Two years ago, Skylar Thompson exalted Joe Ervin. Last year, he vouched for Deuce Vaughn. Now, nearly midway through Kansas State’s preseason camp, he sees two more true freshmen who might be able to make the same kind of contributions this fall.
One is running back DJ Giddens, a star at nearby Junction City High. The other is RJ Garcia, a freshman receiver from Tampa, Fla., who attended the same high school (Berkeley Prep) as former K-State wideout and special teams standout Joshua Youngblood.
The pair, Thompson said, is wise beyond their years.
“You can tell have a natural feel for the game,” he said. “They just have certain characteristics that you can’t really teach someone. When you’re watching somebody like, ‘Oh that dude gets it.’ I feel like both those guys are like that.”
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Giddens’ name is all over Junction City’s record book.
Last year, he set single-season school records for rushing touchdowns (30), total touchdowns (30) and points (180) as the Blue Jays advanced to the Class 6A championship game. Giddens capped his career at Junction ranked among the program’s top 10 in rushing touchdowns (34; tied for second), total touchdowns (34; fourth) carries (266; fifth) and rushing yards (1,912; seventh).
He finished with a flourish — aside from the aforementioned single-season records he posted in 2020, he also ran for 1,255 yards (fifth most in one year by a JC player) and scored five touchdowns versus Wichita East, making him only the third Blue Jay to accomplish that feat.
Giddens also shone bright on the biggest stage: He ran for 216 yards in the championship game loss to Derby.
His journey to K-State is the same as a former-rival-turned teammate. Like former Manhattan High offensive lineman Sam Shields, Giddens is blueshirting this season. Because he didn’t take an official visit to campus last year — as well as not having in-person contact with a K-State coach or holding a national letter of intent or a written scholarship offer — Giddens is considered an unrecruited player. That means he can practice and play with the Wildcats this season without being on scholarship.
He will go on scholarship next year and count toward K-State’s 2022 signing class.
While Vaughn is K-State’s unquestioned starter, and Ervin and Jacardia Wright are expected to be next in line, head coach Chris Klieman said Giddens will have his chance to work into the running back rotation.
“They’re going to have plenty of opportunities, because we’re probably not going to hit Deuce a whole lot from a live standpoint,” Klieman said. “I want to see what some of those younger backs can do.”
Garcia has made his mark quietly.
Van Malone, the assistant head coach who also tutors the cornerbacks, went out of his way to praise Garcia, who leads more with his actions than his words.
“The guys who have stood out — really, I’m going just talk about a young guy, RJ Garcia II,” Malone said Tuesday. “That kid, when I saw him come in and I just watched him off to the side and he’s working on his get off, he’s working on his releases. I’ve always been impressed with the kind of kid he’s been. He doesn’t say much, but he’s made some plays here in the last few practices.”
Garcia was a versatile weapon at Berkeley Prep, lining up as a receiver and giving the squad a dynamic option at kick return. During his high school career, the 6-foot, 170-pound Garcia caught 71 passes for 1,342 and 11 touchdowns while returning 17 kickoffs for 504 yards — an eye-opening 29.6 yards per return.
He’s already shown that explosiveness multiple times during camp.
“He’s made some plays,” Malone said. “I look for big things from him. ... Like I said, young RJ Garcia has shown promise to me.”
How quickly the duo become consistent options for K-State’s offense, Thompson said, simply is a matter of learning the playbook.
“That’s the biggest thing is our offense is pretty complex,” Thompson said. “We’re a pro-style system. There are a lot of moving parts. So once you understand that, you can play fast. Watch out. So I’m really looking forward to working with those guys moving forward.”