Why Kansas State football's transfer portal additions have fit in seamlessly
Three newcomers to start on Wildcats' defense
MANHATTAN — As Kansas State stumbled to the finish line last year with five straight losses, one thing became crystal clear: The Wildcats needed to get better on defense, and fast. They also had some holes to fill on offense.
For third-year coach Chris Klieman, that meant dipping into the transfer portal and looking not only for a talent upgrade, but also a veteran presence.
As the Wildcats head into Saturday's 11 a.m. season-opener against Stanford in Arlington, Texas, three defensive starters — seniors Timmy Horne and Russ Yeast at tackle and free safety, plus junior Julius Brents at cornerback — are Division I transfers. Another graduate transfer, Reggie Stubblefield from Prairie View A&M, is the probable starter at nickel back when the Wildcats go with a five-man secondary.
But finding the right people, especially when bringing them in for just one year, can be trickier than it looks.
"It was something that, when we look at that in January, we really looked at two things," Klieman said. "And first and foremost was, 'Do they fit in our locker room? Are they going to make our locker room better?'
"And every one of our transfers has made our locker room better. It's pretty obvious and evident when you have Timmy Horne that's elected as a captain and he's a transfer, how he's made an impact on that locker room."
The second part was more of a practical matter.
"Could they upgrade us and help us in the specific area of where we're at on defense?" Klieman added. "One was defensive line. We lost a couple of really good older defensive linemen, and in the secondary, which we knew we needed to upgrade and get more bodies in there with the people we lost."
By most accounts, Klieman and his staff got it right, not only with the projected starters, but also with defensive back Cincere Mason and linebacker Eric Munoz. On offense, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe created buzz both in the spring and during fall camp, and summer transfer Kade Warner from Nebraska is listed as a backup at one of the three wide receiver spots.
"I think that the culture here is the most important part," said super-senior quarterback Skylar Thompson, now in his sixth year with the program. "We've made a lot of growth in that aspect over the past eight months.
"Coach Klieman's not going to bring anyone in here that's going to take away from that, and like I said on multiple occasions, every guy that he's brought in here — and all 130 guys in the locker room would say the same thing — every transfer that we've had come in here has been a great addition to our locker room and to our culture and are great people, first and foremost, above being good players."
That goes both ways, said Brents, who made five starts as a true freshman at Iowa in 2018, missed the 2019 season with an injury and appeared in all seven games for the Hawkeyes last year. Football was not the only factor in choosing K-State.
"I would say it's pretty much a balance of both," Brents said. "Culture is everything.
"That was one thing that was pretty big for me. Make sure I get in the right system as well, for football purposes, but the people you're around on a daily basis definitely plays a big factor."
Yeast, a three-year starter at Louisville, agreed.
"It's never just a football decision," he said. "I've always got to look a bit more (beneath) the surface.
"I think from a coaching standpoint it was a huge hit for me. Me and Julius, we're roommates, so we talk about that. It fits who we are."
The fact that they were immediately accepted by their new teammates only reaffirmed their decisions.
"The team has welcomed me with open arms," Brents said. "It has been pretty great. It's a family atmosphere.
"As soon as I stepped foot on campus, the guys — especially in the DB room as well — they've helped me tremendously, just feeling comfortable and being able to go out there and compete with them."
Like Horne, who transferred from Charlotte, already a team captain before playing a single down for the Wildcats, Brents has emerged as a leader in the secondary.
"He fit in perfectly," said junior Ekow Boye-Doe, who will start opposite Brents at the other corner. "I feel like he's just a natural leader, so coming in he didn't have any difficulties or problems."
The last thing the team needs is a transfer that doesn't buy in, said senior defensive tackle Eli Huggins.
"It's a long season; it's a grind," he said. "If you don't have the culture, people kind of start playing for themselves as times get tough.
"(Horne) is a great dude. Julius, great dude (and) Russ, great dude."