Watch Coach Malone’s Press Conference | Listen to Coach Malone’s Press Conference | Listen to Player Breakout Interviews
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State assistant head coach/cornerbacks coach Van Malone and select players met with members of the media on Wednesday inside the Vanier Family Football Complex as the Wildcats close out spring practices this week. Links to video and audio of Malone’s press conference are above in addition to an audio link of player breakout interviews. A partial transcript of Malone’s press conference is below.
VAN MALONE, ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/CORNERBACKS
“First of all, I want to thank you guys for coming. We do appreciate the work that you do and cover our players and our program. It’s important to us and for us. Also, I’d like to thank you guys who, for the last couple of days, have covered our team as we’ve done work for the Be The Match organization on campus, trying to work to help save lives by getting our K-State students and people in the community to join the Be The Match registry for donors. And if any of you guys need more information about that, I’d ask that you contact The Andy Talley Foundation and Be The Match directly.
“It seems like forever ago that we had the opportunity to play for and win the Big 12 Championship. I know they are leagues out there to get a lot more press, but the Big 12 is one of the most competitive conferences in the country. For us to have the opportunity to win the conference championship was a special moment for us. We talk about it as a team today, how special that 2022 season was, but it’s important for us as coaches that we continue to push our guys past that moment. Yes, we want to honor that moment, but we want to make sure we understand that it’s our place right now to move our program to the next phase. I talked last year in fall camp about the dynamic leadership that we have on our team, and it is actually continuing even though we’ve – and we’ll talk about some of those guys in a minute – but we’ve lost a Deuce Vaughn, although there may be rumor that he might be coming back for one more year (laughter). But we lost the Deuce Vaughns and the Julius Brents, but we’ve replaced them with guys who have the same leadership capabilities, the same leadership potential. Their experience on the field, they just don’t have it just yet. So those things are continuing to show up for our team and they have this spring.
“Talking about this spring, from an offensive standpoint, the guys who have stood out to me – and I won’t necessarily say all these guys have stood out because of their practices because some of them have not been able to get as much time in the field due to injuries or things of that nature, as Al Cerbe would say. But Phillip Brooks has stood out. Keegan Johnson, Xavier Loyd, RJ Garcia II. Yes, those guys are the receivers and I see them every day, but those guys have done a great job. Some of them have played quite a bit here, but some of them are getting better every day as they develop. DJ Giddens has done a good job, and he’ll be a great player along with Treshaun Ward. I’ve been impressed with those guys that they’ve come along. On offensive line, Cooper Beebe and Christian Duffie, along with KT Leveston, those guys are mainstays. They’ve played around here for a good minute, but Andrew Leingang, a young guy who has really been impressive to me. I don’t get to see a chance to see offensive linemen much, but I’ve been impressed with those guys. The quarterback, of course, Will (Howard) has shown great leadership, great command of the offense, and, from a defensive standpoint just watching him, I couldn’t be more impressed by his leadership and what he does for the offensive side of the ball. He has continually gotten better every practice. Avery Johnson is incredibly athletic with the ball in his hands. He shows big-time speed and ability to be able to push the ball downfield. He shows big-time promise. So does (Jake) Rubley and Adryan Lara at the quarterback position. They’ve shown some really special things.
“Now defensively, I’m going to help you career out. I’m going to give you two names that you better make sure you know how to say because I’ve had some struggles, but Vaai Seumalo – we know him as Uso. Uso is his nickname, just so we know that. A defensive tackle, and he’s playing very well this spring. He’s played very well this spring. The other name is Tobi Osunsanmi. And Tobi has, man, been very impressive just because of his physicality and his ability to be able to run. Both of those guys, again, they’re very green, but they continually make plays and they’re continually productive out there. On the defensive front, Khalid Duke, Nate Matlack, those guys they’ve played some good football around here, but I’ve been impressed with Chiddi Obiazor, a guy who was here early and who’s done a good job so far this spring, Jake Clifton, Austin Moore, Daniel Green, and really Jake Clifton being a younger guy, it’s kind of funny to put him in the group with the older guys, but he’s played some good football and had some good snaps for his last season. I’ve been impressed with him, along with, like I said, the mainstays of Austin Moore and Daniel Green, Desmond Purnell. Those guys, they continually provide us leadership, and really from a whole defensive standpoint, Austin and Deuce – or Daniel – those guys have shown to be the guys we would say are the leaders right now. At safety, VJ Payne, Kam Sallis, Markquis Sigle, Wesley Fair, all those guys, along with Colby McCalister, they continually get better every day. Kobe (Savage) is rehabbing and doing his thing in terms of leadership, getting better every day, and I’m excited about that group.
“For most of my career, I’ve coached the cornerbacks who have walked in and hadn’t been the highest rated or the highest regarded players, and this spring, really, has been no different. So, I really get an opportunity to coach and to help guys get better. That’s been cool for me this spring to watch Jordan Wright, to watch Will Lee III, who just arrived this spring, to watch Jacob Parrish, who was a freshman and played for us throughout the season on special teams but had more time toward the end of the year, and Keenan Garber, who we ended up stealing from the offense and throwing out there in the Big 12 Championship. Luckily, they didn’t have the roster, they didn’t even know who he was. But, he’s continually gotten better day after day in practices. So, that’s been cool for me.
“Then, because they always get overlooked, the specialists Jack Blumer, Randen Plattner and Chris Tennant, those guys probably are amongst the hardest workers and most athletic specialists – they paid me to say that – the most athletic specialists that I’ve been around.”
On the 3-3-5 defense taking more hold this spring session…
“Well, as we’ve talked about, this ‘new’ defense that we’re playing over the last couple years, we feel like we continually need to evolve, we continually need to do things that help make us better. This has been a good change for us coming from the 4-3 to a three-high safety look. So, what we’ve tried to do this spring is what we tried to do last fall is we tried to present the same look, but show different variations, show different fronts and be more aggressive. That’s kind of one of the things that Coach (Joe) Klanderman has talked about is wanting to be more aggressive while also keeping our defensive guys in a safe place. We are, as a staff, probably a more aggressive staff than you might gather, but that’s what we want to do. We want to be more aggressive. We want to show different looks within this – again, I say this ‘new’ system, and I say ‘new’ because we’re continually evolving as a staff. We’re continuing to learn more about this system and to try to find out exactly how it fits with the guys that we have.”
On if there are two or three cornerbacks that have surged to the front of the pack…
“When you look at last season in that room, more than any two players, Julius (Brents) and Ekow Boye-Doe, those guys had more reps than anybody. So, to lose their rep count is a challenge to be able to replace. I’ve been impressed so far with really all of those guys, but Jacob (Parrish) has continually stood out being as young as he is and doing things at times that you don’t even coach, understanding angles, understanding body position, and there are no words sometimes the things that he does from an athletic standpoint. Omar Daniels has been around here a while and hadn’t played as much, but he has a big-time understanding of the system. He has a big-time understanding of the way we do things, understanding of the communication is needed to play the position. So, I’m excited about him this spring for how he’s played so far. Will Lee III, who just walked into the room, has been behind because these other guys have been on the campus, and they know the stretch routines, and they know where to find the training room. Well, he’s still finding his way, but continually I see flashes of athleticism that lets me know that he’s going to be just what we need in this group. But, there’s no guy at this time who has just stood out amongst the rest because they all have really good strengths, and they all have some weaknesses that I can see as a coach. So, I’m excited to have them all be able to fit in and make the group that we think will be able to help us go back and compete for a Big 12 Championship again.”
On the rehab process for Kobe Savage…
“Well, nobody works harder than Kobe, and that’s pre-injury and post-surgery. So, as I’ve watched him, he’s continuing to work. He pushes the training room, he pushes the rehab staff because he wants to do more. As I’ve watched him, he’s always wanting to do more, and they have to continually hold him back. So, I would say yes, he’s on path, he’s on the right track to be able to be where he needs to be. He goes through – when we have walkthroughs – things that he can do physically, he’s out there. He’s a part of it. He’s a part of that communication. So, I think that, once he gets that medical clearance, then he won’t lose a beat.”
On playing four or five cornerbacks this year as opposed to primarily two…
“Well, that’s always a goal. I say it to our players – it’s about the level of trust, not just the trust that I have and you but the trust that your teammates can have, the trust in the other coaches on the staff that they would have your ability to go out and there not be a drop off in play. So, I’m excited about where we are right now because I have four or five guys who have shown, from a physical standpoint, that they can do it. They continually impress upon myself and other coaches on the staff that from a mental standpoint, from an assignment standpoint, from a technique standpoint, that they can go out and be able to be successful. Especially at that position – well, all positions on the field – but really that one because you have guys who, all of a sudden, have an ankle, or you got a hamstring, or you have those little injuries that prohibit a guy from being at his best at that position. So, I’m excited to have as many guys as I can be in the pot, to be in the pool, for us to be able to pull from. Not to mention, that position is a big special team contributor. So, those guys being ready and able to be special teams players, that’s also important for us as well.”
On Keenan Garber’s switch from wide receiver to cornerback…
“It was a twofold situation because Keenan was not getting the reps that he would have liked as a wide receiver, and we had some injuries, and we had some things that we were dealing with at cornerback from a depth standpoint. So, it actually ended up being a perfect marriage. I’ve always worked with Keenan on the special teams, so I’ve always been impressed with the way he handled his business once he became an older player. So, to have the opportunity to have him come into the room was inviting for me, but I think it was inviting for him because he could see the opportunity to be able to get on the field. Little did he know we would have injuries that would force him onto the field earlier than he would have liked because the agreement and the thought process was, listen, we’re going to put you over here, learn the position. In the spring, you’ll have an opportunity to learn even more and you’ll be able to compete. So, like I said, just because of his speed and his athleticism, we just felt the need to throw him in there a little bit earlier and it worked out for him and for us.”