By Joe Rodgers
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
While most college football players redshirt their first year, senior linebacker, Blake Slaughter, took a different route and decided to sit out, what would have been his senior season, a year ago.
Slaughter made four starts as a sophomore in 2010 and has played in 33 games in his career. His decision to redshirt before his senior season was rare, but logical, considering he was behind All-American Arthur Brown on the depth chart.
“The decision started circulating early on, right before camp,” said Slaughter, a team captain from Missouri City, Texas. “We sat down and talked about it with Coach Snyder and Coach Cox and thought about what would be best for the team looking forward to next season.”
Slaughter was still able to practice with the team, improving his physical attributes as well as his mental approach.
“Last year, I went through the season with the mindset that I was just like any other player, and that I am trying to improve and get better just like everyone else,” Slaughter said. “But for the most part, in my mind I was trying to help the team be successful by supporting my teammates and trying to be a leader for them.”
Although he wasn’t playing, Slaughter was still providing leadership and tutelage on the sidelines by helping out the coaching staff.
“The redshirt year really upped my knowledge of the game,” he said. “I learned a lot about how games are managed, what calls work, what calls don’t, what positions you want to be in certain downs and distances.”
Fellow captain and senior linebacker Tre Walker has been impressed with Slaughter’s improvement and knowledge of the game over the past two seasons.
“Blake has done a tremendous job being a scholar of the game,” Walker said. “His ability to know where he is supposed to be and know his job makes him a special player.”
Equipped with experience and a strong grasp of the defense, Slaughter doesn’t shy away from the task of replacing Brown, the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and current linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens.
“The best way to deal with it is just to be who you are,” Slaughter said. “I am not Arthur Brown. I have some strengths that he might not have, and he has some strengths obviously that I do not have. I need to just continue to improve and play my game. I can’t live in a personal shadow and dwell on that for too long.”
Spending two years with Brown has taught Slaughter the importance of coming together and doing the best he can to help the team win, on and off the field.
“One thing that I learned from Arthur on the field is to just cut loose, let it go and play,” Slaughter said. “Obviously, you want to be in the right position but sometimes you just have to go and make the play.
“Ever since he came to K-State we developed a great friendship. He is a great player but an even better person. I don’t think that he gets enough credit for how good of a person he is off the field.”
Brown’s selflessness was emulated by Slaughter, who in 2012 was honored with the Anthony A. Bates Memorial Award for promoting team unity and unselfishness. Along with the award, and being named a captain, he was selected by his teammates to serve as one of 14 player representatives for the football program in 2013.
“I was always taught by my parents to lead by example, and strive for excellence,” Slaughter said. “The other part that I attribute that to is my faith in God. There is no great leader that isn’t a follower first.
Following Christ to the best of my abilities and understanding who he is helps me understand the person I need to be for my teammates.”
The role of the player representatives is to promote those traits which they each possess: unselfishness, team concepts, unity, strong work habits, great attitude and a strong commitment toward achieving success through the team’s 16 goals.
“I appreciate not only these young men who have demonstrated caring leadership capabilities, but also our entire body of players for unselfishly selecting quality leadership for their team,” head coach Bill Snyder said. “This group of student-athletes consists of players who have demonstrated that they are committed to being the best possible individuals, students, athletes and teammates they can possibly be as well as truly caring about helping guide their teammates to the same end.”
So far the redshirt season has been a huge benefit to Slaughter, who paces the Wildcats in total tackles (37) and solo stops (25) through four games. He has led the team in tackles in three games, including 10 stops each against North Dakota State, Massachusetts and Texas. He has also compiled three tackles for loss, two sacks and three pass breakups.
Slaughter’s success thus far has been due to his work in the offseason, where his focus was to provide leadership to his teammates, and to improve every day, especially since 2013 will be his fifth and final year at K-State.
“It hasn’t hit me yet to be honest. It probably won’t hit me until having played the last game, but this is the last year and the last go around,” Slaughter said. “It is surreal in a lot of ways to think about how I will be doing certain things for the last time, especially now in the summer during weights and conditioning.”
Although the team isn’t allowed to have official practices during the summer, that hasn’t stopped Slaughter and his teammates from spending long days at the Vanier Football Complex completing strength and conditioning workouts and studying film.
“We have been working hard every single day,” said Slaughter. “Whether we are watching film or completing coach (Chris) Dawson’s strenuous workouts. We spend long hours studying tape on offensive formations and understanding how to read different quarterbacks, different coverage and offensive schemes.”
Spending long hours studying isn’t something new for Slaughter, as he recently graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, and because of his redshirt year, is able to pursue another degree in business management.
“I never forget why I came here and it’s for the education,” Slaughter said. “I love football to death. I’ve been playing it since I was a 7-year-old, but it’s not everything. There will be life after football.”