Forget about five stars. Just getting four-star players to commit to Kansas State has been a struggle.
Before quarterback Jake Rubley became the prize of K-State’s 2021 recruiting class, the last time the program signed a high school recruit rated with four stars in 247 Sports’ composite was 2007.
Year after year, the Wildcats have stocked their roster with mostly three-star players, routinely ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in acquiring high school talent.
But a team that finished no better than seventh in its conference over 2019-22 recruiting cycles won the Big 12 championship game earlier this month, and now will play Alabama in Saturday’s Sugar Bowl.
Alabama has five-star talent at every position on the field, but one Kansas State player does not believe recruiting rankings tell the whole story about the team that will line up across from the Tide in the Superdome.
“Honestly, heart is over stars,” defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah said Tuesday. “That’s basically what I talk about almost every day: heart is over stars.”
Rubley, one of K-State’s backup quarterbacks, is the only four-star high school prospect to sign with Kansas State over the past 15 years. The Wildcats’ 21-member recruiting class in 2022 included six junior college players and only four high school players with rankings from 247 Sports, with none higher than 502nd nationally.
“If you look at our whole team — if you [go back] to the beginning of the season, you don’t think anybody was going to be the type of player when he first got here,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “But it just proves that our team has a lot of heart and we know how to play. It’s basically the love of football. That’s why we’re here today.”
Added cornerback Julius Brents: “Football is football. We leave all the politics and stars, all that, to the guys who run that. We just go out there and play ball. We don’t look a whole lot into it. We’ve got guys that just love ball and that’s the way we do it.”
Alabama has signed 14 five-star players over its past three classes by 247 Sports’ rankings, although three have transferred. Its incoming 2023 class, ranked second all-time by 247 Sports, will add seven more five stars.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “Alabama has a lot of talented people. They have a lot of five stars. There’s a reason they’re five stars, I’m not going to lie to you. But at the end of the day, everybody can compete with anybody. So it’s basically how you attack your day, attack practice, attack preparation that would be better, honestly, to overcome Alabama.”
Kansas State climbed to fifth in 247 Sports’ Big 12 recruiting rankings and No. 38 nationally for 2023, signing two four-star prospects in coach Chris Klieman’s highest-rated class since he was hired in 2019.
The recruiting math has changed for less-prominent Big 12 schools such as Kansas and K-State, which have both dipped heavily into the transfer portal in recent seasons. The Wildcats added three four-star high school recruits as transfers this season, including former Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, who was injured midseason.
Martinez was replaced by Will Howard, who ranked No. 888 in his 2020 recruiting class but threw two touchdowns and ran for another in an upset win Dec. 3 over TCU in AT&T Stadium.
“We’re always going to be an underdog,” Anudike-Uzomah said Monday. “This whole season had the underdog attitude, but we know our guys get ready to play. We don’t care about the stars or anything, we’re just ready to roll.
“I feel that a lot, because I feel that our team is very under-recruited and we have a lot of people that should be highly recruited. It shows that it doesn’t matter what your stars are, doesn’t matter if you’re a five-star recruit, it matters how much heart you have to play the game. If you really love the game and really want to play, you can win games.”
Name, image and likeness revenue is another factor weighted heavily in Alabama’s favor.
“It all comes down to what you can do on the field,” Anudike-Uzomah said Tuesday. “None of that [other] stuff matters. Outside people can give you all this NIL, a lot of followers and all this stuff on social media, people can give you all this money in the world, all of this stuff like that, but none of that matters until you perform.
“So, like, for our team right now, we didn’t get — we barely got any of the stuff, like, [what] everybody else got. What, like, big-time schools like Texas and stuff like that got — but here we are. We’re just here to play football. And football is football, like he said. And that’s basically what channels it down to.”
The junior from Missouri described playing Alabama as a “dream come true” and an “honor” for a program he called the “best in college football history,” but also envisioned his team proving something on the field Saturday in New Orleans.
“Basically the ideal ending is just to beat Bama,” he said. “Celebrate here, really, and beat Bama. And then after that, just shows everybody how the Big 12 conference is a good conference, and basically show that K‑State is a really good school. And one that is talked about as one of the best FBS schools in the nation.”
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.
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