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Sep. 25—Filling the void left by Khalid Duke won't be an easy task for Kansas State's defense. And it's not just because the junior defensive end is a supreme talent; it's because he did more than just work in the defensive line rotation. He also was used as a linebacker.
K-State found ways to use the versatile Georgia native all over the field.
"Khalid has been in so many roles for us," defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman said.
Duke won't be able to serve in those roles for the rest of 2021, however: He suffered a season-ending leg injury in last week's win over Nevada.
With Duke no longer available, Klanderman said the only solution will be a "replacement by committee" going forward.
"It's going to be Nate Matlack to a degree, Spencer Trussell to a degree when it comes to the defensive end stuff," Klanderman said. "That's going to be Ryan Henington, Wayne Jones when it comes to some of the linebacker stuff. They've been doing that, so I feel comfortable with all of those guys."
Linebacker Cody Fletcher said Duke's absence can't be downplayed, though he expects other defensive lineman to step up.
"It's a big loss. He is a really good player, a really good pass rusher. He does a lot of different things for us. They have to account for him a lot," Fletcher said. "I think we got a lot of guys in that room. You still got Felix (Anudike-Uzomah). You got Nate Matlack. All these guys can take his place."
Though sixth-year senior Bronson "Boom" Massie now is listed in Duke's place among the first-team defense, it's Matlack, a redshirt freshman, who has received the lion's share of praise from coaches and teammates following the victory over the Wolf Pack.
Matlack picked up the first two tackles of his college career last week — and affected numerous plays that didn't appear in the stat sheet.
"Nate did a nice job, and he's another guy who is getting more snaps on a weekly basis," head coach Chris Klieman said. "He's going to have to have more snaps, especially in some of our third-down packages, and he's ready for that role.
"He's a tremendous young player who continues to improve. He has a great motor that everybody has seen. We just see him getting so much better with his technique, as well as being strong, physical and really athletic (and) can run."
No one is asking Matlack to do it alone, though.
"Overall, we play a ton of guys," Klieman said, referring to the depth of the defensive line. "They all have a great motor. They all get to the football. They put pressure on the passer."
Cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe considers Duke a close friend. After Duke found out he wouldn't be able to suit up again this fall, Boye-Doe said his friend was fighting to remain positive.
"(It's) definitely tough on him," Boye-Doe said, "just because he loves the game and he loves being a part of this program."
As the week has progressed, however, and news of the injury set in, Duke's attitude has began to take a turn for the better.
"Khalid's so good as a teammate," Klanderman said. "He's obviously upset, just because he cares and wants to be out there and wants to help us, but he is (doing better)."
Part of the reason Duke's spirits have improved, Klanderman said, is that he watched teammate TJ Smith suffer a similar injury last season — and bounce back this year healthier than he's ever been.
"(Duke) understands the situation that he's in. Doesn't enjoy it, but he understands it," Klanderman said. "He's going to work to get back. I think he's seeing the success of guys like TJ, who have had that similar type of thing and are now back performing at a high level. I think that's the goal for him."
Duke might be out of sight for the foreseeable future, but he won't be out of mind for teammates.
They plan to dedicate the rest of the season to him.
"It sucks whenever you have a player down, but you always have to have the mentality that you'll finish the job, and to finish it for Khalid," senior defensive tackle Timmy Horne said. "That's what we were thinking about (during last week's game): to make sure we keep pushing and pressing through, because you can't bring the whole team down."