Following Kansas State’s remarkable 2022 football season, some pieces are starting to fall into place for next year.
The good news for the Wildcats is the growing likelihood that their entire offensive line will return, including junior left guard Cooper Beebe. Senior center Hayden Gillum became the first to take the plunge, announcing Friday on social media that he will be back for the fifth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to players registered during the 2020 COVID season.
Coach Chris Klieman said on ESPN’s “College Football Live” on Thursday that he expects all five 2022 starters to return, meaning senior tackles KT Leveston and Christian Duffie would also opt for a fifth season.
“I think our top eight offensive linemen are back, so it’s a really good spot there for a running back,” Klieman said when asked to replace the All-America fullback. Deuce Vaughn, who announced he would forfeit his senior year and enter the 2023 NFL Draft.
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Klieman’s comments echoed those of offensive coordinator Collin Klein, who hinted on the eve of the Sugar Bowl that the five linemen would indeed be back. The fifth starter, right guard Hadley Panzer, was just a sophomore.
Gillum, who started all 14 games at center this year after spending the previous two seasons as Noah Johnson’s backup, was not yet ready to move on.
“I still have goals to reach and others to accomplish with this team,” he wrote on Twitter. “I love this program and will be returning for my final season as a Wildcat.”
It now remains to be seen if Klieman and Klein were right and if the other linemen follow suit. Beebe is a two-time all-conference pick, and this season was named Offensive Lineman of the Year by Big 12 coaches while earning second-team All-America honors.
Beebe, whose younger brother Camden signed with K-State in December, said before the Sugar Bowl that the topic of who was coming back came up in conversations between linemen.
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“We’ve certainly been in talks,” he said. “We sat down to dinner several times and talked about it.
“There’s nothing that’s been settled. It’s still up in the air, but it’s definitely in talks I think. If one of us comes back, I think it’s a deal of all types. , but nothing has been finalized. We’re kind of just seeing how this game plays out and going from there.”
Starting quarterback Will Howard told New Orleans he actively recruited his line to return for another year.
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In addition to Vaughn, the Wildcats will need to replace at least two senior starters who have decided not to return for a fifth season. All-Big 12 cornerback Julius Brents and wide receiver Malik Knowles both announced on their social media accounts that they would be entering the NFL Draft.
Knowles, had his best season as a Wildcat in 2022, leading the team with 48 catches for 725 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for three scores, including a 75-yarder against South Dakota in the opening of the season.
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Brents, who started all 27 games during his two years at K-State after transferring from Iowa, had 45 tackles and four interceptions with eight passes defended as a senior.
Other key players expected to announce their decisions in the near future include junior defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, as well as senior cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe and the senior wide receiver Phillip Brooks.
Another senior who won’t be back for a fifth year is junior middle linebacker Daniel Green.
Running back, redshirt freshman DJ Giddens is Vaughn’s heir apparent after racking up for 518 yards and six touchdowns this year. Klieman is also high on incoming freshman Joe Jackson, and Florida State senior transfer Treshaun Ward visited campus this week.
“I think the expectation, the bar has been raised at Kansas State, and our expectations are high in our program,” Klieman told ESPN. “We have a lot of guys coming back on both sides of the ball, and we don’t have Deuce, unfortunately, (who) is going to have that big infectious smile every time he walks into the facility, but I’m excited about what our future holds.”
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett Network. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @arnegreen.