By D. Scott Fritchen, Kansas State University Athletics
MANHATTAN, Kan. (www.kstatesports.com) — Senior middle linebacker Daniel Green will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, and senior quarterback Will Howard is “questionable” for Kansas State’s game against UCF on Saturday, head coach Chris Klieman said in his weekly news conference on Tuesday.
Green, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound sixth-year senior whose return for the 2023 season was fueled by his desire to finish out his career with a healthy campaign, was deemed “the heart and soul for those (defensive) guys and for the football team” by Klieman, who began his news conference by disclosing the severity of Green’s injury.
Green spoke to his Wildcats teammates on Monday.
“He was probably the calmest guy in the room when he told us what happened,” fifth-year senior weakside linebacker Austin Moore said. “He said that he still believes in us, and he’s going to keep pushing us. I know he will.”
Green was injured in a 30-27 loss at Missouri last Saturday, and he played at least 20 more plays after the injury occurred.
Klieman said that Green underwent surgery Tuesday morning.
“Daniel and I have been through an awful lot since the first day I got here,” the fifth-year K-State head coach said. “I’ve never seen a young man grow into such a man, and what a leader that Daniel Green is, and has been, and still will be for our players the rest of this year. But he’ll do it in a different life as more of a student-coach.
“I’m gut wrenched by losing him and not because of just the football part of it but just having that kid around every day in practice and really being the lifeblood of the defense.”Green, a two-time team captain in 2022 and 2023, played in 52 career games with 30 starts and ranks third nationally among active FBS players in career tackles for loss and 10th in solo tackles. He had 232 career tackles, 18 stops shy of becoming the 27th player in school history with 250 tackles in a career.
Klieman said that he hadn’t explored the possibility of a seventh season with Green.
“I haven’t even asked him about that probably because it’s so fresh and so new, and I don’t want to have that conversation with him yet,” Klieman said.
Green’s absence elevates true freshman Austin Romaine to the starting middle linebacker role. The 6-foot-2, 238-pounder made three tackles in the Wildcats’ contest against Troy on September 9. He has seen action in all three games for K-State, which dropped to a 2-1 record with the loss to the Tigers last Saturday in Columbia, Missouri.Romaine came to K-State regarded as the 49th-best inside linebacker in the Class of 2023 by ESPN.
“That’s a big task for a true freshman,” Klieman said. “He doesn’t play or act like a freshman. I grabbed him after practice. He belongs. He’s a really good football player. We’ve seen that in the last few weeks. Now he has to be a catalyst in there.”
Moore is expected to handle most of the communication at the linebacker position in Green’s absence. The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Moore led the team with 87 tackles last season. He is tied for seventh nationally with 6.0 tackles for loss this season.
“(Green) is the leader of the defense, and I have to step up huge and do things that he did for me and the rest of the defense,” Moore said. “I definitely have to step up.”
As for the addition of Romaine to the starting defense?
“I’m super confident in Austin,” Moore said. “He’s a really hard worker and has a ton of talent, and he’s going to work his butt off. I’m going to push him and he’s definitely going to be ready to go on Saturday.” Meanwhile, it appears another true freshman, quarterback Avery Johnson, must be ready for the possibility to guide the Wildcats’ offense.
Klieman said that Howard did not practice Monday and expected him to be limited on Tuesday.
“We just have to figure that one out as the week goes on,” Klieman said. “Probably won’t know on that one until later in the week.”
Asked to offer a percentage on Howard’s availability, Klieman replied, “That’s a good question. I’d have to see him do some things, and yesterday there was no way he could’ve done anything.”
Johnson, the top dual-threat passer in the Class of 2023, entered the game at Missouri and rushed five times for 32 yards with Howard, walking with a noticeable limp, split out to side of the field. K-State has another option at quarterback in sophomore Jake Rubley.
As for which quarterback could see the field first if Howard is unable to play?
“Probably start Avery but we have Rubes ready to go, too,” Klieman said. “We give both guys a lot of reps. Like we did yesterday, we split a lot of those reps yesterday. Collin Klein and I haven’t really dove into that. Today will be the same thing. My guess is Avery will take most of the reps with the ones, but Jake will take some as well, and we’ll see how the week goes.”The task of replacing Howard could appear daunting. Howard enters the week tied for second nationally and tops in the Big 12 in points responsible for per game (24.0), while he ranks 14th in passing touchdowns (eight) and 25th in total offense per game (292.0). He currently ranks fifth in school history in career passing yards per completion (13.07), sixth in passing efficiency (135.9), eighth in career passing yards per game (158.4) and passing touchdowns (32).
“We have to get (Johnson) ready to go,” Klieman said. “The one thing I’m excited about is if he gets that opportunity, it’s not just some gimmick run plays. He’s going to spin the ball around, and he’s a pure quarterback. He would need to be that for us.”
Asked whether he would feel comfortable opening up the playbook for Johnson, Klieman replied. “He can do everything, and we will do everything with him.”
Senior center Hayden Gillum offered a vote of confidence in Johnson if he does have to start against UCF, 3-0, in Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff (FS1) at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“It’s just the consistency he’s shown since he’s gotten here,” Gillum said. “He makes plays every day. The way he communicated with us and the confidence he has in himself, it’s reassuring to us up front. The coaches have confidence in him. He’s proven it.
“Sometimes you have a new guy and are like, ‘We’ve seen flashes of him.’ But Avery comes every day and he prepares and has an eagerness to prepare and do well. It’s just the way he works.”