Bill Snyder built his Empire in the Flint Hills, in no small part, by utilizing an inefficiency in recruiting. While he may not have consistently brought in the highest profile high school recruit, he was able to fill holes, and in some cases, build his roster, utilizing junior college transfers. The Jayhawk Conference was, in some respects, a minor league farm system for the Wildcats.
Somewhere along the line, other schools caught on, and the inefficiency in the JuCo recruiting world disappeared. Recruiting top JuCo players was similar to recruiting top high school players. The competition was fierce, and Kansas State was no longer ordering off the top of the menu. Coach Snyder still made it work, but the holes in the roster he was previously able to fill with a top notch junior college recruit remained holes that he had to work around. He was still a college football magician, but that’s the difference between consistently winning 11 games, and working in the 7-8 win district (2011 & 2012 being the obvious exception).
What I find interesting is the same inefficiency that Coach Snyder used to propel the Wildcats into the elite of college football (and don’t let anyone tell you his run from 1993 to 2003 wasn’t elite) is coming back around again. With the advent of the transfer portal, (most) football factory schools (Clemson being the obvious exception) are plugging their holes with players from other teams, and have somewhat cooled on the JuCo market. Sure, they may pluck the occasional 4* or 5* bounce-back player (which will become more rare in the transfer era) but for the most part, they are recruiting other D1 rosters, and not the junior college ranks.
Enter Chris Klieman and company.
The Wildcats recruiting strategy still necessitates the use of instant impact players to fill holes. When you’re recruiting high ceiling, low floor players, you’re going to miss on a bunch of guys. Throw in the transfer portal, and the allure of quick playing time for guys that are having to sit and wait for the first time in their life, and there will always be holes. The coaching staff is trying to project what a recruit is going to be, and not the actual player they are evaluating.
“This guy will be great if he can gain 20 pounds and maintain his speed.”
“This guy has everything we want in terms of size, but can we turn him into more of an athlete.”
Short of having the gift of divination or consulting with the Oracle of Delphi, that’s a tough way to exclusively build a program. Plenty of coaches have tried, but most have failed. Even the “bluebloods” of college football need quick fixes (other than Clemson...sorry...I’m airing my grievances with another fanbase, at least I’m not talking about Pur.... no, you know what, I won’t subject you to that).
The transfer portal is one way to go about filling those holes, and the coaching staff has done a good job of finding overlooked value, but more and more, they’re returning to the junior college ranks to plug holes. The 2022 recruiting class is the perfect example of this subtle shift in tactics, and I think it has the potential to pay off significantly.
The 2022 class currently features 6 junior college recruits:
Kobe Savage - DB
Vaai Seumalo - DT
Gavin Forsha - LB
Justice Clemons - DB
Anthony Frias - RB
Jordan Wright - DB
These players all fill immediate needs, either in the starting lineup or as crucial depth. They also backfill some of the recruiting misses and transfers from past classes. They may not all pan out, but the coaching staff has a pretty good idea of how they’ll look against other grown men, because they’ve seen them play against other grown men. They don’t have to project what they will be, because they know what they are now. Their ceiling could still be high, but their floor is somewhat established.
I don’t expect many, if any, high school kids from the class of 2022 to contribute right out of the box, but they won’t have to with the junior college and transfer portal guys in the mix. The sad (or maybe it’s good...I don’t think so, but many disagree) reality of high school recruiting is K-State will be lucky if half of the 2022 class sticks around for 4-5 years.
Hitting the junior college market hard, and establishing close relationships with programs and coaches gives K-State another tool in the box, in terms of filling the gaps in the roster. That played out recently when Lincoln Riley, who still keeps up with K-State recruiting, attempted to swoop in and “big time” Gavin Forsha. Usually when this happens, the Wildcats do the leg work in terms of talent identification, and then someone like Riley (or Sarkisian, or Kelly...they were all interested in Forsha after he visited K-State) reaps the rewards. In this case, however, the staff had enough of a relationship with Tyler J.C., after recruiting Forsha’s Tyler J.C. teammates Kobe Savage and Justice Clemons, that Forsha stuck with the Cats instead of being blinded by the bright lights (and bad defenses) Lincoln Riley offered.
It’s always going to be an uphill battle for Coach Klieman and company when they go against semi-professional (maybe full pro...it’s hard to tell these days) football teams, in recruiting, but if they can flip the script, like they did with Gavin Forsha, in JuCo recruiting, it will go a long way, in terms of consistently fielding a complete roster with legitimate Big 12 Championship aspirations.