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MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The last time Jesse Ertz threw a pass in a game that mattered, the lanky quarterback with the buzz cut was leading tiny Mediapolis High School through the Iowa state playoffs.
Now, he's the starter for Kansas State.
The sophomore was given the job about a week ago, but coach Bill Snyder announced it to the masses on Tuesday. Ertz survived a four-way competition to replace Jake Waters primarily because he was most consistent in practice, starting in the spring and running right through fall.
"We want a balanced quarterback, that's our ideal thing. A guy that can run it, throw it, make good decisions," Snyder said. "He covers all spectrums."
But in a testament to just how close the race became, junior Joe Hubener and freshman Alex Delton were listed as co-backups on the initial depth chart, and Snyder said it is likely both of them will get on the field when the Wildcats open against South Dakota on Saturday.
Junior college transfer Jonathan Banks was also in the mix but has chosen to redshirt.
"Any one of them, we would have had a great person back there commanding," wide receiver Dominique Heath said. "We had a lot of quarterbacks in this race and it was real close."
Ertz certainly has quite the prep resume to back him up.
Sure, he came from a small high school in a state that traditionally produces a handful of Division I recruits. But he also shattered the Iowa prep record for career touchdown passes with 98, and finished fifth in state history with 7,317 yards passing. All told, he compiled more than 9,000 yards and 130 touchdowns while racking up awards by the armful.
Just about the only thing that went wrong in high school occurred in his final game, the state semifinals in 2012. Ertz hurt his knee and his school wound up losing the game.
Ertz redshirted two years ago and was the third-string quarterback behind Waters and Hubener a year ago. He never threw a pass but appeared in four games, running seven times for 46 yards.
"There's of course a little bit of nerves since it's been so long since I played a real game," he said, "but more than anything, I'm just excited about the opportunity to make plays in front of people. That's what I'm excited about."
Snyder had hoped to whittle his quarterback list to a starter earlier, but nobody played particularly well in the spring game. Ertz created some separation over the summer, even recording the fastest 300-yard shuttle for a Kansas State quarterback during conditioning tests, and slowly built on his advantage by being the most consistent option from practice to practice.
"Once we got into camp and we were maybe a week or so through, all of a sudden, the angle of his ascent became steeper, if that makes any sense," Snyder said. "But again, I probably say this about everybody: He has a wealth of space between where he is and where he can be."
Especially considering the complexities of Kansas State's unique run-pass system. Not only does it demand an accurate passer and deft runner, the offense also requires a quarterback who is intelligent enough to make the appropriate checks at the line of scrimmage.
It was a skill that Waters developed over time, and that made Collin Klein a Heisman Trophy finalist when he was running the show in Manhattan. But it also a big reason why so few freshmen and sophomores have earned a starting job for a season opener at Kansas State.
The last to do it under Snyder? Dylan Meier in 2004.
Meanwhile, Delton — a highly touted recruit from Hays, Kansas — would become the first true freshman ever to start under Snyder is he takes over at some point this season.
"What I admire so much about each and every one of them, and Jesse certainly is they are so committed to what they are doing," Snyder said. "These are all young guys — Jesse is a wonderful young person, an excellent student. They study the game, they invest in it."
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