In college football’s transfer portal era, building depth at quarterback has become a year-round challenge.
That is what has made Kansas State offensive coordinator Collin Klein’s ability to stockpile quarterbacks and for the most part keep them in the program with minimal defections all the more remarkable.
“I think for starters it’s a testament to their character and work ethic, and how they go about their business,” Klein said of his quarterbacks during a recent Catbacker Tour stop in Salina. “Every one of those guys cares greatly about Kansas State and their teammates.”
Of the four quarterbacks who completed spring practice last week, none of them decided to leave. And last week the Wildcats welcomed another one aboard when Minnesota transfer Jacob Knuth announced his commitment to K-State.
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Collin Klein keeps quarterbacks in the loop
“I try to be as upfront and completely honest with each one of those guys at all times and make it as fact-based feed back as possible from a pretty complex grading system on every snap in practice,” said Klein, who tutors the quarterbacks and is starting his second full season as coordinator. “So there’s tangible feedback of their game.
“And I’m very upfront with them about each one of them being the best they can possibly be, and the best guy playing for our football team and us collectively doing our job and playing the quarterback position at a level that allows our team to be successful. It kind of takes the focus off each one of them in their individual situations and (shifts it) to the quarterback room as a unit.”
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It helps that Klein can hold up Will Howard, the Wildcats’ presumptive starter in 2023, as a shining example of good things coming to those who wait. For two years, Howard came off the bench in relief of injured starter Skylar Thompson and had limited success, only to break through the second half of last season when Adrian Martinez got hurt.
Next up was highly regarded 2021 prospect Jake Rubley, who saw limited action last year as a redshirt freshman, followed by Adryan Lara, the 2022 addition to the room and now a redshirt freshman himself.
All the while, the Wildcats were involved in a high-profile pursuit of arguably the most talented prospect of all, Maize High School star Avery Johnson, who signed last December and went through spring drills as an early enrollee.
During that time, the only quarterback to opt out was Jaren Lewis, who left at the end of the 2022 regular season without much hope of seeing the field next year. Even Lewis, who will finish his career at Kent State, stayed in the program for four years.
Minnesota transfer Jacob Knuth joins quarterback room
And now Knuth joins the group — as a walk-on, mind you — after spending a redshirt year at Minnesota. He was targeted by Klein and the Wildcats, even taking an official visit to K-State in December 2021 before signing with the Golden Gophers.
Knuth, who entered the transfer portal in April, was a three-star prospect out of Harrisburg, South Dakota, and ranked as the No. 1 high school player in that state.
K-State also has a 2024 commitment from Blake Barnett, a three-star quarterback out of Erie, Colorado.
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K-State head coach Chris Klieman gives Klein high marks for maintaining the harmony while also keeping things competitive.
“The credit has to start with Collin Klein,” Klieman said. “Because I get a chance to sit in on those quarterback rooms, and that is a close-knit bunch of guys. It was when Skylar was playing and Will was the backup and didn’t know if Sky was going to be healthy.
“It was last year when Adrian was the guy and then it became Will, and both of them helped each other out. And I watched Jake Rubley help them out as well, even though he knew he was the third (in line) and knowing that Will was coming back.”
But that would not be possible without the players’ cooperation, Klein pointed out.
“If your focus is on just trying to be the starting quarterback, then you’re going to sell yourself short,” Klein said. “So I think that mentality, credit to them, they’ve bought into it and truly help one another out.”
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @arnegreen.