MANHATTAN, Kan. — Scholarships don’t guarantee prominence or stardom at Kansas State.
Many highly-rated recruits never see the field, or bide their time for several seasons before getting a chance to compete. Meanwhile, players who show up without a scholarship are fighting them for the same jobs.
Hard work, perseverance and the right attitude mean much more to longtime coach Bill Snyder than the number of stars attached to a recruit’s name.
That’s why the walk-on program at Kansas State has been so successful.
“People can say we get overlooked, but ultimately it’s up to us,” said linebacker Jonathan Truman, one of three former walk-ons who are team captains. “We need to win all of our games and then we’ll finally get some respect. It’s up to us and it’s what we do.”
So far, the No. 7 Wildcats are the lone unbeaten team in the Big 12, and head into Saturday night’s showdown at sixth-ranked TCU with a chance to make a statement to the college football playoff selection committee. As usual, they’ll be relying on a bunch of former walk-ons.
Defensive end Ryan Mueller, who made headlines last season with 11 and a half sacks, has been tearing up opposing offenses once again. He has another 2 and a half this year, despite dealing with double- and triple-teams just about every week.
Truman is third in the Big 12 with nearly 10 tackles per game, and he’s 20 tackles ahead of the next-most productive player on Kansas State’s defense. The serious weight lifter also got hold of a fumble and nearly returned it for a touchdown.
Special teams captain Weston Hiebert is also a former walk-on, and starting defensive back Randall Evans and center B.J. Finney have gone the walk-on rout. Finney redshirted his first year on campus, moved into the starting lineup the following year and established himself as a candidate for the Outland, Rimington and Lombardi awards.
In total, there are 58 players on the roster that are current or former walk-ons.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys,” Kansas State linebacker Will Davis said. “They come in and they have to prove themselves every day. From the first day they get here, they have to show that they can hang with everyone else here.
“To go through all of that stuff is crazy to me.”
— Jonathan Truman
Snyder established the walk-on program at Kansas State after arriving from Iowa, where coach Hayden Fry had used it to similar success. His own son, Sean Snyder, walked onto the team at Kansas State when his father was hired and became an All-American punter. He’s now the associate head coach and special teams coach.
Others walk-ons include current Green Bay Packers star Jordy Nelson, former NFL players Jon McGraw and Rock Cartwright, and defensive end Blake Seiler, who is also an assistant coach on Snyder’s staff.
“We take a lot of pride in the road that we’ve taken to get here,” Truman said. “It also is a part of the hard work we’ve put in and dedication that it’s taken us to get to this level.”
Davis said the walk-ons separate Kansas State from many other programs. It’s not just that they arrive in droves, but that they become productive team members.
“You don’t normally hear about that anywhere else,” he said. “They come to work every day and that’s why they’re captains. They’re not just leaders vocally, but also by the way they work.”