MANHATTAN — Anyone with a video game system can relate to the position Blake Slaughter is in.
A year ago, the Kansas State linebacker made the unusual decision to sit out as a redshirt during what was supposed to be his senior season. Now he is a veteran on a young defense, preparing for his final season with the benefits of increased age, strength and wisdom.
Instead of finishing his college football career as a backup behind former all-conference linebacker Arthur Brown, he is expected to go out as a starter.
“It’s almost like having another life in a video game,” Slaughter said last week during a news conference. “It’s almost like that. I’ve leveled up. It’s just really cool. It’s a joy to be around the team for one more year and to help the younger players.”
Slaughter has been on top of the depth chart before, but it’s been a while. As a sophomore, he took advantage of injuries and inconsistent play from teammates to start four games, play in 12 and make 47 tackles on a team that won seven games.
He showed promise, making 13 tackles in a win over Central Florida and 10 in a victory over Texas. But he lacked consistency. When Brown became eligible to play two seasons ago, Slaughter became a full-time backup. He made two tackles as a junior and wasn’t expected to make many more as a senior.
Slaughter realized as much last year while looking at the large depth chart that hangs in the team’s locker room during preseason practices. As expected, he was listed behind Brown. But he also noticed something interesting. He had two years to complete his final season of eligibility.
With fellow linebackers Justin Tuggle, Jarell Childs and Brown all expected to play key roles as seniors, and with few proven tacklers waiting to replace them, the thought of redshirting entered his mind for the first time.
“I was like, ‘Two years to play one, huh? Let me think about this a little more,’ ” Slaughter said. “Once the seed was planted I just kept running through the scenarios and I thought this could really work out good. Coach (Bill) Snyder had already thought about it and Coach (Mike) Cox had already thought about it. I thought about it more and more and it just seemed like a great opportunity.”
Slaughter approached Snyder with the idea, saying it would help the team and allow him to add a business management degree to the mechanical engineering diploma he is set to receive in May. Snyder had no objections, and Slaughter began preparing for 2013 instead of 2012.
He continued practicing with K-State’s second-team defense, but wore a headset during games. At times, he felt like a coach. The experience taught him how to recognize what techniques and strategies work against different offensive formations and to approach the game with a new perspective.
“He took advantage of that time well,” Snyder said. “He really prepared himself.… He didn’t take many reps during that time, but he is one of those guys that can learn whether he is on the field or not.”
Few players choose to redshirt after their freshman season. The answer for older players searching for increased playing time or a new start is often a transfer.
Slaughter wasn’t afraid to think differently. He found his proverbial extra life. Now he’s ready to use it.
“I can’t say enough about his character to sit out and be the vocal leader that he was and to not play,” senior linebacker Tre Walker said. “Blake has done a great job and he knows our defense inside and out. He will most likely be in the middle of the defense. He will be a great asset this year.”