I noticed this very interesting tweet recently from @GPCWallace about Klieman’s first real recruiting class at K-State:
As a contrarIan, my initial reaction was, “well congratulations. K-State has loaded up on their normal allotment of 22 3-stars before the rest of the non-Texas/OU has done so. Big deal.”
But there’s a lot more to recruiting than that and I overcame my worst self and looked deeper at some of what Klieman has started to collect in this class. Here’s a few of the questions I’ve been asking about this first Klieman class.
Where’s the beef?
My main thesis about the Klieman era is that this is all going to come down to infrastructure, which is my catch all term for a team’s ability to field strong O/D-lines, sacrificial and versatile TE/FB ancillaries, and savvy LB corps that can set a strong foundation for the rest of the team to build around.
The North Dakota State teams that won the championship every year were notable largely for the fact that they had big, physical OL that allowed them to control games at the line of scrimmage. The striking thing about their victories over P5 schools like K-State and Iowa was that they weren’t winning those games with passing, or some sort of clever tactic. They were shoving those teams around with their OL and locking things down with their defensive front, outrushing K-State 215-41 and Iowa 239-34.
They were literally bigger and more physical than most of their opponents with recruits plucked from North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota that were often tall and lanky with the frames to be grown into units like this:
The first thing I did after seeing this tweet was to go look up who is included in the K-State 2020 class, because thus far I’d seen a lot of skill players committing and getting attention. I know that’s exciting for the fans and was a big worry from many that wondered if FCS Klieman would be able to get speed to Manhattan (always a silly worry, imo), but the central question is whether they’ll get the big guys that make his program go.
Now, here are some of the guys in this K-State group:
They’ve also signed a TE and some LBs, the latter of which have trended towards being smaller guys that will have the speed to hold up in this league. But of these five guys, how big do you think this lot will be after three years in the Klieman S&C program?
I haven’t seen film on any of these guys but so far I’d say the Klieman approach is going exactly as I foresaw. He’s snatching up kids with upside and frames to mold in his program over time in order to field units with superior size and power in the trenches.
Where are these guys coming from?
There are two interesting notes here about the Klieman class. The first is how he’s loading up more quickly than normal, the second is where he’s filling up. My cynical initial reaction of “so what? He’s just filling up on his share of 3-stars faster?” is an exceptionally non-nuanced and worthless take when it comes to differentiation in the Big 12 conference.
First of all, finding the RIGHT 3-stars that your program needs to execute their strategies is what this whole enterprise comes down to and what I aim to sort through in my annual class reviews. It’s probably easier to find the right guys if you’re out in front in terms of landing commitments so that you aren’t the last dog to the bowl, tipping it over to see what’s been left underneath. Bill Snyder’s staff notoriously didn’t get lots of players early and often filled out classes late with JUCO additions and PWOs.
Most of the guys listed above and 4/11 of the existing class are from Kansas. Another dude is from Missouri, and then they’re hitting Texas (and Louisiana) up for some of their athletes and California for the TE. This is a pretty well established way of doing things for a program like K-State. The better Bo Pellini Nebraska teams (before they left for the B1G) were comprised of some midwest infrastructure pieces and then skill talent from Texas. Wisconsin tends to build their teams out with Wisconsin and Midwestern beef before importing Floridians to play CB or other skill spots.
Things seem to be proceeding promisingly enough for Klieman. Snatching up some of these Texas LBs in particular (although I guess we’ll have to see if they stick or not) is important and why early recruiting and commitments matter. You want to find and stay on those guys early because everyone in the league needs them. The final NSD rankings won’t necessarily reflect it but getting ahead and snatching up the more heavily desired 3-star LB prospects that everyone needs is more likely to be indicative of a good class than those rankings. Another school may rank higher thanks to having a few 4-star WRs, bully for them, they may also fail to get any stops.
An interesting dimension to this class
One notable element of Klieman’s apparent strategy is the size/speed of these signees. For instance:
Here’s the deal, if you’re playing with 2-3 TE/FB ancillaries at a time and building around the power run game then what do you need on the perimeter? Essentially guys that can burn teams on RPO screens, misdirection screens, quick passes, and play-action vertical shots. While the Wildcats play bully-ball on the lines they’re going to be aiming to make teams worry about breakaway speed outside that’s waiting to burn them if they get too big, too slow, or overly invested in loading the box.
They really only had one guy like this at ND State in Darrius Shepherd, a 5-11/186 pound dude from common K-State haunt Blue Springs, MO. Shepherd was a four-year starter, as none of the dudes they had playing WR before he came to campus could run like him, and caught 40 balls or more every year. The 2018 season was his senior one and his breakthrough as he had 62 catches for 1065 yards and nine scores. His ability to breakaway was a big part of the ND State strategy and obviously Klieman is keen to get more guys like him to Manhattan ASAP.
It sounds like Sonn may play CB, where you also need lots of speed, while Vaughn and Mozee look like attempts to find game-changing speed to pair with the power.
Klieman obviously has a plan. They’re planning to play with a nickel corner, they’re recruiting speed at LB, they’re finding big frames to build linemen out of, and they’re aiming for a power/speed combo that should be effective. The next big questions will concern how they do at gameplanning for the Big 12’s offenses.