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Sunday, November 28, 2021

K-State Opens 2021 Campaign in Allstate Kickoff Classic

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Courtesy of K-State Athletics

MANHATTAN, Kan. – In one of the more interesting non-conference games to open the 2021 college football season, Kansas State will take on Stanford this Saturday in the Allstate Kickoff Classic inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game – one of just four neutral site matchups featuring two Power 5 teams in the opening weekend – kicks off at 11 a.m. and will be shown on FS1 with Aaron Goldsmith (play-by-play) and Mark Helfrich (analyst) on the call. The game will also be aired nationally on ESPN Radio with coverage from Marc Kestecher (play-by-play), Max Starks (analyst), Jorge Sedano (analyst) and Mike Peasley (sidelines). As always, the game can be heard across the 39-station K-State Sports Network with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play), former K-State quarterback Stan Weber (analyst) and Matt Walters (sidelines) calling the action. Fans can also catch the game on SiriusXM (S: 138, X: 199, App: 953) in addition to The Varsity Network app.

K-State Wildcat Football can be heard on Classic Hits 106.7 FM, 102.5 FM and 1530 AM in Northwest Kansas & Southwest Nebraska as well as Classic Country 1570 AM, 94.1 FM KNDY in Northeast Kansas & Southeast Nebraska

A LOOK AT K-STATE
• K-State is looking to right the ship in 2021 after a 4-6 campaign in 2020, one that started out with the Wildcats going 4-0 in Big 12 play and rising as high as No. 16 in the AP Top 25.
• The Wildcats lost the services of senior starting quarterback Skylar Thompson in the third game last season, but he returns as one of the Wildcats’ five “Super Seniors” in 2021.
• Thompson ranks in the top 10 in school history in 15 career categories, while he is one of only two signal callers in K-State history to have 5,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career (Ell Roberson).
• Thompson has the luxury of playing behind an experienced offensive line that brings back 100% of its starts from a year ago in addition to playmakers at every skill position.
• Headlining the skill group is running back Deuce Vaughn, who burst onto the scene a year ago as he was named the True Freshman of the Year by 247Sports, as well as an All-American and Freshman All-American by multiple outlets.
• Returning at wide receiver – a group that is now tutored by offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham – is dynamic playmakers in Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks, the latter who was an All-American as a punt returner last year and has earned numerous Preseason All-America honors.
• At tight end, the Wildcats welcome transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who has spent time at both USC and Illinois.
• Defensively, the Cats could rotate as many as 12 players along the defensive front, while two of the linebacker spots will be held down by Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher, both of whom were pressed into starting duties toward the end of 2020.
• Familiar starters in the back end return in cornerbacks Ekow Boye-Doe and safety Jahron McPherson, but K-State brought in four transfer defensive backs that look poised to lead the secondary in 2021.
• As many as three kickers are battling to replace three-year letterwinner Blake Lynch, and the list includes senior Ty Zentner, junior Taiten Winkel and true freshman Chris Tennant.
• Last season, Zentner shared punting duties with Jack Blumer, and the two could rotate again in 2021.
• Brooks will man the punt-return spot again in 2021, while he and Knowles will most likely be deep for kickoff returns.

A LOOK AT STANFORD
• Stanford enters the 2021 season, the 11th under head coach David Shaw, coming off a 4-2 campaign in a shortened 2020 season.
• With 2020 quarterback Davis Mills moving on as a selection by the Houston Texans in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cardinal are in the midst of a quarterback battle between senior Jack West and sophomore Tanner McKee.
• Last season, West threw for 154 yards on 13-of-19 aim, while McKee completed 3-of-7 passes for 62 yards.
• The new starting quarterback will have the services of Stanford’s top two rushers from a year ago back in 2021 in Austin Jones (550 yds, 9 TDs) and Nathaniel Peat (204 yds, TD).
• Stanford’s top returning receiver is senior Brycen Tremayne, who finished second on the team last year with 14 catches for 265 yards.
• Defensively, the top returning tackler is linebacker Levani Damuni, who was second on the squad last year with 42 tackles.

A LOOK AT THE SERIES
• Saturday marks the second meeting all-time between K-State and Stanford, with the Cardinal holding a 1-0 edge.
• The teams first met in the 2016 season opener at Stanford, a 27-13 Cardinal victory.
• The Wildcats got to within six points late in the contest after recovering an onside kick and scoring a touchdown with 2:20 left.
• However, a second onside kick was unsuccessful and Christian McCaffrey – a Heisman Trophy finalist the year before who had been held in check with just 85 yards up to that point – went 41 yards for a score to seal the victory.
• K-State holds an all-time record of 29-63-2 against current members of the Pac-12, but an 11-19-1 mark when taking out the Wildcats’ Big 8/12 series history with Colorado.
• Since 2001, the Wildcats are 3-1 against the conference in season openers, defeating USC in 2001, California in 2003 and UCLA in 2010 prior to falling at Stanford in 2016.

MARQUEE MATCHUP
• Saturday’s meeting between K-State and Stanford at AT&T Stadium is one of just eight non-conference games during the opening weekend that features two Power 5 teams, and one of four that will be held at neutral sites.
• K-State is 7-5 all-time in regular season neutral-site games, including a 2-0 mark in those that open the season.
• Saturday is the first time the Wildcats will open the season with a neutral-site contest since taking down California, 42-28, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City in 2003. Prior to that, K-State defeated Iowa, 27-7, at Arrowhead Stadium in 2000.

CATS IN LID LIFTERS
• Entering its 126th year of football, Kansas State holds an all-time record of 85-35-5 (70.0%) in season openers, including a 27-4 (87.1%) mark since 1990.
• Chris Klieman, who enters his ninth year as a head coach, has earned a 6-2 record in season openers.

NON-CONFERENCE NOTABLES
• Since 1990, K-State holds an 89-18 (83.2%) record in regular-season non-conference games.
• During that stretch, the Wildcats are 10-8 in regular-season non-conference games against current Power 5 teams, which includes a 31-24 victory at Mississippi State in Chris Klieman‘s first year at the helm in 2019.

AGAINST THE PAC-12
• The Wildcats enter the Allstate Kickoff Classic with an all-time record of 29-63-2 against current members of the Pac-12. However, that record turns into 11-19-1 when taking out the Wildcats’ Big 8/12 series history against Colorado.

ONE OF THE BIG 12’S BEST
• K-State ranks third in Big 12 wins since the league’s inception in 1996, trailing only Oklahoma and Texas.
• The Wildcats also rank third in the conference in winning percentage since round-robin play began in 2011. They sit at 58.9% (53-37), trailing only Oklahoma (82.0%; 73-16) and Oklahoma State (64.4%; 58-32).

AMONG THE NATION’S BEST
• K-State has a total of 208 victories since 1995, ranking 22nd among all FBS teams. The Wildcats are one of just 24 schools to reach the 200-win mark over the last 26 seasons.
• Among current Big 12 teams, the Wildcats rank fourth behind Oklahoma (252), Texas (228) and TCU (214).

POSTSEASON PROMINENCE
• Kansas State has a strong history of being in the postseason, having advanced to a bowl game 21 times since 1993, including nine times in the last 11 years.
• K-State’s 21 bowl trips since 1993 rank fourth among current Big 12 teams (Oklahoma – 24; Texas and West Virginia – 23)
• In an era when over 80 teams play in a bowl game each year, the Cats are one of just 28 Power 5 teams to play in a bowl game nine times in the last 11 years.

A WINNING HISTORY
• A proven winner with a championship history, Chris Klieman holds an 84-24 career record as his 77.9% career winning percentage ranks fourth among current FBS coaches that have led programs for at least eight years.
• Klieman came to Manhattan after capping his five-year stint as head coach at North Dakota State by winning his fourth national championship in 2018. A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Klieman guided the 2018 Bison to a perfect 15-0 record, making NDSU just the fifth team in FCS history to go undefeated and untied on the way to a national championship.

MARQUEE WINS
• K-State has knocked off top-five teams in consecutive seasons under Chris Klieman, and the win last year at No. 3 Oklahoma carried some extreme significance.
• Down 21 points in the third quarter, K-State became just the second team in 547 tries since 2004 to rally for a win over a top-five team when trailing in the game by 21 points. The other such win was Tennessee at No. 4 LSU in 2005.
• The win was also the 10th all-time in K-State history over an Associated Press top-10 team, and the No. 3 Sooners were the highest ranked team the Wildcats had ever defeated in a true road game.

TURNOVER BATTLE IS KEY
• One of the formulas of success for Kansas State under Chris Klieman is winning the turnover battle as the Wildcats were plus-eight in their first five games of 2020, which resulted in a 4-1 record. They also outscored their opponents, 42-7, in points off turnovers during that stretch.
• During K-State’s five-game losing skid to end the season, the Wildcats were minus-11 and opponents outscored the Cats, 48-7, in points off turnovers.

LOTS OF LETTERWINNERS
• Kansas State returns 56 letterwinners this season, which are the most by a Wildcat team since at least the 2003 season.
• The previous high during that stretch was 48 by last year’s squad.
• Of the 56 returning letterwinners, 28 are on offense, 25 are on defense and there are three specialists.

CATS TOPS IN NON-OFFENSIVE TDs
• K-State is the nation’s best in non-offensive touchdowns over the last 22 seasons as it has 122 since 1999, 10 more than the next closest team.
• Kansas State had three non-offensive touchdowns in last year’s win over Kansas as Phillip Brooks returned two punts for scores, and Justin Gardner had a pick-six.
• It was the first time the Cats had three non-offensive scores in one game since doing so against Montana State in 2008, while it was the first time K-State had a punt return score and a pick-six in the same game since the 2007 Texas contest.
• K-State has had at least five non-offensive scores in seven of the last 10 years. Last year, the Cats missed that mark by just one during their shortened 10-game schedule.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
RETURNING 100%
• K-State returns every start along the offensive line from last year, the second time in the last eight seasons that 100% of the starts from the previous season are back.
• The list includes a 10-game starter at center in Noah Johnson, while Ben AdlerCooper Beebe and Josh Rivas each made eight starts.
• The 2021 season is a drastic change from last year as, entering the 2020 season, the Wildcats did not return a single start along the line from the year prior.
• The Wildcats bring back eight offensive linemen that have started at least one game on the FBS level, which is tied for the 10th most in the nation.

GOING THE DISTANCE
• K-State put together five scoring drives of 90 yards or longer last season, which tied with the 2008 squad for the most by the Wildcats dating back to 1991.
• When combining it with the total from 2019, K-State has eight scoring drives that have ranged at least 90 yards, which is the most in a two-year span dating back to 1991.
• The long drives last season were aided by seven plays from scrimmage of at least 60 yards, which ranked fifth in the nation last year behind Louisville’s nine and eight apiece by Alabama, Appalachian State and North Carolina.

RED ZONE SUCCESS
• In the first two years under offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, Kansas State has converted on 81-of-85 (95.3%) of its red zone opportunities.
• Included in that stretch is a streak of 63-straight red zone conversions, as the Wildcats were true on their final 39 tries of 2019 and their first 24 opportunities of 2020.
• The Wildcats led the nation in red zone offense in 2019 at a 96.2% clip (50-of-52). K-State was fourth last year at 93.9% (31-of-33) but second among teams with 30 or more attempts.
• K-State is the only team in the nation to rank in the top five of red zone offense each of the last two years.

RETURNING EXPERIENCE
• Kansas State brings back at least 70% of its rushing yards (78.4%), passing yards (97.1%), receiving yards (71.6%) and offensive line starts (100%) from 2020.
• It is the first time the Wildcats return at least 70% in those four areas since 2017. That year, K-State brought back 79.8% of its rushing yards, 85.6% of its passing yards, 73.8% of its receiving yards and 76.9% of its offensive line starts.

AN EXPERIENCED SIGNAL CALLER
• One of five K-State seniors from the 2020 season that are returning, quarterback Skylar Thompson is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation to begin the 2021 season.
• Thompson has 30 career starts under his belt to tie for ninth among quarterbacks entering 2021.
• Thompson’s 30 starts are the third most among K-State quarterbacks since 1990. He is just two behind the leader, Ell Roberson, who had 32 starts between 2001 and 2003.

CHASING MILESTONES
• Not only did Skylar Thompson return to end his career on a high note with the team, but he will also be hunting some records during his final season in Manhattan.
• A product of Independence Missouri, Thompson ranks in the top 10 in school history of 15 career categories, including top-five marks in interception percentage (1st), yards per completion (3rd), completions (5th), passing efficiency (5th), rushing yards (5th) and rushing touchdowns (5th). A detailed list of those records can be found on page 7.
• Additionally, Thompson needs 979 passing yards to become the first player in school history with 6,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career.

A STAR IN THE MAKING
• A Preseason All-American by numerous outlets, running back Deuce Vaughn is looking to make an impact over a 12-game schedule like he did when he burst onto the scene over 10 games a year ago.
• Vaughn, who is on the watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, was one of only three players in the nation last year to tally at least 600 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards. The others were Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Nagee Harris, both of whom were first-round NFL Draft picks this past April.
• Despite the Wildcats only playing 10 games, Vaughn set the K-State freshman records for rushing yards (642), yards from scrimmage (1,076) and all-purpose yards (1,221).

DEUCE ON THE LOOSE
• A product of Round Rock, Texas, Deuce Vaughn put together four games of at least 150 yards from scrimmage in 2020 as he did so against Oklahoma (194 yards), Texas Tech (174 yards,) Kansas (152 yards) and Texas (170 yards).
• At No. 3 Oklahoma, he became the fifth running back in school history – and first freshman back – to tally a 100-yard receiving game. It was the fifth most in a single game by a running back in Big 12 history and the most by a freshman.
• For his efforts against the Sooners and Red Raiders, Vaughn was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week following both contests, while he was voted the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year by the league’s coaches.

WELL-TRAVELED TIGHT END
• Kansas State transfer tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe is looking to make a splash with the Wildcats in his seventh and final season of college football.
• Imatorbhebhe is on his fourth FBS school as he signed and went through spring practices with Florida in 2015, transferred to USC for the 2015 through 2019 seasons and spent the 2020 campaign at Illinois.
• He is one of just two active players to have spent time at three FBS schools joining Texas Tech offensive lineman T.J. Storment (Old Dominion, Colorado State, TCU).
• With his time at USC, Imatorbhebhe is the only current Wildcats to have played against Stanford. His highlight against the Cardinal was a career-long 48-yard reception in the 2017 Pac-12 Championship game won by the Trojans.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
BEHIND THE LINE
• Kansas State totaled 68 tackles for loss in just 10 games a year ago, which were the most by the Wildcats since the 2016 squad had 70.
• A total 22 Wildcats carded at least a half tackle for loss, 16 of which are back in 2021.
• Last year’s figure was given a boost late in the season as the Wildcats recorded 13.0 against Baylor, the most in a game since recording 13.0 in 2007 against Baylor. K-State also had nine at West Virginia and eight against Oklahoma State.

MEET ME AT THE QB
• Included in K-State’s 68 tackles for loss last year were 28 sacks in 10 games, which were the most for an entire season since a 13-game 2016 campaign (30).
• The Wildcats’ per game total of 2.8 tied for 27th nationally, which was their highest NCAA ranking in the category since 2015 (ninth).
• Kansas State registered at least one sack in every game last year, the first time the Cats did so since 2013. K-State carded at least three sacks in six of its 10 games in 2020, which included a seven-sack performance at Baylor, the most in a game since recording eight against the Bears in 2003.

STRONG AT THE START
• The Kansas State defense came out strong at the beginning of games in 2020 as seven of the Wildcats’ 10 opponents came up empty on their first possession of the game.
• K-State forced a trio of three-and-outs on its first defensive possessions last year, while the Cats allowed only 12 total first downs (1.2 per game) and 274 total yards (27.4 yds/gm).

EXPERIENCE COMING BACK, EXPERIENCE COMING IN
• Of the 12 combined players that are either coming back to K-State for a second senior season or transferring in from another FBS school, nine are on the defensive side of the ball.
• The nine defensive players are Julius Brents (DB; Iowa), Cody Fletcher (LB), Timmy Horne (DT; Charlotte), Cincere Mason (DB; Kennesaw State), Bronson Massie (DE), Jahron McPherson (DB), Eric Munoz (LB; Utah State), Reggie Stubblefield (DB; Prairie View A&M) and Russ Yeast (DB; Louisville).
• Those nine players have combined for 288 career games played and 152 starts at the Division I level.
• Of the eight Division I transfers K-State brought in prior to 2021, six reside on the defensive side of the ball.

DEPTH IN THE SECONDARY
• Of the six defensive transfers, four are in the secondary that combined for 80 career Division I starts.
• Russ Yeast started 29 games over four years at Louisville, Cincere Mason started 28 games over three seasons at Kennesaw State, Reggie Stubblefield started 18 games over four years at Prairie View A&M, and Julius Brents started five games in 2018 at Iowa.
• Pairing the 80 starts from the transfers with what K-State has returning, the Wildcats enter the 2021 season with 124 combined career starts by defensive backs.

J-MAC IS BACK
• One of those experienced returning defensive backs is Jahron McPherson, who is back for his sixth year of eligibility in 2021 after totaling 23 starts over the previous three seasons.
• A transfer from Butler Community College who redshirted the 2017 campaign, McPherson started 12 games at nickelback in 2019 before moving to safety and starting all 10 games in 2020.
• McPherson, who led the team in tackles a year ago with 54, had 11 tackles, a tackle for loss, forced fumble and an interception in K-State’s win at No. 3 Oklahoma.
• He was the first Wildcat to record double-digit tackles, a TFL, a forced fumble and a pick in the same game since Bryan Hickman did so against Iowa State in 2002.

GETTING THEIR FEET WET
• Linebackers Cody Fletcher and Daniel Green are slated to start against Stanford. Although they are going into a season as a starter for the first time, they won’t be making their first starts.
• Fletcher started each of the final three games in 2020, while Green started two of the final three, the first starts of their careers.
• Fletcher, who is returning for a sixth year of college football, led K-State with a career-high nine tackles at Iowa State.
• The next week against Baylor, Green paced the defense with a career-high 13 tackles. It was the most by a Wildcat since Jayd Kirby also had 13 against Oklahoma in 2017.
• Green looks poised to make a difference this year after seeing time as a reserve the last two. He originally came out of high school as one of the top 250 prospects in the nation in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.

J-MAC IS BACK
• One of those experienced returning defensive backs is Jahron McPherson, who is back for his sixth year of eligibility in 2021 after totaling 23 starts over the previous three seasons.
• A transfer from Butler Community College who redshirted the 2017 campaign, McPherson started 12 games at nickelback in 2019 before moving to safety and starting all 10 games in 2020.
• McPherson, who led the team in tackles a year ago with 54, had 11 tackles, a tackle for loss, forced fumble and an interception in K-State’s win at No. 3 Oklahoma.
• He was the first Wildcat to record double-digit tackles, a TFL, a forced fumble and a pick in the same game since Bryan Hickman did so against Iowa State in 2002.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
VERY EFFICIENT
• Kansas State has always been known to have excellent special teams, and that trend continued in 2020.
• The Wildcats finished second nationally in special teams efficiency according to ESPN.
• K-State finished highly in the efficiency index thanks to ranking second nationally in punt returns (22.1 yards per return), 12th in punt return defense (2.00 yards allowed per return), first in blocked punts (3), fourth in blocked kicks (4) and first in both blocked punts and blocked kicks allowed (0).
• Additionally, the Cats led the Big 12 in net punting (39.3 yards).

SCORING IN THE THIRD PHASE
• One of the main reasons the Wildcats have been a successful program the last three decades is a knack for momentum-swinging plays in the return game.
• Since 2005 (26 years), the Wildcats have a combined 55 kickoff- and punt-return touchdowns, 22 more than second-place Alabama (33) and 25 more than the next closest Big 12 team (Oklahoma State – 30).

BLOCKED KICKS
• K-State blocked punts in the first three games of 2020 and blocked a field goal in its fourth game of the year at TCU.
• It was the first time K-State blocked a kick in four-straight games since at least 1990. Additionally, the blocked punts in the first three games marked the first time the Wildcats accomplished that feat in three-consecutive games since 1995 (Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma).
• K-State was the first team in the FBS to block kicks in each of the first four games of a season since Texas did so in 2016.
• When the Wildcats blocked punts in each of the first three games, they were the first FBS team to do so since Memphis in 2012.

BROOKS LOOKS TO ADD TO IMPRESSIVE RESUME
• Junior Phillip Brooks was one of the top return men in the nation last season as he was a Third Team All-American selection after averaging 23.7 yards on 11 attempts.
• This year, Brooks has earned Preseason All-America honors from Phil Steele, USA TODAY, CBS Sports and 247Sports.
• Brooks’ average last season would have led the nation and been the best in school history if he had one more return to meet the NCAA required minimum.
• A product of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Brooks enters the 2021 campaign ranked second in school history and tied for sixth in Big 12 history with three punt-return touchdowns, while he is 30 yards shy of entering the school’s top-10 list for career punt return yards.

BROOKS’ HISTORIC DAY
• Phillip Brooks put together a historic performance against Kansas last season, setting the school record with 189 punt-return yards and becoming the first player in school history with two punt-return touchdowns in a single game.
• A product of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Brooks’ two punt-return touchdowns were the most by a Big 12 player in a conference game in school history.
• Additionally, his 47.25-yard average on punt returns vs. Kansas was the highest by any player nationally with at least 4 attempts since 1996.
• For his effort against the Jayhawks, Brooks picked up Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week accolades, while he was named the First Team All-Big 12 punt returner by the league’s coaches.

IN SEARCH OF A NEW KICKER
• Kansas State will be using the first part of the season to figure out who will replace its regular place kicker from a year ago, Blake Lynch, marking the first time since the 2018 season the Wildcats will open the year with a new player handling placements.
• Two kickers who have come to Manhattan via Butler Community College – Taiten Winkel and Ty Zentner – will look to handle placements in 2021.
• Zentner, who has handled kickoff duties during parts of the last two seasons for K-State, was 9-of-16 on field goal attempts and 31-of-37 on extra points at Butler in 2018. He was rated the best junior college kicker in the nation for the Class of 2019 ESPN, while he was No. 2 by 247Sports.
• Winkel was 1-for-3 in his brief career as a kicker at Butler in 2019.

Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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