Regardless of who lines up where for the Kansas State offensive line, the goal is to be dominant.
In a year of transition for the line, B.J. Finney and Cody Whitehair will anchor the group as it attempts to replace both starting tackles as well as a part-time starter at guard.
“Our goal as a unit is to be the most dominant offensive line in the Big 12,” Finney said at K-State media day on Aug. 6. “If we can attain that goal, then we’re going to be pretty good. It’s just coming in and improving everyday, small things like hand placement and footwork, that kind of thing. If we can attain the small goals, then we’ll attain the big goal eventually.”
Finney will stay at center for his fourth and final season as a starter, while Whitehair transitioned from guard to tackle in the spring. Throw in Boston Stiverson, who started the final seven games in 2013, and only two question marks remain.
“It’s really important,” offensive line coach Charlie Dickey said of having veterans to lead the way. “Having all three of those guys has been really good for us.”
Among the final two spots, just exactly who will fill in and where remains a mystery, though Dickey mentioned incoming JUCO transfers A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes, as well as junior Matt Kleinsorge as leading candidates.
Dickey said more than anything, he wants the entire group to be versatile to help build depth along the line. He wants Hayes, who played tackle at Butler Community College, to be able to play in multiple spots.
“Right now, we’ve got him at guard, but he’s a guy that needs to be versatile,” Dickey said. “He’s competing at the guard spot, that’s where we’re focusing with him.”
Whitehair was also quick to mention several names who might see time along the line in 2014.
“We’ve got a couple guys on the right side right now, Drew Liddle and Matt Kleinsorge that have really done some nice things over there,” he said. “And Luke Hayes has really stepped up, too.”
Whitehair will help lead the way after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013 after being named a freshman All-American in 2012. The junior from Abilene said he won’t approach his role with the team any differently this season.
“It’s business as usual,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that have really stepped up to that leadership role and done some nice things. Guys have really stepped in and bought-in to our values, our 16 goals, and that’s helped our leadership.”
Meanwhile, Finney encapsulates what it means to be a leader at K-State.
Beginning with the start of the 2011 season as a redshirt-freshman, Finney has rattled off 39 straight starts and is only the fifth player in school history, and the first offensive lineman ever, to be named a captain three years. He has a laundry list of awards and has been a staple of the Wildcats’ offensive line during the best stretch of football a Bill Snyder-led team has played in more than a decade.
Finney said replacing departed seniors Cornelius Lucas, Tavon Rooks and Keenan Taylor starts with hard work in the spring and into fall camp.
“We’ve been around long enough with each other that off the field we know, as well as on the field, this is what camp is for,” he said. “It’s to get through the growing pains and get guys going and up to speed. We have to start to gel and get that process going — right now we’re going through some growing pains, but we’ll get there.”
So will 2014 be different for the senior as the sun sets on a long and storied K-State career?
“At the end of the day, yes, but if you tend to focus on those things, you lose what really matters, which is being here for the team and being a cog in the machine to help everybody improve and really have something special,” he said. “So I can’t focus on that stuff until the season’s over and you can really absorb what’s all happened.”