MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The top three returning running backs for No. 20 Kansas State this season have combined to carry the ball 11 times for 55 yards. None of them has ever scored a touchdown.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The graduations of three-year starter John Hubert and longtime backup Robert Rose have left a massive void for the Wildcats in the offensive backfield, and that could lead to a rare events: Bill Snyder just might put a freshman in the starting lineup.
Sure, senior DeMarcus Robinson has played in six games over the course of his career, and Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett Jr. have spent time on the scout squad. But none of them carries the same expectations of incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, one of the top prep running backs to emerge from the Kansas City area in the past three decades.
The first two-time winner of the Simone Award, given to the area’s top high school player, Warmack could crack the starting lineup in the first few weeks of the season — though it appears Jones has the inside track for Saturday’s opener against Stephen F. Austin.
“More often than not, my preference would be to redshirt virtually all our freshman,” Snyder explained, “but (Warmack) will have the opportunity to compete in every way.”
Partly because of his immense talent. Partly because the Wildcats need him.
Hubert ran for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and second-leading rusher Daniel Sams — who played quarterback — transferred in the offseason. That means the top returning rusher is starting QB Jake Waters, who ran for 312 yards and six scores a year ago.
That would have been a decent Friday night for Warmack, who piled up 2,300 yards rushing and 40 touchdowns as a junior, and had 2,223 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior. Those numbers along with his diminutive nature have led to comparisons to former Kansas State star Darren Sproles, who also attended high school in suburban Kansas City and now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“That’s the one position I feel like has the best chance to play early in college football,” Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “At running back, your instincts carry you.
“Instinctually, Dalvin is everything I expected when we recruited him, and his football IQ is very good,” Dimel added. “Sometimes you get these talented players and their football IQ isn’t what you thought it would be, and it is like, ‘Oh gosh,’ you have to start over every day. He’s not like that. He’s very much the opposite of that.”
The rest of the guys aren’t willing to cede the job without a fight.
Robinson is expected to start the season in the backfield, mostly because he’s the only guy who has logged a college carry. But he’s plenty talented in his own right, running for close to 5,000 yards during a decorated high school career in Wichita, Kansas.
Jones had 1,767 yards and 22 touchdowns during his senior season in Mandeville, Louisiana, while Leverette was rated as one of the best prep running backs in Texas his senior season.
“All three of us can easily fill John Hubert’s shoes,” Leverett said, “and that’s my biggest thing, letting the fans know, ‘Yeah, we had a three-year starter, but we’ve been learning from him for two years, three years.’ It’s just a matter of going out and applying what we know.”
When asked what thought of being the Wildcats’ top returning rusher, Waters laughed and then shrugged. He doesn’t expect to be the top gainer this season. And while he’s unwilling to guess who it might be, he does expect someone to put up big numbers.
“We’re going to be good at running back,” Waters said. “We have three or four guys that are a capable of doing anything and everything we ask of them, and we’re going to have to lean on them throughout the year. I’m really excited to see who steps up.”
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