The weekly game of COVID-19 roulette continues for Kansas State's football team, and the wheel shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
For every player that returns from either a positive COVID-19 test or contact-tracing quarantine, another seemingly is lost.
So, one game into the season — a disappointing 35-31 loss to Arkansas State on Sept. 12 — Chris Klieman already has learned that any good news on the virus front is likely to be fleeting.
"We were excited because we were able to get 12 kids back on Monday after that game," Klieman said Monday morning during the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference. "Lo and behold, we've lost probably another 10 to tracing or a positive over the past week, and so you take two steps forward and you end up taking a step and a half or two steps back."
Klieman said Thursday on his radio show that the Wildcats were down between 35 and 40 players against Arkansas State, with another dozen or so cleared to play just days before the game. After a bye week, they open Big 12 play at 11 a.m. Saturday at No. 3-ranked Oklahoma.
This past Saturday, Baylor's game against Houston was postponed, while Oklahoma State faced Tulsa a week later than originally scheduled. Klieman admitted that the Wildcats were holding their collective breath the day before their opener.
"We were close last week, and honestly, we were waiting for the test on Friday at 5 o'clock to push us ahead, from one of the threshold positions, whether that's (offensive) line, (defensive) line or quarterback, where we could play," he said. "So I felt comfortable playing.
"This week, once again, we met those thresholds to play as of Monday, or as of today. I hope we can still meet them on Wednesday and Friday."
On offense, the Wildcats were without projected starters Wykeen Gill at wide receiver and Christian Duffie at right tackle, not to mention sophomore wideout and all-conference kick returner Joshua Youngblood. Sophomore defensive end Khalid Duke, who had been the talk of preseason camp, also was unavailable.
Given the uncertainty, Klieman said, the Wildcats have altered their practice routine in hopes of maximizing their returns.
"We kind of went back to fall camp mode last week to try to get more practices in, because we had a number of kids that played in the first game that had taken two weeks off and came back just for a practice on Thursday, a walk-through on Friday and play the game," he said. "We're not the only ones. Everybody in the country is dealing with this, of trying to practice when you can, as much of a fall camp, good-on-good mode as you can."
Even finding enough healthy bodies for a scout team has been a challenge.
"Last week, when we broke off into scout team, we had a tight end playing tackle for the offensive scouts, a fullback playing guard and a defensive end playing the other tackle," Klieman said. "We were just down that many numbers."
Injuries also took their toll in the Arkansas State game, with starting center Noah Johnson and safeties Jahron McPherson and Wayne Jones all going down. Klieman said he hoped to have Johnson back for Oklahoma but did not mention the safeties.
Jones is not expected back after suffering a concussion, among other ailments.
"I'm cautiously optimistic we get a couple of more kids back, but we also have two more tests this week," Klieman said.
Tech game set for 2:30 p.m.
The Big 12 announced Monday that Kansas State’s Oct. 3 conference home opener against Texas Tech will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and be televised by FS1.
The Wildcats have won four straight against Tech and eight of the last nine meetings.