MANHATTAN — A year ago at this time, Chris Klieman and his Kansas State football coaching staff were in scramble mode, trying to piece together a recruiting class almost on the fly.
The week-plus between his accepting the Wildcat head coaching job and the early national signing day left scant room for what he holds most dear in recruiting: getting to know the players.
"I still believe that your relationships with the family and the young man are the most important thing in those kids making a final decision," Klieman said Wednesday during a news conference to announce his second December signing class.
The benefit of a full recruiting cycle definitely put him more at ease as the Wildcats secured signatures from 18 high school prospects and five junior college transfers.
"It's just better (this year)," Klieman said. "You know the guys much better. That’s the thing a year ago, that's why Taylor (Braet, recruiting director) was probably up front, and Collin (Klein, quarterback coach) and Blake (Seiler, former defensive coordinator) were up front.
"I didn't know the guys. I maybe talked to them on the phone. Now I know all the guys, and whether I've been to their place or they've been here, I've been in constant communication with these guys for some of them a full year, some of them half a year, some of them a few months."
The signing class addressed several areas of need, some more immediate than others, and included five defensive backs, three defensive ends and three offensive linemen, along with two each at defensive tackle, linebacker, running back and tight end. The Wildcats also snagged a pair of players designated as athletes — McPherson High School tight end/defensive end Cody Stufflebean and Gardner Edgerton lineman Talor Warner.
"I'm excited about the amount of kids, the number of guys that we signed for our early signing period," Klieman said. "The early signing period's becoming the signing period now and we identified some positions and identified some players, and I'm really proud of our staff.
"We thought we did really well today. Obviously time will tell, but we're really excited about the class that we signed."
The Wildcats got off to a fast start in assembling the 2020 class and had several players in the fold by last spring and summer.
"The past few years, that's the only way I've known how to do it — to get off to a fast start and then continue on," said Klieman, who won four FCS national championships at North Dakota State before coming to K-State. "Recruiting, it's every day, and you have to stay on these guys and you have to build relationships and you have to show them how much you're committed to them and show them how much they mean to you and the program.
"So that's the only thing that I have known and the guys that I've been around have known, and so we'll start right away on the 2021 class and move forward as far as we need to make sure that we don't take a day off."
Klieman and his staff signed just one quarterback, but they felt good about their chances when they learned that Will Howard, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from Downingtown, Pa., was a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz.
"That was obviously a big sell," said Klieman, who coached Wentz at North Dakota State. "When his folks sat in my office and saw the pictures of Carson Wentz and they knew my background with Carson and the success that Carson had had within the system.
"But he's a really, really smart football player. He's athletic, he's got a really strong arm. He's a guy that's a sponge and he wants to learn, and he comes at semester, which is huge for us to be able to get him in."
At defensive back, four of the five signees were at least 6 feet tall and the other 5-10.
"Length. That's the biggest thing that we see we need to recruit to is length," Klieman said. "Getting some size there.
"We know that we need to have corners that — even the guys that we have on our team now — we need heavier guys."
Four of the secondary prospects — Aamaris Brown of Seffner, Fla.; Tee Denson from Atlanta; TJ Smith from Powder Springs, Ga.; and Malachi Mitchell of Mansfield, Texas — came from the high school ranks, with Justin Gardner plucked from Hutchinson Community College.
The other four junior college transfers are linemen, addressing immediate needs on both the offensive and defensive fronts. All five starters on the offensive line were seniors, as well as three of the four on defense.