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Skywriters Tour: K-State Walk-ons Play Big Roles
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Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.

By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com 
Big12Sports.com Correspondent

MANHATTAN, Kansas – In 1989, when Bill Snyder took over what was then the worst program in college football, Kansas State had 47 scholarship players. To fill out the roster and uniforms, walk-ons were needed and welcomed.

“I told my assistants then that I didn’t want to know who is on or who isn’t on scholarship,” Snyder said Wednesday. “It’s been that way ever since.”

And while Snyder’s incredible construction project was accomplished with scholarship players who weren’t considered top recruits, the success has been bolstered by walk on players who have helped fill in the gaps.

That’s particularly evident with this season’s team, which was picked by the media to finish third in the Big 12. Last season, seven former walk ons started; this season, center B.J. Finney, defensive end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and defensive back Randall Evans are all starters who started their career as walk-ons.

“I take a lot of pride in having decided to come here as a walk on and then earn a starting job,” Evans said on the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium during the team’s media day. “My high school coaches thought I needed to go to a school that wanted me, even Division II. In my mind, I thought I could play here and this program gave me the chance.”

Mueller, Finney and Truman are captains this season; it’s the third season Finney has had that leadership honor. Weston Hiebert, another fifth-year senior former walk-on, the special teams captain.

“It takes a young person with the value system we’re interested in to accomplish what those players have,” Snyder said. The more of those kind of guys – whether they’re scholarship guys or not – the better.”

Snyder’s motto of day-by-day improvement, hard work and attention to detail fits perfectly for a program that accepts and develops players who don’t start out on scholarship. From those developmental days in 1989, Snyder has been interested in football players who accept the daily grind of weight lifting, individual drills and practice.

Truman, the only returning starter at linebacker, has gone from being a redshirt walk-on in 2010 to playing special teams in 2011, to a backup linebacker in 2012 to a starter last season.

“The experience I gained from last year has really helped me with my confidence level,” said Truman, who was second on the team with 89 tackles in 2013. “Last year, game by game and week by week, I just tried to improve on my preparation each week and that helps my confidence. This year, coming in with that experience from last year, I’m feeling pretty good and excited to get going.”

“His journey has been one of hard work and doing things right,” Snyder said. “It’s the quality of character that’s so valuable. Those types of guys will succeed one way or another. That’s the way we do it here. He represents that. He just happened to be a walk on. He earned it. He’s a good leader because he sets an example.”

Lockett The Rocket
Tyler Lockett heads into his senior season with 143 receptions for 2,195 yards and 18 touchdowns along with a 31.1-yard kick return average and four kick returns for touchdowns. He’s in positon to break school records for receptions and receiving yards set by his father Kevin.

“It would be a big accomplishment,” Lockett said. “My dad always says if anyone would break it he would want his son to break it and I say the same thing that I want my (younger) brothers to break it or my future children. It's a great opportunity.

“Who knows if I get it or I don't get it … but at the end of the day, that isn't what I'm focused on."

Short Yardage
* During his 30-minute meeting with reporters, Snyder went on a lengthy commentary on the state of college athletics. Here’s the gist: “I mean, college athletics, football in particular, has changed dramatically over the years. I think we've sold out. We're all about dollars and cents. The concept of college football no longer has any bearing on the quality of the person, the quality of students. Universities are selling themselves out. …It's no longer about education. We've sold out to the cameras (television). … I think we've lost sight of what college athletics is all about."

* Senior kicker Jack Cantele on being a First Team Academic All-Big 12 selection and time management: "Being an engineering major and a football player can definitely be difficult at times, but I just plan ahead accordingly and try to be organized as possible. Organization and discipline are the biggest things it takes to be successful in both."

* In the coaches’ preseason poll released last week, Kansas State was ranked No. 21. The Wildcats have entered a season ranked between No. 20 and No. 25 three times and finished an average of nine spots higher than their preseason ranking.

Skywriters Tour, Year Seven
So what is the Skywriters Tour? It was born in a previous era of college football … and media/communications. In the late 1960s and 1970s, sportswriters and broadcasters would gather in a central location and embark on an annual conference-wide tour, traveling from campus-to-campus to cover preseason practices and conduct interviews with coaches and players. The tour provided fans with unprecedented daily coverage from each school by moving the group between campuses by charter bus or air service and thus was dubbed the Skywriters Tour. Since 2008, the Big 12 has revived the tradition and staged its own preseason campus tour to preview the football season.

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