MANHATTAN — K-State senior quarterback Jesse Ertz spent much of the first half of his college career on the sidelines. He redshirted during his freshman year in 2013. In 2014. he only appeared in four games, rushing for 46 yards on seven attempts. In 2015, he suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season. Ertz emerged as K-State’s starting quarterback in 2016, passing for 1,755 yards while throwing nine touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 57.6 percent of his passes. Ertz also contributed in the run game, rushing for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns. He earned MVP honors in the 2016 Texas Bowl.
K-State’s 2017 season will mark Ertz’s second year as a starter. At last Thursday’s K-State Media Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Ertz discussed what he has done in the offseason.
“It’s been different. I’ve been coming back from shoulder surgery, so I didn’t get to do spring workouts and all of those things. I was pretty much released to do everything at the start of June and by the start of July I felt that I was back in the swing of things. I feel really good now with where the team’s at. I can tell we’re definitely making improvements. We’re not perfect, but we’re going in the right direction,” Ertz said.
Ertz has spent the offseason working with former K-State quarterback Collin Klein, who is the team’s quarterbacks coach this season. Klein talked about what it was like to work with Ertz this offseason.
“I was obviously not with him last year. Coming back, I really appreciated his approach to the game and his preparation. He’s taking care of his body and has really gotten himself physically ready to play. Mentally, he’s approached the film room and is really dissecting every aspect of the game and becoming a student of the game. He’s bringing others along too and helping lead the offense and a lot of our other offensive players in their own studying and growth and development in our offense. That’s paid dividends for him. He’s a pleasure to work with. I’m excited every day to come in the meetings and practice and find a way to help himself get better and find a way to get our offense better,” Klein said.
Klein mentioned a couple of specific things that he’s helping Ertz work on this offseason.
“Jesse’s a very, very gifted player. He’s got very, very, very good arm strength. He has a very smooth, quick, release. We’re working on making his feet a little bit more efficient and consistent to be able to get the ball out of his hand quicker. Those are little tweaks. Toward the end of (last) season, he was really operating at a very high level. We’re just fine-tuning things and constantly continuing the depth of our understanding about defensive football and how to attack it,” Klein said.
Ertz mentioned a couple of things that he’s working on improving this offseason.
“I’m trying to improve my overall knowledge of the game, and my maturity and how I control everything. As a quarterback, there are a lot of things you can be more efficient at. You can always find somebody open. There’s always something to improve on,” Ertz said.
The Wildcats will be returning a lot of key offensive pieces from last season, including sophomore running back Alex Barnes, junior fullback Winston Dimel, and junior tight end Dayton Valentine. Ertz talked about whether or not the Wildcats’ offense could be explosive this season.
“I think there’s no reason why it can’t be. I think we can be explosive and efficient. Efficency is kind of the thing that we work towards first, and the explosiveness comes with that. As long as we’re doing the right thing every time, good things are going to happen and the big plays are going to come. As a quarterback, the biggest thing for me is making the right decisions and getting the ball where it needs to go and going through my progressions. There’s a lot of things that we can improve and I think it’s going well,” Ertz said.
The Wildcats also return junior wide receiver Byron Pringle, who led the Wildcats last season with 631 yards and four touchdowns on 39 receptions while also playing a key role on special teams. As a kickoff returner, Pringle returned 23 kicks for 659 yards and one touchdown. Ertz talked about how good Pringle could be in his second season in the program.
“I think Byron could be as good as anybody in the country. He has a big body. He’s extremely strong for his size. He runs like a deer, and he’s got really good ball skills. I know his confidence is going to be at a different level than it was last year. I think it’ll show,” Ertz said.
This offseason, Ertz has been placed on several national college football watchlists. He was named to the Maxwell Award watch list (given to the best player in a particular college football season), the Davey O’Brien Award Watchlist (given to the best quarterback in a particular college football season), and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watchlist (given to the best senior quarterback in a particular college football season). Ertz noted that being named to these watchlists doesn’t put a lot of pressure on him.
“It’s obviously an honor to be included in those things, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not playing well. It doesn’t matter if you’re not doing any of the things that it takes to win. That’s all I’m really concerned about. All of those other things just kind of happen,” Ertz said.