K-State Holds Spring Football Press Conference – Kansas State University Athletics – K-StateSports.com

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and four players – Daniel Imatorbhebhe (ee-MAT-or-bay-bay), Malik Knowles, Deuce Vaughn and Skylar Thompson – met with members of the media on Tuesday.  Above are links to video and audio of each press conference, and below is a complete transcript.

COURTNEY MESSINGHAM, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
On working with the receivers…
“It’s been good. I think I had a pretty good idea as to what to expect as far as the mentality. But I feel like from the brand-new guys, which we’ve got three true guys that should be high school seniors still here and some of those older guys leading those young guys about how we approach things and go about things. So, it’s been good. I’ve enjoyed it to this point.”  
 
On who is standing out in the receiving group…
“Well, I’ve been really happy with Kennan Garber, has come to work every single day, has made plays for us. He’s shown, even though he’s a lighter guy, that he’s not afraid to throw it in there and block some. So, I’ve been really happy with him. Obviously, Malik (Knowles) and (Phillip) Brooks know so much about our offense now after being here for two seasons. They’ve been easy to coach, and they’ve done a good job trying to help some of the younger guys. So, in general, I’ve been happy with them.”
 
On Malik Knowles
“One of the things for me isn’t so much myself changing things for him, it’s him understanding that the offseason is so important for his development for game week. Meaning, if he’ll listen to our strength and conditioning staff, if he’ll listen to our nutrition people, if he’ll do the things before we ever get to gameday, he’s going to be that much better. To this point, I feel like he’s been doing that. He hasn’t missed one rep so far in spring ball, and if he can keep working the way he’s working, we’ll be in good shape.” 
 
On the receivers last season…
“I don’t know that I ever go back and look specifically at why this guy was or why was that guy not as productive as we hoped he would be. Some of that goes to just looking at how often were they able to practice, how often were they put in a position to make plays more so than why they were not as productive as a group. You try to look at individuals and say, ‘How do we get them where when an opportunity comes, they make more plays?’ But the thing that I think some folks miss is it’s the entire offense. I go back and just as an example – I hate to talk about that game – but I go back and talk and look at Arkansas State. We had a number of opportunities to make plays on a post, more than one, we had like three post opportunities that could have been game-changing plays. A couple of those we actually had somebody in the quarterback’s face. One was a naked, as an example, where the quarterback half rolls and then is throwing the deep post, and a defensive end played down then played back into Skylar’s face and he didn’t maybe effect the hit on Skylar, but he probably affected the throw a little bit. What I’m getting at is it’s more than just the individual receiver, it’s the o-line, it’s the quarterback, it’s the wideouts getting open. All of us as a group putting ourselves in a position to make a play and that makes us look way more productive.”
 
On which unit he enjoys working with on the offense…
“I’m kind of in a unique situation over the years because I’ve coached at basically every level of college football, some places where you’ve got obviously a full set of 10 assistants and other places where maybe you only have five or six full-time guys. With the exception of the offensive line, I’ve coached all of the skill positions on offense. A lot of places I’ve been I actually had to coach the wideouts and the tight ends at the same time or the quarterbacks and tight ends at the same time. So, which one is my favorite or do I like the most? Honestly, I’ve always felt like coaching a position other than quarterback allowed me to see what was going on more. As an example, when I was with the tight ends you had more opportunity to see what was going on with the O-line. When you’re coaching the wide receivers, you have more of an opportunity to see what’s really happening with the quarterback and the receivers because they have to work so closely together to have success. From my standpoint, I’ve liked all four positions when I coached it. The wideout position is where I actually started at. My very first job in the coaching profession was the wide receivers. I coached them at Iowa State, I’ve coached them at Southern Miss ,and I obviously now coach them here. I coached them at Missouri state. So, I feel comfortable with the wideout position, and I feel like we’ve got guys that are going to make plays for us when next fall rolls around.”
 
On tight end transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe
“For only weighing – I think he only weighs 240-245 (pounds) something like that – he plays a lot bigger than that. He’s long, he’s got long arms, he’s got long legs. When he comes off the ball, his ability to block people is probably better than what I anticipated. But because of that length because of those long arms, his catch radius, he’s done a really nice job of being a big passing threat for us in the tight end position. Very happy with him. Very happy with his knowledge. But part of thing people don’t realize is when you’ve been in college football for as long as he has and been in as many systems as he has been, he really understands the game well. Now it’s just getting the terminology and the verbiage down that we use.”
 
On running back Joe Ervin returning from opt out…
“I would tell you the first winter conditioning part it looked like he’d taken the year off, and probably the first two or three practices before we got pads on. Probably the first four practices before we got pads on, you felt like I don’t know where he’s at. But once we got pads on and now it’s handing him the ball where people have to tackle him, he’s done a phenomenal job of doing what we saw him do as a true freshman. Some of the games where he got in where you handed it to him, and you felt like he had great pad level and was playing fast through the holes. So, we’ve been really, really happy with how he’s progressed through the spring.”
 
On what Skylar Thompson is doing in practice…
“Pretty much anything that is passing game where he doesn’t have the opportunity to get hit. So, as an example, we do some 7-on-7 type of stuff, but we actually have the d-line going. If the d-line is going, he’s not in there. If we’re doing that drill and he’s going to take the rep, Coach Klieman will say, ‘Hey d-line you guys are dead this rep.’ Just because we want him to have the ability to interact and play and do the passing game aspect, but obviously we are smart and have to follow what our athletic trainers talk to us about. He’s not at all supposed to be in a contact position yet, but his ability to throw the football, I’ve been very impressed with how he’s rehabbed and how they’ve done a nice job of getting him ready to throw the ball down the field. I was more concerned probably of would he feel comfortable if he was on the right hash throwing a seam ball or even throwing the ball out to the left sideline, and he’s been able to do it without thinking about it. I’m impressed with where he’s at with his rehab.”
 
On the backup quarterback spot…
“It’s amazing because it was only a month or so of lifting and conditioning, but the growth of Will Howard, not just mentally because you would expect him to be farther ahead mentally because of the number of reps last year he had to take during the season, but I’m talking about his physical development, his confidence with his strength. He ran the ball and had two of the longest runs we had last year, but I think everyone would say when you watch those runs, boy he’s running out of gas. He’s starting to get where, ‘Uh-oh, they are going to track him down.’ I’m not telling you that he won’t get tracked down now, but I’m going to tell you he runs much more confidently than he did a year ago. On a third down call in our practices so far, he’s been very, very confident and when he pulls the ball out. He’s strong. He’s able to play with much more confidence, and I really believe that’s from the four weeks of winter conditioning where he eliminated some body fat, put on a bunch of muscle and gained muscle weight basically. So, I’m very happy with how he’s played.”
 
On true freshman quarterback Jake Rubley
“Live arm, really, really live arm. And that’s what we anticipated he would have. Very cerebral as far as taking the time to draw every play out going through every script. But as every ‘high school senior to be freshman’ is, the game goes fast. Our defense does a great job disguising things. Our defense does a good job of showing one picture and then actually playing something else. So, from that standpoint, Jake’s got to keep coming along from a mental standpoint when the bullets are flying. But from a mental standpoint before the play starts, he’s very sharp.”
 
On running back Jacardia Wright
“I’ve been happy to this point. I know it sounds like, ‘Boy, you are happy about everybody,’ but he is a little bit bigger than what he had been. He’s 230 pounds. He’s shown up on special teams. You say, ‘Well, I’m talking about the running back position.’ There’s no doubt, but the more confidence you can get the more things you can start having success at, the more you’re going to have success at that ‘main position.’ He’s showing that he wants to get better, wants to be a guy that people can count on, and you’re seeing it just even in our special teams work that we do. When you start seeing some of that, you start feeling more and more comfortable handing him the ball, and you’re going to believe in him. I think the biggest part is him believing in himself because at 230 pounds, he still runs well. I want to see us have success, but I want to see him have success. I’ve been happy to this point.” 
 
On the depth at offensive line compared to the beginning of 2020…
“Oh, night and day to what it was when we started fall camp last fall. The biggest reason is those young men got forced into playing. Yes, they had some reps maybe but very few had a lot of reps. The example I will use is Cooper Beebe. Right now, he is so much more comfortable talking, communicating, executing his job. And then coming back to the huddle and being able to talk to Coach (Conor) Riley, ‘No, they were playing this, they were playing that, the linebacker was playing there.’ Cooper is just one example, but there are a whole bunch of young men that were forced to play that didn’t play much football, and a lot of people forget that we didn’t have any spring practice a year ago. So, the growth and mental side of it that we’re seeing out of those guys has really been good. Now, they’ve got to get back to where they are also being the most dominant physically that they can be because we still want to be a knock-you-off-the-ball offense, and for that to happen, the offensive line has to play well. Not just as individuals but as a whole understanding gap schemes and understanding zones and how we get push and knock off.”
 
On quarterback Jaren Lewis
“Jaren has been getting a lot of reps with the one group. I’ve been happy with his arm talent. I’ve been happy with him starting to understand our offense much better. He ends up getting lost a little bit, which he shouldn’t, but he ends up getting lost a little bit because of Will (Howard) getting so many reps last year and putting himself in front of Jaren. Not at all disappointed in Jaren. I’m happy with his progression, and he needs to keep coming along though. He needs not just be the leader in the huddle because he’s always been that where he steps in the huddle, and he’s a confident young man in the huddle. But he’s also now got to take it to the field and make the plays that he needs to make. What I’m getting at is I don’t need to see him make that spectacular throw on a post or that spectacular throw on a deep out route. I need to see him make a common throw, a quick out or a hitch where he throws it in there and gives guys an opportunity to make plays after the catch.”
 
On how they’re dealing with the spring this year…
“We’ve tried to actually go through and truly install the offense, basically, a third time. We had a spring and then a fall, and then you’d say, ‘Well, you had another fall.’ Well, we didn’t have spring ball and our fall was somewhat dysfunctional because of offensive lineman or wide receivers or quarterbacks missing a 10 days with a COVID situation or a close contact situation. So, we’re really trying to do two things and that’s put the offense in – and we’re pretty much there now with the number of practices that we’ve had – but then also really hammer on the fundamentals. If it’s the o-line working footwork, if it’s the tight ends understanding what their aiming points should be, if it’s the wide receivers just the top of the route, how do you run the top of the route the way we want it run. So, we’re trying to do two things, teach the scheme but also hammer on the fundamentals and the details.”
 
On the young guys who have caught his attention…
“Two wide receivers have done a really nice job to this point (are) Ty Bowman and Jaelon Travis, even though they’ve been in our program, they are still young guys to me. I’ve been really happy with them. Every single day Deuce (Vaughn) does things where you say, ‘Wow,’ but that’s kind of expected. Offensive line wise and tight end wise, I would say tight end a young man named Ben Sinnott has really stuck out to this point. We’ve been happy with him. From an offensive line standpoint, Carver Willis. We forced him into playing last year. We feel really comfortable with what he’s doing. He’s a long, athletic young man that’s not quite 300 pounds, but he’s not 265-270. He’s probably 280-285. Really happy with him. So, every position has somebody we feel they are showing the signs we knew they could do when we recruited them. But I’d say the guys I mentioned have probably stuck out the most.”
 
On the depth at wide receiver…
“The more we can keep going, we have five, six, seven guys that can legitimately get on the field and produce for us the more that each individual knows every day, ‘I’ve got to get better. Every day I need to improve if it’s only a little bit, but I need to improve.’ Competition to me is vital for us getting to where we want to go. The more we cannot just teach each other but push each other, the better it will be. I don’t care if Phillip (Brooks) is the starter or Malik (Knowles) is the starter, Chabastin (Taylor) is the starter. They can’t be afraid of the competition, but they also can’t be afraid to try to help the guy that is below them be ready to play and to be ready to truly compete to take their job. If they are ready to take their job because they are better than they are, hopefully that forces those guys to push themselves to keep improving and just be better competitors.”
 
On the offensive line pushing each other…
“I would tell you that, just as an example, Taylor Poitier getting an opportunity to play the last couple of games of the year and how well he played instantly put competition on the board for us from an o-line standpoint. Now you start looking at K.T. (Kaitori Leveston), Carver Willis is doing a nice job, and you’ve got Cooper Beebe. You’re starting to roll through and all of a sudden, I’ll be honest with you one of the guys I trust as much as anyone is (Christian) Duffie, and it’s because he comes to work every single day. And, again, he was one of the guys in a four-week time frame that we had that was winter conditioning, changed his body makeup unbelievably. Scott Trausch does a great job using what they call a Dexa scan where they are basically finding out exactly their body make up and four weeks later took another scan and found out how much muscle they gained, how much fat they lost, where they put the muscle on, where they lost the fat. Duffie did a phenomenal job and is having a really good spring. So, the competition there has been really good for us.”
 
On players finding different positions…
“From the offensive standpoint, not so much. Obviously, we are always trying to find out if our tailbacks – because we feel pretty good with the number of tailbacks that we have – how much we can put them, as an example, we would call it two tailbacks on the field at the same time yet lining up in a three wide receiver set and the more we can try to do that. The easy example is against Oklahoma, all of sudden putting (Keyon) Mozee out there as wideout, the widest wideout and having him run a go-route and make a huge play for us. Can we put him at other positions where he can go catch a ball on a bubble screen and not get tackled with the first guy that tries to tackle him and get a 30-yard play? Obviously, we did that some with Deuce (Vaughn), but there are some other running backs that we can put at receiver and not to take away from receiver reps but to make people defend different personnel sets.”
 
On finding ways to get multiple quarterbacks out there…
“It definitely makes me think if we need to figure out if we can have a ‘Wildcat’ package even though it maybe wouldn’t be a guy that you would say can’t throw the ball. Example, Will (Howard) obviously did a nice job of running the football last year for us. He’s a bigger-bodied dude that throws it well enough, but yet I really don’t want Skylar (Thompson) getting hit that many times. Obviously, Skylar understands on third down and understands in the red zone it’s all on the table then. He’s going to get hit because we need him to score touchdowns for us and we need him to run through linebackers and defensive ends and that type of stuff. But if we are out in the regular field and it’s a 3rd and 2 and we all of the sudden want that extra ball carrier being a quarterback, I think I will feel comfortable putting Will in or whoever that next guy might be so that Skylar doesn’t have to take some of those hits.”
 
DANIEL IMATORBHEBHE, SENIOR TIGHT END  
On choosing K-State…
“Last year was a year of firsts with the pandemic, and quarantine and everything changing. It’s really hard to think that a year ago today I was still at USC. The way everything played out, I’ve been through so much in my career and fighting to get the opportunity to play my last year, not knowing if we were going to play or not in the Pac-12 is what lead me to Illinois. Then getting there and our season getting canceled and put back on, and then our whole coaching staff got fired. Change has just been constant for me. I feel like I’m somebody that is persistent. When I figured out our coaching staff got fired, I needed to make sure that I’m finishing my career the way I know I can, and that’s ultimately what led me here.”
 
On the K-State system…
“I love the fact that it is a pro-style offense. It’s an offense that really prepares you for the next level. Multiple tight end sets, lots of shifts and motions. Coach (Courtney) Mess(ingham), as a play caller, is known for putting the ball in the hands of his playmakers. Getting to put my hand in the pile and be a part of what we are building, it was an opportunity that I don’t think I could have passed up.”
 
On his injury history…
“I feel good, I feel great.”
 
On the challenges of playing for multiple programs…
“I think my faith in God is what has sustained me, honestly. I don’t think of it as this massive difficulty, but it’s something that has refined me a ton and forged its character in me. It’s been such an enriching experience, honestly. I wouldn’t trade my journey, as unconventional as it might seem to whoever else, for the world. This game has afforded me the opportunity to see the country. I get to be teammates and bros with all types of people. I have a ton of stories that I could tell and relate with people for the rest of my life, so it’s something that I am truly so grateful for and something that I appreciate. Not so much looking at it as a challenge. Me now vs. me coming out of high school, I think I’ve grown a lot. Being able to be in a place that is still not close to home in Atlanta but knowing how to be in a place and take care of myself and do the things that I know I need to do, I’m grateful for it because I’ve learned it all on the way.”
 
On having a lot thrown at him in a short amount of time…
“I appreciate it as well. It’s all part of the experience that I was talking about because this time last year at USC, Coach (Graham) Harrell had the air-raid, then going to Illinois with the options and zone reads and things like that, and then coming here to a true pro-style offense, it’s the first time I’ve ever had to be in a huddle before. It’s cool, I love learning and being able to expand my knowledge base and build on what I’ve already done.”
 
On seeing what K-State did with Briley Moore at tight end in 2020…
“I was really impressed on film. Briley is just an amazing football player. Getting to watching him, he plays with great tenacity and moves well for his size. Watching him in all the game cut ups and film that myself and Coach (Courtney) Mess(ingham) watched while I was in the portal gave me a picture of, ‘Man, I feel like I can do the same thing.’ I feel like I can fit in a similar way that he did, but different because we are totally different players. I have a lot of admiration and respect for Briley. He’s actually training at the same facility as my brother, so we’ve communicated a little bit, and I am looking forward to more time with him in the future.”
 
On his skillset compared to Briley Moore and fitting in at K-State…
“It’s hard because (Briley) and I didn’t get to play here at the same time. All I know is what I’ve got to see from the games and the clips and the film and everything. I feel like I’m an impact player in the run game and an impact player in the pass game. For me, I’m going to try to stretch the field and win one on ones, try the best I can to own the middle of the field, move the chains, try to be a threat in the red zone, win a lot with my hands. But, Briley is just a ball player and it seems like he’s tenacious and wants to win, and I’d put myself in that same classification.”
 
On dealing with injuries during his career…
“It’s interesting because no one really knows my story unless you’ve talked to me. I got hurt at USC, that’s pretty much the only injury I’ve ever had. I’ve never spoken publicly about my pain or anything that I’ve been through. It’s probably the same answer as how tough it was going through the journey and being different places and trying to take a good perspective on it. It’s helped me grow a ton, and I’m grateful for it. It’s something that I’ve used and will continue to use to make me a better person and better player and not take things for granted.”
 
On the K-State program…
“Every program is different. I was at Florida when I was basically supposed to be a senior in high school. That was a long time ago and is hard to remember. What I remember are the guys, and the guys that I was going against on my team were freak of nature athletes. Totally different vibe at USC, one of the blue bloods of college football. Insane tradition, insane heritage, playing in places like The Coliseum, and getting to rub elbows with the Marcus Allens, Willie McGinests, people of that nature it was awesome. And here, there is just this culture of work. Hard work and blue-collar attitude. I can appreciate getting to play for a guy like Coach Kleiman who is a different leader because his methods are different than anything I’ve been around, and I love it. This place is a grinder type of place. I’ve never seen so many guys put in extra work. I’ve never seen so many guys live in the film room. That’s the biggest difference that I see.”
 
MALIK KNOWLES, JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER  
On Courtney Messingham as his position coach…
“The biggest difference right now is the understanding of the offense. It’s always a blessing when your offensive coordinator is your receivers coach, so you get to go in depth on a lot more pass schemes and run schemes and better understand the offensive gameplay.”
 
On his late season progress last year…
“It was the focus. During the season I was going through a lot of stuff off the field, and just being able to really focus, and when the team needed me the most, I was able to push through.”
 
On what he’s working on…
“Being that guy where if the coach needs me to block or catch or pass or anything, just being that guy when a play needs to be called, my coach can depend on me.”
 
On being a leader with the receivers…
“I’m taking a lot of the young guys under our wings, and I’m always up here doing extra work like jugs catches, watching film and just trying to make them a part of the game.”
 
On having quarterback Skylar Thompson back on the field…
“It’s always a true blessing. Skylar’s been here since I’ve got here and is a great leader and great quarterback. He’s one of those guys where, when he is in the huddle with you, he’s going to push you. So, just having that energy on the field is going to be tremendous.”
 
On his focus level entering this season…
“I’m 100% locked in. This offseason we’ve been going at it strong. Whether it’s the weight room, film, or the practice field, I’m dialed in and ready to contribute to my team.” 
 
On fellow wide receiver Keenan Garber
“Keenan is a tremendous athlete. The stuff he has is uncoachable, he’s really fast, can jump, catch. He’s going to be a great asset to our receiving core.” 
 
On other receivers that stand out…
Eric Hommel, Phillip Brooks, Seth Porter. We have some pretty young guys and new incoming freshmen like Brenen Hawkins have been real good lately.” 
 
On how he has been working to limit injuries…
“Nutrition, stability and mobility while spending more time in the weight room and gaining weight. I’m learning how to maintain my body.”
 
On the struggles of the receivers last year…
“I can’t really pinpoint that. I feel like everybody went through their own different things. Everyone’s focus wasn’t there. A lot of us dealt with stuff last season that was off the field stuff, and we got to push past it.”
 
On being on the field more this season…
“I want to be the person who can be a three-down receiver, a force in the block game, and a force in the passing game.”     
 
DEUCE VAUGHN, SOPHOMORE RUNNING BACK  
On the next step in his career…
“Still making strides in the mental game. Making sure I’m able to see pictures and getting my pre-snap stuff down whenever you come out, especially when you’re running routes out of the backfield. Making sure that this might be a zone coverage or this might be a man coverage. Then just working on my second- and third-level moves to take 15- or 20-yard gains and turn them into 70-yard gains and even more.”
 
On how he evaluated his freshman year…
“I feel like I played pretty well but with a lot of room for improvement, which is really exciting. I feel like with this coaching staff and my teammates and everyone who has supported me, I feel like I can take those strides even bigger through this offseason and into the summer and fall camp and everything. I’m excited.”
 
On who else has stepped up at the running back position…
Joe Ervin being back is so explosive. Even day one, when he hits a hole, he’s at full speed and pops off the screen when he runs. Keyon Mozee and Kaelen Shankle and Jacardia Wright are all taking strides. We’re all taking strides, which is cool to see. We’re all young, and every single day we’re kind of surprising ourselves with the things we learn from Coach (Brian) Anderson. I think the whole running back room is taking strides.” 
 
On Joe Ervin returning…
“We were like, ‘Welcome back from vacation. It’s time to get to work.’ That was really the biggest thing we said. We welcomed him back with open arms. It’s back to work, and we love having Joe back.”
 
On having spring practice this year…
“I feel like it’s really big. There are more pads popping than in fall camp since you’re not as close to the season. Being able to go full speed and working on blocking and chopping down on the outside and making sure that you can utilize your moves in the open field. It’s more taxing. During team sessions, we’re hitting. We’re playing football, scrimmaging and things like that, so it’s big.”
 
On how his body has changed in the offseason…
“A whole bunch. I left here and played the whole season at 168-169. Today I weighed in at 175 (pounds) and 176 is where I’m at right now. I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life. I haven’t lost any speed. I feel more explosive because of that. It’s just a testament to the strength staff and everybody here.” 
 
On where the offense can be better this season…
“Just mentally. I feel like we’re a very young offense, so just continuing to learn the concepts of the playbook, understanding why we’re going to do the things we’re going to do through the playbook and on game days. Coach (Courtney) Messingham, Coach (Collin) Klein and everyone on the offensive staff are making sure we’re getting those mental reps, mentally diving into the playbook so we know exactly what we’re doing with the concepts and why we’re doing it.” 
 
On the quarterbacks besides Skylar Thompson
Will Howard is throwing the ball with a whole bunch of confidence. You can see it with the deep balls and everything. He’s really slinging it. Jaren Lewis has a really big arm and is someone that’s really fun to play with. Jake Rubley, who came in, has a really live arm. He can sling it, as well, and isn’t afraid to. They’re all young, so it’s going to be cool to see them progress as we get older.”
 
On if he got away during the offseason…
“I got to go home. Went home and saw my parents and my two sisters and got into some snowball fights. I got to be an 18- or 19-year-old kid with my family during the break, and that was really good. Got to the point where I was ready to get back to work, but I was able to go home after the season to see them in Round Rock. It was quality time, and I loved it.” 
 
On how he dealt with his freshman season…
“I feel like I came out of it pretty well. My body feels really well right now, as well. Of course, it wasn’t a regular season. We had three games and then a bye week compared to a regular season where we may have a seven-game stretch without a bye week. Adding weight like I’ve done throughout the offseason and making sure my body is in the best shape is going to be big, because when you get into that seven-game stretch you have to make sure you’re playing at the best of your abilities and your body is still functioning at the highest level.” 
 
On what this spring can do for this offense…
“Playing during the season and now coming back, the game is starting to slow down a little bit more as I come out to practice, which is really exciting to see because you’re not thinking as much. You’re just going to play football, and it’s making it really fun. When you come to the live events and tackling and all that, I’ve seen this picture before. I think I know what’s going to happen, so just react. That’s the biggest thing is seeing the mental side. It’s starting to slow down even more which is big for me.” 
 
On being listed as a player to watch nationally…
“It’s definitely surreal, but it’s not something I’m worried about right now. Right now, I’m worried about Kansas State football and helping my team to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Big 12 Championship.” 
 
On the new strength and conditioning coach…
“So much energy. I love Coach Tru(main Carroll) and the work he brings to us. Every single day, he’s building a relationship with every single one of us. If we’re at dinner, he’s coming up to us and asking what we’re majoring in and how we’re doing. I love Coach Tru. Whenever we get into the weight room, we get after it. I just got out of a lift here not even 30 minutes ago, and I’m still pumped up over it. High energy, music is blasting and we’re going through the work. Coach Tru, he’s as good as advertised, even better.”
 
On the new energy under coach Tru…
“Coach Dawson is an amazing coach. The gains I’ve gained through the offseason was him and the strength staff we had here. I would say just the energy under Coach Tru and Coach Dawson is different. Both great strength coaches.”  
 
On being more of a leader this year…
“I wouldn’t say necessarily getting after people. In the running back room, whether it’s Keyon Mozee or people like Jacardia (Wright), we all do it. When someone has a run, ‘I saw this even though you probably saw that.’ We’ll take a mental note of that and then when we watch film together, ‘I see exactly what you saw with that.’ As a collective, they really help me, as well. I feel like I help them out a whole bunch, too, so I feel like it’s really a give and take for the really nice system we have.”     
 
SKYLAR THOMPSON, SENIOR QUARTERBACK  
On the recovery process…
“I’m full go in practice outside of any contact stuff. Anytime we do 7-on-7 or routes or individuals and that type of stuff, I’m full go. Honestly just kind of progressing as we move through spring ball here. Trying to communicate with Coach Klieman and Coach (Collin) Klein and our training staff as far as how I’m feeling and what’s going on. Just trying to get the most out of every single practice I can.” 
 
On if all the throws feel normal…
“Yeah, they do. I’ve honestly been kind of surprised with how well that went from the get go. The big thing for me was just the mental trust in it and being able to rip it and not think about it. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t kind of hesitate at the first spring practice. Our first day of practice was the first day I was cleared to throw to a moving target. Throughout my throwing progression, I was just throwing straight on with our trainers and was able to take a breath and gather myself between each throw. We get into practice, it’s up tempo. We’re going fast with reps really quick. That first week was trying to just feel for it to see how I was feeling and communicate with the coaches. As we’ve moved on, my arm is starting to get back into shape and it’s going really well.”
 
On the other quarterbacks…
“Our whole quarterback room is doing a really good job. Obviously Will (Howard) is getting all the reps at the one spot with our starters during team. He’s doing a really good job, and you can tell the experience Will got last year has really benefited him a lot. He really used his experience and the trials and tribulations he faced to better himself. You can tell he has a lot more confidence. He has a better grasp of our offense and understanding the ins and outs and what his reads are and being confident with his throws. Jaren Lewis is having his best spring since he’s been here. Jaren has the best arm talent on our team. I think anybody in our room would say that. He has a natural ability to throw the ball. He’s been doing a really good job. You have Jake (Rubley) and Max (Marsh). Jake is obviously new and learning. He’s going through a lot of learning curves, but you can tell he’s a really committed kid that wants to be successful. During practice, I can’t go during team. Coach Klein will go down to one end, and I’ll go to the opposite and be that coach on whatever end Coach Klein is not. Working with Jake a lot and trying to help him as much as I can along the way.” 
 
On wide receiver Malik Knowles
“Malik is the real deal. I believed that since he’s stepped on campus. He has some swagger to him right now and is playing with a lot of confidence. What I like about Malik is that he’s taken leadership of that receivers’ room. He and Phillip Brooks both, as upperclassmen in that group, have really taken ownership. If a guy drops a ball, give me 10 pushups kind of thing. It’s an expectation to go out there and perform well and get open and make catches. That’s what we need in that room. Malik has taken full ownership of that, and you can tell it’s carried over into his play and the play of our entire receivers room.” 
 
On wide receiver Keenan Garber
“Keenan has done a really good job. It’s been like that since he got here. His athletic ability and feel is very special, and it’s been like that since he got here. The biggest challenge for him was just understanding our offense and not making mental errors. You can tell the game is just slowing down for him. He’s playing with confidence and is a special player. He can get in and out of his breaks super well. He’s catching the ball. He’s good after the catch and has a lot of confidence. I’ve been really impressed. The sky’s the limit for Keenan.” 
 
On tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe
“Daniel is a really good football player. You can tell he’s played a lot of football and has a lot of experience just by how he runs routes and understands defenses. What I really like about Daniel is that he’s really physical with his routes and uses his big frame to get open. He’s been doing a really good job along with all of our tight ends. Konner Fox and Sammy Wheeler have been doing a great job, as well. Nick Lenners is coming back from an injury, so he’s getting plugged in on 7-on-7 stuff, as well. Our tight ends are doing a really good job, and it’s a really competitive room, which is making them all better.”   
 
On bouncing back from the injury…
“It was scary, especially because it was my throwing arm. The biggest scare for me was whether I’d be able to come back from it. Was I going to be the same, or what was this going to look like? There were so many uncertainties through that process, some that I’ve never experienced before. With my injury, a lot of people said it was super rare to have somebody in my position with what I experienced. When I heard that, there was a lot of uncertainty that puts some fear in you. At the same time, I knew I was getting taken care of with some of the best doctors and surgeons that I had. He was really familiar with what was going on, and I really trusted him and our training staff. I attacked my rehab every single day and never thought, ‘What if I’m not the same?’ All those thoughts, whenever that came into my mind, I immediately took the time to flush that out. I’m not thinking like that. I’m going to be positive about this and come back better than I was before. That’s been my mindset since the day I got surgery. I think that’s a big contribution to why I got back as soon as I did. When I had the surgery, the ultimate goal was to be back June 1st. I don’t think the coaches or anybody was anticipating me to be in spring ball. In my mind, I was. I don’t say that in a way that I’m going to force it or do stuff outside of what the training staff is telling me to do. I’m going to have this confidence to approach this rehab process that I’m going to come back stronger than I was before. That’s treated me very well, and it’s paid off for me.” 
 
On what he’s learned about himself…
“You never know when your last snap is going to be. Last year, my biggest concern was getting COVID. I was scared of getting COVID and that would take four games away from me or whatever the case may be, let alone having a season-ending injury in my throwing shoulder. You never know when your last snap is going to be. That goes with football and goes with anything. You have to live every day like it’s your last one. Through this process, instead of caving in, going into a shell and shutting everyone out, I’ve been very open to making the most out of the situation and using it to impact the people around me and not let the given situation take away from who I am as a person and not take a smile off my face. That’s a big part of who I am. I’m always smiling, always happy and having a good time and trying to make the most out of every situation. Me getting hurt and not performing out on the field doesn’t define how I can show up in that aspect of life. I just embraced that and did the best I could to prove to myself that I could handle the situation and can make the most out of it but also impact those around me as I go through it.” 
 
On the decision to come back…
“To me, it was an easy decision because I love football. I love this game, and after that Oklahoma game, I had a lot of confidence. I felt like I was starting to really get into a groove mentally in how to approach a football game and how to handle myself throughout a game to best fit our football team and put us in good situations to win. I felt like us as a team was starting to get into a groove. We were playing good football. Saying all that, when it all got taken away from me, I believe I still have my best football ahead of me. My ultimate goal is to play at the next level, but that’s not why I came back. I came back because I still feel like my best football here at K-State lies ahead. I want to finish on a high note at this university and leave it better than what I found it. I’m not saying it was bad when I got here. It’s just how I was raised to make something better with your presence. When Coach Klieman welcomed me back with open arms and the whole staff did, I wanted to come back here. I didn’t want to go anywhere else or go through the transfer process. This is where my heart is at. I love K-State football. Whenever the coaches were open to that, it made my decision really easy.”

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