K-State linemen don’t fear the reaper

Arne Green
Cooper Beebe (50) and Kansas State's offensive line had to adjust last week after losing its starting guards to COVID-19 testing.

Even in a college football season like no other, the scene in Kansas State's locker room last Friday was surreal.

Kind of like a grim reaper vibe.

The Wildcats were preparing for their trip to Waco, Texas, to face Baylor, when suddenly they were short two offensive linemen. Whether left guard Josh Rivas and right guard Ben Adler tested positive for COVID-19 or were simply caught up in contact tracing, it didn't matter.

They weren't going to Waco.

"We tested that Friday, and we’re all just waiting in the locker rooms, getting ready for meetings, and our athletic trainer came and pulled out Josh, and then Ben," said redshirt freshman Cooper Beebe. "It was then that we kind of realized when that happens, that’s something we're afraid of when you see the training staff on those days.

"So, we knew they would probably be out. Then it’s just next man up.”

The next men up were redshirt freshman Taylor Poitier at right guard and junior college transfer Dawson Delforge on the left side. Beebe, who started at right tackle, later moved to left guard for the first time this season.

Rivas, a junior, was the lone starting offensive lineman to log significant playing time last year, so adjusting on the fly was no small task for the Wildcats. Yet despite a devastating 32-31 loss, the Wildcats finished with 256 rushing yards and did not allow a quarterback sack.

“I think we've been up and down there, but I thought we played really well last week against Baylor, especially when you have two starting guards that go out on Friday, and then we were able to reshuffle the deck with some walk-throughs on Friday night and Saturday morning," K-State coach Chris Klieman said. "We played physical and we played really well and they competed. I'm excited for those guys because it’s a young group that's continuing to improve.

"We've just got to sustain that and be more consistent, but they know that, as well. In the same respect, the youth that we have there and the guys we have coming back, I’m excited for the future. Coach (Conor) Riley is doing a fantastic job with those guys.”

Beebe, who has started all but two games at right tackle this year, said the linemen took losing Rivas and Adler in stride.

“We didn’t even flinch when they went down," he said. "Taylor and Dawson stepped up.

"Taylor had a heck of a game, and we just took a step forward and continued to grind it out.”

It was the first career start for both Poitier and Delforge, a transfer from Butler Community College. Poitier, a 6-foot-2, 290-pounder from Shawnee and Bishop Miege High School, especially distinguished himself.

"I thought Taylor was a real bright spot for us. We're excited about his future, just being a redshirt freshman," Klieman said. "He's going to play a ton of snaps for us at the guard position.

"Sometimes you find things in adversity, and he’s a kid that took advantage of the opportunity and will give us great depth in there. He’s going to start again this week, and I think he's going to get better and better."

Beebe, who played some as a true freshman last year but preserved his redshirt, had worked almost exclusively at tackle this season. But he was ready when asked to move inside to guard.

“I knew once we lost Josh (Rivas) and Ben (Adler) right there on Friday that if coach needed me to go in, I was prepared to do so," he said. "He thought I needed to go in at left guard and I went in there.

"I just felt really comfortable being on the inside. It felt more natural to me.”

While it may never feel natural to lose players midweek during a pandemic, K-State has still been able to piece together a team without missing any games. The Wildcats wrap up their regular season and celebrate senior day Saturday with an 11 a.m. kickoff against Texas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Poitier, and possibly Delforge, will again start at guard unless Beebe makes the move from tackle and Kaitori Leveston takes his place.

"If we can have people prepared like we did with Taylor and them, it doesn't really affect me because we have other people that can step up and play in that big role," Beebe said. "So it doesn't bother me too much."