Head to your favorite college football recruiting website and check out the latest team rankings.
You won’t have to scroll far before you see Kansas State’s powercat logo.
The Wildcats currently rank just outside the top 25 nationally at both 247Sports (No. 28) and Rivals (No. 32) for the 2020 recruiting cycle. Look deeper and you will find that K-State’s 11-member class is currently the largest in the Big 12.
This is uncharted territory for a football program that has rarely spent time in the top 50 and typically picked up pledges at a snail’s pace over the past decade.
“When you see the picture of the Big 12 commitment rankings and not even Oklahoma is above you,” K-State pledge Cody Stufflebean said, “that is pretty cool.”
This is what Nate Matlack hoped for when he got the ball rolling on coach Chris Klieman’s first full recruiting class with the Wildcats.
Matlack, a three-star defensive end from Olathe East, became K-State’s first 2020 recruit when he committed in late March. K-State was at the bottom of every recruiting database then and there was uncertainty surrounding the new coaching staff, but none of that mattered to him. He was sold.
“I was really impressed by the coaching staff,” Matlack said. “I saw the confidence they had and it kind of made me want to be there. They made me feel like I was at home already. I really liked Coach Klieman and what he had to say about the future of the program. I thought I might help complete his plan and commit and be the one to get it started.”
He figured others would follow his lead, and he was right ... Eventually.
He is now in a large group chat with K-State’s other 2020 pledges and recruiting coordinator Taylor Braet, but it was just him for about three weeks. For whatever reason, recruits were having a hard time committing to the Wildcats while school was still in session.
Then the flood gates opened. Klieman and his coaching staff have been picking up pledges left and right over the past month. Last week, they added five new recruits in seven days.
“It’s pretty awesome to see how we’re building it,” Matlack said. “Every time someone new commits we add them to the group chat. At first it was just me and (Braet) and now it’s me and 11 other guys. It’s crazy how much it’s evolved. It’s exciting that all these guys want to play for K-State and that I helped get them here.”
These early recruiting results have led to some interesting debates on social media and message boards.
Some see the latest recruiting rankings as a major sign of progress for Klieman, perhaps his first victory in Manhattan. Recruiting was never at the top of former coach Bill Snyder’s priority list. But that has changed over the past seven months. Klieman sent all of his assistant coaches on the road this spring and they have secured nearly a dozen commitments, many of whom held offers from multiple power-conference teams.
The Wildcats are on pace for their best recruiting class in years, assuming they can hold onto most of their commitments until signing day.
But others are slow to light fireworks for this recruiting class because of some other information you can find on your favorite recruiting website. If you look at star rating instead of commitments, the Wildcats fall from first to ninth in the Big 12 at Rivals.
That paints a different picture.
Nine of K-State’s pledges are considered three-star recruits by Rivals. One, Keyon Mozee, is a two-star running back. Another, Christian Moore, is a California tight end without a star ranking. That puts the class average at 2.64, ahead of only Iowa State. The Wildcats rank seventh in the same category at 247Sports.
To some, that’s an indicator that Klieman isn’t recruiting all that differently than Snyder. It’s hard to attract blue-chip recruits to K-State. The Wildcats have always relied mostly on three-star prospects, walk-ons and transfers. That hasn’t changed. Klieman is simply recruiting at a much faster rate than Snyder. Come signing day, when every school has 20-plus recruits locked up, the Wildcats will tumble back to their usual spot in the national rankings. That’s how the argument goes, anyway.
Still, it’s hard not to feel at least cautiously optimistic about Klieman’s recruiting trajectory.
Not all three-star recruits are created equal.
There is a big difference between a coach getting the three-star players he wants and a coach settling on the three-star players he can get. That’s why most schools try to pile up commitments early when they can cast a wide net and be picky. Odds are good Klieman truly likes any recruit he takes in June, star rankings be damned. But that might not necessarily be the case in February, as options become limited.
K-State is also winning some recruiting battles it used to lose.
Stufflebean, a tight end/defensive end from McPherson, chose K-State over Colorado, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. Texas linebacker Jeremiah Harris held offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri. Talor Warner, an athletic lineman from Gardner, is listed as a four-star recruit by 247Sports.
“Recruiting is really starting to blow up for K-State,” Stufflebean said.
The Wildcats have struck out on some players, too. And the bulk of their early pledges play defense. They still need to land a quarterback, a few more offensive linemen and some fast recruits who can help at receiver or defensive back.
But they are building a solid foundation that could keep them near the top 25 of your favorite recruiting website.
“I have high expectations for what we can do,” Matlack said. “I think we could be pretty good, hopefully one of the best recruiting classes K-State has had in a while.”