FRISCO, Texas — There’s a common misconception about Kansas State quarterbacks Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson, Bill Snyder believes, and the longtime coach set out to correct that notion Tuesday.
Snyder said Delton and Thompson — the team’s two contenders for the starting quarterback position and two of the four player representatives the program chose to attend Big 12 media days at Ford Center — are more alike than most outsiders understand.
“A lot of people perceive, ‘One throws it, one runs it.’ That’s not accurate at all,” Snyder said. “Both of them are very balanced quarterbacks, both of them are young guys that have the capabilities to do all the things that a quarterback would do in our system, which is you have to be able to throw it, you have to be able to run it, and both of ’em can do both. I don’t think there’s a big deal of separation, if any, between both of them in both areas.”
With that in mind, Snyder’s looming decision on which signal caller will start the team’s 6:10 p.m. Sept. 1 season opener against South Dakota becomes even more difficult.
Delton, a 6-foot junior, completed 49 of 85 pass attempts last season for 637 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions across seven contests. He also ran for 500 yards and eight touchdowns on 100 rushing attempts, racking up a team-high 158 yards and three scores on the ground in the Wildcats’ 35-17 victory over UCLA in the Cactus Bowl.
Thompson, a 6-2 sophomore, completed 51 passes in 83 attempts across eight games, totaling 689 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions, and racked up 267 yards and three scores on 69 rushing attempts. He guided K-State to a season-saving comeback victory at Texas Tech and later threw three touchdowns in an upset victory at Oklahoma State.
Snyder said bringing both quarterbacks to media days — a rare sight — was done with purpose.
“They deserve to be here,” Snyder said. “They’re both very competitive, young guys who are competing. One is a captain, one is a co-captain. They have both stepped up and provided excellent leadership during the course of the summer workout programs, which is extremely important.
“The demanding-type leadership is necessary because coaches can’t be involved in their practices, so they have to be part of the leadership that takes place. Both of them have done that. Both of them are just very, very capable young guys and as I said, they’re still in extreme competition for the starting position.”
There is one important distinction about any quarterback competition at K-State, a school which demands so much physicality in deploying a run-heavy look out of that position: Whichever player loses the starting nod likely won’t be locked on the bench forever, a reality Joe Hubener realized when then-starter Jesse Ertz suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the 2015 season.
“You look at the last two seasons, we’ve gone through two or three quarterbacks, and even further on past that,” Thompson said. “You just never know what’s going to happen, ever. No matter what happens, I’m going to prepare each and every game as if I’m the starter and I’m going to be ready to win football games.”
Thompson agreed with his coach’s assessment that the team’s top quarterbacks are often unfairly labeled by outsiders.
“He’s more of a passer than what people think, and I’m probably more of a runner than what people think, I would say,” Thompson said. “People kind of stamp that label on us. I don’t pay attention to it, but people just act like I can’t run the football at all or he can’t throw the football at all. That’s not at all the case. We’re very similar in a lot of aspects.”
The chemistry between Delton and Thompson was obvious throughout Tuesday, with the pair playfully teasing one another during photo shoots and radio interviews.
“Skylar is a good kid,” Delton said. “Like I was telling someone earlier, we’re together all the time. I’m always next to him. In runs, we run next to each other. In lifts, we lift next to each other. We’re always together. We know, we really understand in the maturation process that the best man’s going to win, but that’s football, that’s just one side of it. Outside of that, to be a constructive teammate, you can’t have any bad blood or anything.”
Senior offensive lineman Dalton Risner said he admires that approach.
“This was going on last year too, and it’s going to go on ’til Game 1. Who knows? It may go on ’til next year,” Risner said of the quarterback competition. “I just respect those guys so much to be able to do what they do and be able to turn it off when they get off the field, be here at Big 12 media days and be friends and be able to shake each other’s hand, I just respect that so much.”
Snyder didn’t reveal much in terms of which quarterback is the frontrunner at this point in the preseason, but he did reveal whatever decision he makes will be done via a small margin.
“The most important thing right now is not the schematics but it’s just their individual consistency and performance and trying to define which one is going to be a step ahead of the other,” Snyder said. ”... I’m convinced the separation, whatever it is, will be very minimal.”
POLL POSITION — K-State was picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason media poll, down three spots from where the Wildcats were projected ahead of last season.
If Snyder had his way, that projection might be lower — much lower.
“That’s high,” Snyder said. “I like 10th. Tenth works well for me.”
Snyder explained the reason for that is his concern that young guys — “I say young guys, but us old guys as well” — often take positive feedback for granted.
“When you have a lot of positive talk about your program, about players, etc., sometimes it’s easy for any of us to kind of take it for granted that, ‘OK, that’s the way it is. They say we’re going to be good, therefore, we’re going to be good,’ ” Snyder said. “You start thinking like that you’re in for some long afternoons.”