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Hayes filling gap for Cats’ offensive line

By Joel Jellison

When last season came to a close, Kansas State was left with two gigantic holes on the offensive line.

Both tackles — Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks — graduated, but the Wildcats are hoping they have the problem solved by the end of the spring.

With three returning starters in center BJ Finney and guards Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair, the Wildcats had some options for the spring. While it appears Whitehair will play left tackle, at least for the spring, junior college transfer Luke Hayes has come in to fill the void at right tackle.

At 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, Hayes is a former tight end from Scott City who transitioned to offensive line at Butler Community College. And while his body shape still looks like a guy ready to strap up and play tight end tomorrow, his skills at tackle have caught his teammates, and coach Bill Snyder’s eyes.

“Luke Hayes has really come along quite well,” Snyder said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I think he is doing very, very well right now. He is still in the learning process right now, but he is making headway and we are feeling good with him.”

While Whitehair has moved between tackle and guard during his career at K-State, Hayes comes in after two seasons of playing tackle for the Bears. That, center BJ Finney said, puts him ahead of the curve on the offensive line.

“Luke came in as a tackle, so Luke isn’t really facing a whole lot of different technique issues,” he said. “He’s just got to figure out the system, but he’s doing great. He’s working hard and he’s hungry.”

Hayes said the line has been welcoming to him as a new addition, bringing a comfort level to him in spring workouts. He said it’s a trait that speaks very loud of the team’s leaders.

Hayes said Finney has worked with him the most to prepare him for the upcoming season.

“He makes me feel more comfortable, that helps me play better,” Hayes said. “BJ’s probably been the most helpful, and then Cody and Boston and Drew (Liddle) have all helped out at times. BJ is probably the guy that’s sat down and talked to me the most.”

Hayes said his matchups in practice are helping him get a little bit better each day. Because he’s at right tackle, he’s battled against Ryan Mueller in scrimmages. He said going against the best can only make you better.

The transition for Hayes from junior college to division I has been swift. And it’s been noticeable to him. At Butler, he said most guys are there for three semesters and the playbooks are condensed and not nearly as complex as they are at a four-year school like K-State. But he’s leaned on Finney to help guide him through the learning process.

Even though it’s still early in spring practices, Hayes can already feel the camaraderie that has developed within the group of linemen.

Hayes said that’s why the offensive line has had some pretty good practices along the way.

“I think the biggest thing is that we don’t get down on ourselves if we make a bad play,” Hayes said. “We kind of get each other back up if someone does mess up, so that’s probably a big thing right there.”

Since Snyder first met with the media, Hayes has been the offensive lineman that’s been on his radar the most. For two straight weeks, Snyder has mentioned Hayes in his media gathering, and the junior tackle said he thinks his coach is noticing his work ethic.

“Whenever we go into a workout, I always try to do the best I can do,” he said. “(The coaches) see a guy that’s not afraid to work hard. I always come out and I try to get better at least on one thing every day.”

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