MANHATTAN — B.J. Finney was one of the last people to leave Snyder Family Stadium following Kansas State’s blowout victory over Kansas last weekend. While teammates were off celebrating with friends and family, he stuck around for more than an hour in his K-State-issued suit and tie to speak with media.
The Andale sophomore center didn’t have to stay late. His presence wasn’t required. But he chose to be there all the same. Finney thought it was his duty as the leader and spokesman of the Wildcats’ offensive line.
Such responsibilities rarely fall on underclassmen, but Finney embraces them.
Finney has learned to block and lead at a young age. He proves it through his actions.
“He’s such a great guy,” junior left tackle Cornelius Lucas said. “He is basically what brings all five of us together. He’s our nuts and bolts. He’s the glue of our offensive line.”
Finney earned that distinction the hard way. He chose to walk onto the team out of high school, and spent his first season on the sideline with a redshirt, trying to learn the offense along the way. When he became eligible to play the following year, coach Bill Snyder had older and more-experienced options for a new center.
But Finney played so well in practices that he earned a scholarship and won the job before the season.
He has owned it ever since, starting 18 straight games and becoming a team captain.
“He is doing an awesome job,” senior quarterback Collin Klein said. “There is definitely a lot of leadership there. A lot of toughness, too. Obviously, he is pretty young considering, but to do what he does and how he does it … I’m just so proud to (consider myself) his brother.”
In his first year at center, Finney started off as a complementary blocker alongside seniors Clyde Aufner, Colten Freeze and Zach Hanson. He read the defense, called out blocking assignments and snapped the ball, but he had lots of help up front. As the season wore on, though, he became more than that.
Finney earned freshman All-America status from several media outlets and was universally viewed as one of the best young blockers in the Big 12.
Still, he knew that wouldn’t be enough this year. With Aufner, Hanson and Freeze graduating, and a young offensive line returning – the starting group is a freshman, a sophomore and three juniors – he took what he learned from them and immediately took command.
“After the Cotton Bowl, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to get this going,’ ” Finney said. “I’ve had this pamphlet laid out in front of me. I’ve got an outline. I’ve seen how to do it, so let’s just step up and do it.”
Five games into the season and his work is clearly visible. K-State’s offensive line is arguably better than it was at any point last year.
Behind Finney, Lucas, Cody Whitehair, Keenan Taylor and Tavon Rooks, the Wildcats rank ninth nationally with more than 262 rushing yards per game. They are also protecting Klein, who has been sacked twice.
All the while, K-State’s offensive line has dealt with injuries and the unexpected transfer of Manase Foketi over the summer. Players have switched positions and taken on new roles, but the blocking has remained strong.
“Once you get used to playing with the guys around you and building that sense of brotherhood and family, you would be surprised at how fast things mature,” Finney said. “Honestly, I’m not surprised by how fast this offensive line has matured. Getting the young guys working and knowing what is expected of them is a big deal here.”
Snyder can thank Finney for that.
“He has been very beneficial to our offensive line,” Snyder said. “They all work very well together. They are a cohesive unit.”
“We are bonded very, very tightly,” Finney added. “We are a tight-knit group.”
K-State’s offensive line didn’t do anything special to grow close. In the past, K-State blockers have gone camping before the season to build unity, but this group seemed to get along naturally. They leave football and someone is always calling the rest of the group to come over and watch a movie.
Together, they decided they wanted to be known for two things: toughness and execution. Winning the battle for the line of scrimmage isn’t a goal, it’s a demand. And penalties, which K-State has committed nine of so far, are never tolerated.
K-State’s offensive line is playing with aggressiveness and discipline. Finney is supplying plenty of both ahead of schedule.
“I knew what was going to be expected of me as soon as the season was over last year,” Finney said. “I had to step up into that role and get other guys going. I had a really good following my first year up here, and I was an extremely hard worker. Guys knew that I wanted to get better and I was going to do anything I could to make the team better. It’s been easy. I already had their respect.”