Welcome back to sunny Manhattan, Kansas where the spring weather is truly breathtaking.
Sorry, I had to stop and go pull my dog out of my back swamp...I mean yard.
Anyway, spring is here and football is gearing up again, and let me tell you, the running back position at K-State is wild. I’ve covered football for a while now, and I’ve never seen a depth chart like the Wildcats running back depth chart. Having one scholarship kicker on the spring roster isn’t unusual, but only having one scholarship running back is crazy (to be fair, it’s really two because Tyler Burns would be on scholarship if not for his brief retirement).
This scenario is every walk-ons dream.
There is going to be an opportunity this spring for a several unheralded, unrecruited players to show they can contribute at the running back position. All walk-ons can hope for is a chance, and there will be plenty of chances to show what they can do this spring.
Buckle your chinstraps and get ready to spend some time in the ice tub gentlemen, because getting reps won’t be an issue this spring.
Spring Running Backs
Totally Unofficial And Speculative Depth Chart
- James Gilbert - SR
- Tyler Burns - JR
- Harry Trotter - JR or Michael Warmack - RS FR or Cornelius Ruff IV - SO
- Bernardo Rodriguez - SO
Gilbert is easy to talk about because there is actual film of him running the ball in competitive games at the college level. In fact, I wrote an entire article on him earlier this year (with video clips!).
Gilbert is a small running back with solid burst who utilizes his speed to get to the edge, but also has the ability to take it between the tackles and squirt out the other side. He put up 1,332 yards on the ground as a sophomore and that’s the player K-State hopes they are getting.
Gilbert’s career at Ball State peaked in his sophomore season when he was the primary ball carrier and then dropped off a bit after a nasty hand injury sidelined him for his junior year (which is why he was able to grad transfer) and his nominal senior year saw him slowed by a back injury and sharing the load with another running back.
All the running back eggs are in the James Gilbert basket. He needs to be wrapped in at least three inches of bubble wrap at all times. If he can stay healthy, Coach Klieman might be able to make this running back position work, but if Gilbert goes down or can’t carry the heavy work load, things will get dicey at the running back position.
Burns is a familiar face around the program. He quit football prior to last season (I’m sure you guys know more about that than I do) but was welcomed back with open arms by the new staff. It’s a weird situation, but if he’s right physically and mentally, he could be a wildcard for the Wildcats.
Coming out of Trinity Academy in Wichita (home of Jack Straw), Burns was a low 3-star recruit signed by K-State in the 2015 class. He redshirted in 2016 and made the most of his time, receiving the Red Raider Award at the end of the season for his work on the scout team.
Burns saw action in every game in 2017, mostly on special teams. He did, however, carry the ball 10 times for 30 yards. That’s not great, but the depth chart at running back was stacked and he was a redshirt freshman. It appeared that he was on the normal course for a running back in Bill Snyder’s program, and would gradually emerge as his career progressed.
Then his career stopped progressing, because he decided to retire from football in 2018.
He’s back with the program now, and at 5’11”, 215 he looks like a Big 12 running back. I’m sure there is plenty of rust to shake off, but if Burns can put together a solid spring, he could be in position to receive substantial carries this season.
For me, his performance during spring practice is the second most interesting story line on the roster this spring (behind Hunter Rison).
I’m grouping these three walk-ons together, and honestly, I could have but Burns into this group as well, but I bumped him up a spot because of his experience in the program.
Harry Trotter is an interesting addition to the program. His long and winding football career started at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, Kansas where he put up solid numbers and was named honorable mention all-state as a junior and senior by the Topeka-Capital Journal (I have no idea if his is significant).
He didn’t have any offers coming out of high school, so he went the JuCo route at Fort Scott C.C. in 2016 and after a solid season (146 rushes, 503 yards and 8 touchdowns) and grabbed a preferred walk-on spot at Louisville.
He appeared in nine games for the Cardinals, mostly on special teams, but did have four carries for 27 yards on the year. After his first season at Louisville he decided to transfer to Kansas State where he will have two seasons of eligibility after sitting out in 2018 because of the NCAA transfer rules (which are apparently still a thing if you’re not a 5-star player).
Warmack’s name is familiar because his older brother Dalvin just finished up his career as a running back at K-State. Like his brother, you would never guess Warmack played college football if you saw him on the street.
At 5’5”, 175 he is built more like a soccer player but based on what I saw in his film from his time at Blue Springs High School, he’s a tough runner (at 5’5” you have to be tough) with solid burst. I’m not selling him as the next micro sized star running back for the Wildcats, but I think he can carve out a role on the roster as a change of pace back and a potential receiving threat out of the backfield. If he gets into space, look out. He has the ability to make tacklers look foolish.
On a personal note, it’s hard not to root for Warmack this spring. His younger brother Darrian was tragically killed in a car accident in December. I’m sure Michael is still trying to deal with that devastation. I hope he can find some solace on the football field.
Cornelius Ruff IV
Out of all the backs on the roster, Ruff has the most impressive high school resume. He hails from Kansas City, KS and attended Schlage High School. In his three year high school career he ran for over 4,000 yards and put up 45 touchdowns. He was named first team all state by the Topeka Capital Journal and the Wichita Eagle in 2016. That’s one heck of a high school career.
After taking a look at his film, he’s a hard player to evaluate. He’s obviously the best athlete on the field and has no trouble shrugging off tackle attempts by 5’7”, 150 pound safeties and linebackers. He appears to be a solid between the tackles runner with enough speed on the back end to take it to the house, but that was against questionable (at best) competition.
At the same time, playing running back has a good deal to do with vision and feel, and Ruff has that. He can pick his way through the trash at the line and hit the gas when he sees an opening. He’ll have every opportunity to show that he can play against the big boys this spring after redshirting in 2017 and not seeing the field in 2018.
Bernardo is a renaissance man. You don’t see many punter/running back/kick returners in college football, but my man Bernardo has you covered in all three areas.
The Coppell, TX native saw the field last year as a punter. Booting 8 punts including a crucial 45 yard punt in a close Texas game. I’m going to guess that his career special teams contributions will far out pace his production out of the backfield, but his high school film is interesting.
He’s another guy built more like a soccer player than a football player at 5’10”, 190 but he was able to run away from people when he found a crease and wasn’t afraid to turn it up the field and take a hit to get a first down. That said, Coppell didn’t put their star punter in the backfield that often. As a senior he had 35 carries for 203 yards and at touchdown.
If nothing else, he is an interesting option for a fake punt.