MANHATTAN, KS. (KSNT)- The Wildcats will need new guys to step up in the receiving game in 2023.

In 2022, Deuce Vaughn, Malik Knowles and Kade Warner combined for over 1,500 receiving yards. Those three are all with NFL teams now. Will Howard is going to need new targets to throw to.

However, those ‘new’ targets might be familiar targets who have been with the program for a year or a few years, and could simply take on a bigger role this season.

When it comes to K-State’s pass catching, there are four guys being talked about the most as the ‘Cats look to repeat as Big 12 champs. Three wide receivers and one tight end:

  • Redshirt sophomore WR RJ Garcia
  • Senior WR Phillip Brooks
  • Redshirt sophomore WR Keagan Johnson
  • Redshirt junior tight end Ben Sinnott

K-State’s offensive assistants spoke with the media on Wednesday, and each of these names came up.

On RJ Garcia:

“He loves football. He embraces it, he asks really good questions,” K-State wide receivers coach Matthew Middleton said. “He has a conceptual understanding of what we’re doing so that allows him to play faster. If something doesn’t make sense, RJ will speak up and talk about it and get the answer.”

On Tuesday, head coach Chris Klieman spoke about Garcia’s recent growth from a leadership standpoint.

Garcia totaled just 70 receiving yards last fall but he caught the attention of Wildcat fans with a sweet touchdown catch in the Big 12 Championship game last December. He’s grown his game since then, Middleton said.

“His change of direction has gotten a lot better,” Middleton said. “He is shifty. He has really good hips, he’s fluid. I think he understands that he can win at the top of any route. And he has also worked on not going to the ground after catching the ball.”

On Phillip Brooks:

Brooks enters year six with the Wildcats, thanks to a redshirt sophomore season and the COVID year. Of the ‘Cats 2023 pass catchers, he is likely the most proven. The Lee’s Summit, Mo. native has over 1,500 receiving yards in his college career. He’s the veteran in the room. 27 Sports Director Glenn Kinley asked Middleton what Brooks needs to do to elevate his game.

“He just needs to continue being green, green and growing,” he said. “That growth mindset. Seeing things from a different lens. Wherever he is playing on the field, seeing his triangle and then playing fast. Understanding what the coverages are giving him and then being as athletic as he is.”

On Keagan Johnson:

Entering year three of college football, Johnson comes to Manhattan after a pair of seasons with the Iowa Hawkeyes. After 18 receptions for 352 yards as a true freshman, an injury sidelined him for all but two games in the 2022 season.

“Keagan’s a hard worker. It’s important to him,” Middleton said. “He’s very coachable. He accepts the challenges. He’s just very intrinsically motivated and he comes out here every single and gives it his all… Every single day he is giving us consistent effort and attitude.”

On Ben Sinnott:

Sinnott, like Garcia, has higher expectations from the coaching staff after showing flashes in 2022. He totaled just 22 receiving yards in the first three weeks before going off for 80 in Norman.

He finished the season with over 450 receiving yards and his four touchdowns all came in the ‘Cats last four games.

“Ben’s obviously a very talented player. That skillset allows you to do a lot of creative things that maybe you can’t necessarily do with everyone,” K-State tight ends coach Brian Lepak said.

He added that his relationship with Ben is more collaborative than most.

“It’s a little bit more of a relationship like a partnership,” Lepak said. “…It’s pretty awesome and it’s probably pretty similar to relationships that guys in the NFL have.”

Depth beyond these four

Both Middleton and Lepak are quick to mention that the options go beyond these four pass catchers.

“We have a very talented, very deep group,” Lepak said.

“Everybody still has an opportunity to show who they are consistently,” Middleton said. “We’re looking for people that are consistently good, who we can count on [and] who we can game plan around.”

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