It’s time for some fresh faces at linebacker for the Kansas State Wildcats after Justin Hughes
retired and Elijah Sullivan graduated after spending a combined 13 years in MHK. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.
We know who the starters are going to be, even before the depth chart was released, because of the return of the two primary backups from last season, Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher. So why then is this unit such a big question mark for the Wildcats defense?
Because though Green and Fletcher return, they weren’t exactly world-beaters in the spot starts they made in 2020. Daniel Green was once a borderline 4-star recruit out of Oregon a few years ago. He survived the transition from Snyder to Klieman, but is just now getting his chance to start. Somehow, neither was unable to unseat the struggling Justin Hughes (though some of that may have been due to a “promise” made to Hughes to start if he returned). Not exactly inspiring for the start of this season.
There’s also basically zero experienced depth behind them. Nick Allen and Austin Moore saw action in 2020 on kickoff returns, and some reserve action at linebacker, but mostly in blowouts. Wayne Jones has starts at safety, but is inexperienced at linebacker. Same with Ryan Hennington, a walk-on who has seen duty at receiver, safety, and will now finish his K-State career at linebacker. And as much as the defensive backfield was hit by mid-season defections last year, so too was the linebacker corps, with several promising players opting to transfer before and during the season. Yikes.
It’s not surprise that the coaching staff went after linebackers in the transfer portal, but came up short, landing just one. Eric Munoz joined the squad as a transfer from Utah State, but his limited action and starts came against Mountain West competition — and mostly in 2019. He’s a good practice addition, and good to keep up the collective age in the locker room, but he won’t be expected to play much outside of reserve duty this season.
At least the K-State coaching staff s building the spot for the future. Gaven Haselhorst, Davontae Pritchard, and Krew Jackson were all added as part of the 2020 recruiting class. Haselhorst and Pritchard were rated as two of the Top 3-4 recruits in the state of Kansas for the 2020 class, and Jackson is a 6’5” kid that, if he can grow into his frame, could be a huge presence for the Wildcat defense in a few years.
This is a unit short on experience from the talent, and talent from the experienced. This may be the weakest overall unit on the team right now, and it’s probably a few years away from being a true deep strength again. If the K-State defense struggles, it will be because of issues with this second line, especially if the wear and tear of the season gets to Green or Fletcher.
Conversely, it’s possible that this unit could be the biggest surprise of the season if they really come on and stay healthy, and the young guys can develop quickly.
But keep the bar low, because they need the help.