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Virus nonetheless plagues Wildcats – Pittsburg Morning Solar

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Much as he and his staff have tried to shield themselves and their players from the spread of COVID-19, Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman is finding what he suspected all along, that the virus is nothing if not persistent.

When asked during Monday morning’s Big 12 coaches teleconference whether he had any advice for Big Ten coaches just starting their seasons this week, Klieman revealed that the Wildcats still are dealing with new cases of the virus on a weekly basis.

“We still have a number of guys that either are positive, in close contact or are still working their way back from positive,” said Klieman, whose No. 20-ranked Wildcats are coming off a bye week before playing host to Kansas at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. “I couldn’t tell you an exact number, but we still have several.”

Still, K-State is 3-1 overall and has won three straight games to tie for the Big 12 lead at 3-0.

It may be difficult to quantify whether teams are more susceptible to the virus during bye weeks, when they presumably have more time off, but no doubt it adds to the challenge.

“I don’t know. We have a few from (Sunday), and who knows when those kids truly got infected or when they were around people,” Klieman said. “I think Wednesday when we have our PCR test will be another indication.”

Klieman said the players stayed in Manhattan over the weekend as a precautionary measure, practicing Saturday, with Friday and Sunday off.

“It’s not slowing down, I know that,” Klieman said of the coronavirus. “And whether they stay here, whether they’re on campus, off campus, we still feel this is the safest environment.

“But by the same respect, nothing shocks me, whether it’s a coach that could get it, an administrator, a player. Nothing shocks me because nobody really understands this virus, other than the fact that it’s so rampant.”

Youngblood’s departure

Klieman did not offer any details Monday on what might have led to wide receiver and All-America kick returner Josh Youngblood’s decision last week to enter the NCAA transfer portal.

“He decided to leave the program, and wish him well,” Klieman said.

Youngblood, a 5-foot-10, 181-pound sophomore from Tampa, Fla., averaged 35.9 yards on 14 kickoff returns last year as a true freshman, including three touchdowns, and was named to the all-Big 12 first team as well as several All-America teams. He also caught nine passes for 73 yards and rushed 11 times for 55 yards and a touchdown.

But Youngblood only appeared briefly in two games this season, running the ball once for 3 yards with no receptions. He averaged 18 yards on three kickoff returns.

“People leave programs at different times for different reasons, and I’m not going to get into somebody’s personal issues or concerns,” Klieman said of Youngblood’s departure. “I support Josh. Josh knows how I feel about him, and I wish him well.”

Youth movement

K-State spent much of the off week on player development, primarily in order to add depth during a season where COVID-19 can ravage a position group in a hurry.

“You don’t know when your number is going to be called, but more than likely it’s going to be called this year to come in and contribute,” Klieman said. “So we’ve really focused on the guys, either young that haven’t played a whole lot, or the guys that have missed anywhere from two to four weeks due to different circumstances.

“So we kind of focused on those guys that haven’t practiced and played in all the games.”

That certainly is the case at quarterback, where true freshman Will Howard will make his second start against KU after stepping in for the injured Skylar Thompson against Texas Tech on Oct. 3, then going the whole way last week in a 21-14 victory at TCU.

“It’s a chance to sit back, probably, and watch his body of work and what he’s done,” Klieman said of Howard, who completed 8 of 19 passes for 117 yards and also rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown at TCU. “A chance to go against the defense and see more pictures. He just needs repetition.

“We also gave (backups) Nick Ast and Jaren Lewis as many reps, just because I think it’s important that those kids are continuing to progress as well. So we’re just continuing to develop depth at the quarterback spot, and continuing to try and improve those three guys that have a chance to make an impact for us this year.”

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