0”, 210 pound running back with good speed. I thought he might end up as a linebacker or safety in college, because he’s got all the tools.

He’s fighting it out with Jacardia Wright in camp for the “thunder” role in the offense, and like Wright, would, in theory, be a nice compliment to Deuce. I think Jacardia has a leg up because of his (limited) game experience, but Clyde is more than capable of filling the role if the need arises.

Who’s Left?

Normally, the Chris Klieman program is open to freshman and younger guys seeing playing time they earn. But in this case, with the four guys already listed, that it could be difficult to get all the young guys some live reps during the season. There are currently only two “true” freshmen on the K-State roster — Devrin Weathers and DJ Giddens — and one walk-on RS-Soph in Jordan Schippers.

Weathers comes from Missouri powerhouse Webb City, and could be just as valuable on defense for the Wildcats if he decides that the logjam is to great on offense. The 6’0 194lb (3*) back was first-team all-state as both a junior and senior, and is another strong back that fits the “A-Gap Power” scheme that Messingham likes to utilize.

Giddens is a bit of a mystery to the outside world, but not around Manhattan. The 6’1 207lb back was unrated coming out of Junction City HS (KS), but might be the most physically impressive guy in the running back room, even as a true freshman. A lot of his highlight and recruiting film lists him as a fullback, and that’s something that could get him on the field maybe sooner than his fellow freshman counterpart. If he can block and run, and possibly flex out to “H-back”, he could be a sleeping weapon for the Wildcats.

Schippers hails from Colby, KS, but the 6’1 200lb back came to Manhattan via Western Illinois, where he had 131 yards on 29 carries as a true freshman for the Leathernecks in 2019. He sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules (which now don’t apply...I wonder if he’ll get his year back), and is very likely going to be a Harry Trotter-type back.