MANHATTAN — Spring football practice is underway, and Kansas State's new coaching staff couldn't be happier.
"It's been a blast out there for two days, and the reason it's been so much fun is the players," newly minted K-State coach Chris Klieman said Friday after putting the Wildcats through their first formal drills Wednesday and Thursday. "Because they're having a lot of fun in practice. When they're having fun, I promise you coaches are having fun. That's the best part of our day, is the two hours we get out there."
The team now will take off for spring break before resuming March 18 and concluding with an interactive scrimmage in place of the traditional spring game on April 13.
It has been a whirlwind for Klieman and his staff, who have spent the past couple of months recruiting and getting to know their team. There also have been challenges, especially on the injury front, where the number of players either out or limited in some capacity is in double digits.
"There's a long list of guys that had season-ending surgeries or postseason surgeries that aren't participating — maybe in some individual drills but will have no contact," Klieman said. "It gets back to why we're not having a true spring game on April 13, because we have three corners that are healthy enough to play.
"We don't even have two teams."
Senior Isaiah Zuber, the Wildcats' leading receiver a year ago, will not practice at all this spring after undergoing hip surgery. Klieman said defensive back Brock Monty is the other player who is ruled out completely, though everybody else will participate in some fashion.
"Spring ball has evolved so much over the past 10 years, whether it's your numbers or the number of injuries you have, so on and so forth," Klieman said. "The worst thing you can have as a coach is have somebody get injured during the spring and miss significant time in the fall, especially guys that have played a lot.
"So it's a fine line between teaching new schemes offensively and defensively, finding out from our vantage point the kids that are really, really good, really physical that we don't need to see much more of and the kids that we have to continue to try to evaluate. That's the tricky point."
While he wants his players to be physical in practice, Klieman said he is not big on live scrimmages.
"I told the guys the first day that Kansas State is not on our schedule, and so we've got to do a great job of protecting each other," he said.
Injuries may be one reason there won't be a traditional spring game this year, but Klieman doubts he would have had one anyway. He hasn't in years.
"I think it's kind of gone away a little bit in college football," said Klieman, who won four FCS national championships in five years as head coach at North Dakota State before coming to K-State. "Some schools that have huge numbers still do it, but if you look at our injury report, we don't have enough corners to even practice right now.
"So to do a spring game and put guys in harm's way, football's a violent sport where there's a lot of collisions, and if you can eliminate it and still do a thud practice, there's going to be some contact on April 13th, it just won't be to the ground. We're still ironing that out, depending on what happens over the next 12 practices."
Spring wish list
K-State's new coordinators — Courtney Messingham on offense and Scottie Hazelton on defense — have their hands full this spring installing new schemes while also familiarizing themselves with their personnel.
It's a learning process for the players, but also for the coaches.
"The biggest thing I'm trying to learn is one, who are the guys we can truly count on," Messingham said. "And then who are the guys that are not going to worry about things that are out of their control — go attack what I’m trying to be taught and try to be a sponge.
"If you find those guys, you're going to be able to count on them. When they're not around us, they're still going to try to get better."
Hazelton is more interested in the nuts and bolts at this stage.
"Really, A, you would say, we need to get familiar with the terminology and how we speak," he said. "Because when we understand how we speak it makes the system easier.
"B, you want to be able to understand, this is the general idea of what we're trying to do with everything we do and the purpose for it."
McCoy still around
Running back Mike McCoy, whose career was shut down because of a back injury, remains with the team in a non-player capacity.
"Mike's going to stay around the program and help (recruiting coordinator Taylor) Braet and just doing some things, whether it's evaluating some guys in recruiting to helping us on the field, being kind of like a student manager," Klieman said of the Topeka native. "He'd like to be a coach someday, so anything we can provide Mike to help him facilitate his ability to be a high school coach someday, we're definitely going to do.
"He's such a wonderful kid."
What's in a name?
A lack of familiarity with the players has led Klieman to take practical, if not drastic measures, to smooth the transition from the weight room to the practice field.
"I've been pleased with our staff as far as knowing the guys, because when you see them in winter conditioning, nobody's got a helmet on and you get to know those people," he said. "All of a sudden you put helmets on and, 'OK, who's number so-and-so?'
"We put the names on the backs of the jerseys, which I'm not a huge fan of, but we had to (in order) to make sure as coaches we knew who everybody was.