Chris Klieman is not used to playing catch-up.
As the coach of No. 1-ranked North Dakota State, he has won three FCS national championships in five years and is one victory away from another.
But following NDSU's semifinal victory over South Dakota State last Friday night it was time for Klieman to change into his Kansas State windbreaker, get on a plane and hit the recruiting trail for his new team. With the early national signing day looming and the current Wildcat staff trying desperately to hang onto a relatively small commitment list, there was no time to waste.
First he flew to Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana for home visits on Saturday, accompanied by recruiting coordinator Taylor Braet and assistant coaches Blake Seiler and Collin Klein. Next there were countless hours working the phones until Wednesday, when Klieman was able to unveil the fruits of their labor.
"I'm thrilled with the fact that we were able to sign 15 guys today," Klieman, with Braet at his side, said during a press conference at the Vanier Family Football Complex. "I couldn't be more happy with the group that we signed today."
Klieman and his staff — he said he hoped to keep defensive coordinator Seiler and quarterback coach Klein onboard — checked off several priority boxes with the new signees. Most notable were Ball State graduate transfer James Gilbert at running back, three additions to the defensive secondary and a pair of high school quarterbacks.
Big 12 rushing leader Alex Barnes' recent decision to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft meant landing an experienced back was of paramount importance. Backups Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon were seniors, leaving no running backs with K-State experience.
"He has one year left and we needed some leadership and veteran guys in that room," Klieman said of Gilbert, who will enroll for the second semester and join the team for spring practice. "I know that it's depleted."
Klieman said he learned through a mentor of Gilbert's in Indianapolis that he was looking to transfer.
"He fit the skill set of what we were looking for as a running back," Klieman said. "So when I took over, a week or so ago, I reached out to him. He saw our depth chart."
The 5-foot-9, 198-pounder Gilbert led the Mid-America Conference in rushing with 1,332 yards in 2016. He suffered a season-ending injury three games into the 2017 season but came back last year to lead his team with 659 yards.
The big catch in the defensive secondary was William Jones, a three-star prospect from Summit High School in Mansfield, Texas. Jones had committed to California, but Klieman was able to flip him at the last minute.
The Wildcats also picked up safety Marcus Hayes, a transfer from New Mexico, who started nine games this season as a redshirt sophomore and will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out in 2019.
"I knew that (defensive back) was an area of need and that was one of the things Taylor let me know right off the bat," Klieman said. "We were able to flip William (Tuesday) night.
"Coach Seiler and I were on the phone with him and his dad for quite a while."
The Wildcats also added a pair of quarterbacks in Jaren Lewis from Columbia, Mo., and Chris Herron from Houston. Depth at that position was another priority after Alex Delton decided to leave as a graduate transfer.
That left returning starter Skylar Thompson, a junior-to-be, as the only one with game experience, though John Holcomb and Sammy Wheeler both return for their redshirt freshman year.
Haul from KU's backyard
Perhaps the biggest long-term pickups were Lawrence Free State's Jax Dineen at fullback and Keenan Garber at wide receiver. Braet and Klieman were able to keep them in the fold despite an effort from new Kansas coach Les Miles to lure them away.
"You go back and you win where you win at and that's Lawrence," Braet said of K-State's recent dominance over KU. "That's where you go take those kids out of and they're coming here.
"I'm super excited to have them and they're great players."
Dineen is projected as a fullback, which should make him a good hit in Klieman's power running offense. His older brother, Joe, just completed a standout career at linebacker for KU.
The Wildcats also signed defensive tackle Cooper Beebe from Kansas City Piper, offensive lineman Taylor Poitier from Bishop Miege and kicker Ty Zentner from Topeka by way of Butler Community College, giving them five Kansans overall.
"We need to win in the states of Kansas and Missouri," Klieman said. We need to win with Kansas City metro guys.
"We want to really own that footprint and we were able to get five guys from Kansas and one from Missouri. We still have some work to do in January and we'll have 10 guys ultimately on the road once we get to January."
Klieman credited Braet, Seiler, Klein and defensive backs coach Brian Norwood in particular for helping hold the class together during the coaching search. Braet said his message was a simple one: Trust athletics director Gene Taylor to make the right choice.
"I said, 'There are going to be changes, but at the same time you are not going to change everything,' " Braet said. "Selling Gene was easy and I was just telling them, 'Have confidence in us. Just wait for us to make this hire before you (decide). K-State is still going to need you.' "