Daniel Thomas talks about taking his game to the next level. That goes for the Wildcat formation as well. An air of familiarity spreads across the field during fall camp. Personnel that a year ago played on the scout squad figure to join Thomas as key cogs in a Kansas State offense best described as versatile, boasting weapons that remain unfamiliar to opponents. Oh, but the Wildcats know. Seems there are few boundaries with this phenomena called the Wildcat.
During his first season at K-State, which was also his first year as a full-time running back, Thomas reverted back to his junior college role as a dual-threat quarterback on occasion in the Wildcat formation, competing 3 of 4 passes, including a 3-yard touchdown, a two-point conversion and a 41-yard strike to speedy target Brandon Banks. Other running attempts out of the Wildcat helped to contribute to part of Thomas' 1,295 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Thomas provided an added threat that made the 2009 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year one of the most dangerous weapons in the league. It's a reputation that parlayed Thomas onto the 2010 watch list for the inaugural Paul Hornung Award, which recognizes the most versatile player in major college football.
"We're taking it to the next level," Thomas said. "If I'm in the Wildcat, it's about getting out of a bad play and if I'm in the option, perhaps checking into more of a power run. I've also been throwing the ball a lot more. We're just trying to take it to the next level with the Wildcat."
The murmuring began back in the spring, when teammates, including senior defensive end Antonio Felder, spotted the versatility during practices at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"That's too many weapons on the field," Felder said.
One by one player's eyes lit up at mention of the Wildcat formation during the team's media day event, including 6-foot-4, 221-pound Sammuel Lamur, who redshirted last season and entered fall camp as one of three candidates vying the starting quarterback spot. Even if the starting nod goes to Carson Coffman or Collin Klein, Lamur figures to fit somewhere into the equation, sometimes in the Wildcat.
"I'm speechless. It's going to be crazy," Lamur said. "There are a lot of things we can do in this offense, so many different things. We can move anybody anywhere. It's because of the talent. The weapon is we have more weapons than last year. There are more things we can do. We can do a lot more different formations."
Lamur points to himself, Thomas and 6-foot-1, 234-pound sophomore redshirt Chris Harper as prime candidates to operate the Wildcat. Harper, who sat out last season after transferring from Oregon, is listed at wide receiver. Among his weapons: Harper in 2008 became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season.
"That's just a few more hours a defensive coordinator has to spend preparing for us," Harper said. "That'll help our offense out a lot."
Except for one thing. As co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dana Dimel asserts, opposing defensive coordinators won't know exactly how to plan for this attack until the Wildcats show it on tape.
"I don't think they're expecting much because they look at what we lost last year," Dimel said. "If you look at what we had and what we lost, they're going to say, 'OK, the thing is to key on Daniel.' I'm not sure what our opponents are thinking. The opponents, they only know about our team what we let them know about the team. I don't know how much they do know about this football team. I don't know that and I'm obviously not going to share much about it, either, because I don't want for them to know much about it.
"I'm just hoping our guys perform to a good level and they do things the right way and come out ready to go. That's what I'm looking for the most. I'm trying to control that part of it and then let the rest take care of itself."
Last season, K-State finished ninth in the Big 12 in averaging 349.3 total yards and ranked last in the league in averaging just 169.4 yards. Given the familiarity with talents that prepare for their first season on the field and the multi-dimensional threat they present, those figures could change.
"We're hoping," Dimel said. "Last year, we used the talent that we had and the players that we had and that's a good judge of an offense a lot of the time, to showcase your best players and get the ball into your best players' hands. Last year, that's what we did. We felt like our best weapons were (Jeron) Mastrud, Banks and Daniel and those guys got the ball. This year, we're hoping we're going to have more weapons and if we do have more weapons, more guys are going to get the ball and the offense will work around that."
Dimel chuckles at one hypothetical scenario.
For example, consider Klein is at quarterback -- except the former wide receiver suddenly moves out from under center and lines up either spread out or as a slot receiver. Assuming Thomas and Harper line up in a two-back formation, either one could assume the quarterback position with 6-foot-2, 206-pound Brodrick Smith hugging the sideline.
It's one such scenario that features boundless possibilities.
"Well, the versatility of it, that's the thing that we have," Dimel said. "We have a lot of guys that have played quarterback in the past and can do some different things and also have the ability to flank out and play at wide receiver. There are different ways we can use that personnel as we move along during the season and try to start mixing up things that we're doing to try and give some people issues with how they defend us."
As for the possibilities at Wildcat quarterback?
"I would say in my mind there are definitely a good amount of guys that can do that," Dimel said. "I wouldn't put a number on it, being a coach, but I'd definitely say there are quite a few guys that can do things back there in that package.
"It's fun. It's fun to work with them."
Approached with the hypothetical, Klein spoke in generalities.
"We do have a lot of weapons and great coaching to back up and use those weapons," he said. "Hopefully, we can make some things happen in the fall."
However, Harper didn't temper his enthusiasm.
"As far as us being able to play quarterback and throw, all of us are really good athletes," Harper said. "Even if we didn't throw the ball at all that would pose a lot of problems for defenses because all of those guys can run and are big, strong, athletic guys. It's going to be problems for a lot of people."
Count Felder among the supporters.
"Our offense, I know they're going to have fun with it," he said. "I mean, they're going to spread the ball out to everybody. They have so many threats. I mean, you can't just key in on Daniel Thomas or they'll play-action and hit somebody else. I'm really excited to see the offense. I've been talking about that ever since the spring. Ever since I've seen them practice, I've been like, 'Man, I'm ready to see you all play. It's going to be fun to watch you all play.'"
Thomas believes Dimel has reason to believe that regardless who has the ball, the offense will be in good hands in the fall.
"We've got playmakers this year," Thomas said. "We've got a lot more than we had last year. He has a right to be confident about his players this year."
Welcome to the next level.