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Kansas State Football: 2021 Special Teams Preview

At #SpecialTeamsU, the 2021 unit might actually be special

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

You know the drill. You’ve seen it dozens of time. A Kansas State player lines up to receive a punt or a kickoff, the air around him is suddenly charged, and before you can say #SpecialTeamsU, he has housed the kick or punt for a score.

That this happens more often with Kansas State than any other team in college football is not coincidence. In the past, the Wildcats have worked hard to make this happen, and the 2021 season is no different.

The Returners

Last year, Philip Brooks, a former walk-on, housed two punts against Kansas. In the process, he picked up 189 punt return yards in that game, more than 116 other schools had all season. Expect more of the same this season. Brooks is listed as the primary punt returner for the team, and is deservedly on All-Big 12 preseason team as a return specialist for 2021.

His backup at punt returner is wide receiver Malik Knowles, who will take on primary kick return duties this season for the Wildcats. He was sensational in the role in 2019, including a 100-yard return against Mississippi State in Starkville. He’ll get some backup from Deuce Vaughn, who averaged 20 yards a return last year, and could be a real contributor on special teams.

As always, a number of players from the two-deep will also play on special teams, providing a wall of blockers for the return men, setting up potential blocks, and generally flying around the field creating opportunities for the team.

The Kickers

Ty Zentner. Learn the name, become really familiar with it, because you’re going to be hearing it a lot. He’ll be returning as the Wildcats’ primary kickoff guy, but he’s also likely to take on primary placekicking duties now that the pocket-sized but sure-footed Blake Lynch has graduated. Zentner will probably share that role with Taiten Winkel, who did not see action in 2020 but did back up Zentner at Butler Community College.

As in 2020, Zentner will also be the primary punter for the Wildcats, splitting time with Jack Blumer who averaged 39.0 yards per punt last season. In addition, Zentner may be the holder when Winkel lines up at placekicker, ensuring he will never not be out there when the special teams unit takes the field. I’m tired just writing about it!

Rounding out the unit will be long snapper Randen Plattner, a two-year starter at the position who has never muffed a snap.