MANHATTAN — When B.J. Finney became Kansas State’s center as a freshman, he joined an offensive line that lacked star power. Few people knew the starter’s names. Fewer could recognize their faces.
The group was so unknown that by the end of the year they came up with a nickname for themselves: The Misfits.
“We were just completely random, different guys with different backgrounds and random postures,” said Finney, now a junior captain. “We were just random guys put together. We were all just standing there watching film and someone said, ‘Look at this. We are a bunch of misfits.’ That was the name we ran with.”
Things have changed considerably since then.
K-State’s offensive line not only represents the most stable position on the roster, it is also filled with legitimate stars. Six blockers with starting experience return, including last year’s starting five. Finney and senior left tackle Cornelius Lucas have been piling up preseason honors. Combined with Tavon Rooks, Keenan Taylor, Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson, they make up an offensive line that is expected to be among the nation’s best.
“I absolutely love what our offensive line is going to bring to the table,” said K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel. “They are all very skilled blockers and they have experience playing together. One of the reasons we can do so much on offense is because of those guys up front and their knowledge of the game.”
Optimism surrounding the offensive line dipped last weekend when Lucas wasn’t at K-State’s lone open practice of the preseason. A team spokesman confirmed Tuesday he was still on the team and remains an active member of the offensive line.
That will come as good news to K-State fans who watched Lucas and Co. lead the way for an offense that rushed for 2,522 yards and passed for 2,696 last season. The unit rarely committed penalties and allowed 14 sacks while opening up big holes for quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert to run through.
“We are a very tight group,” Finney said. “Now that we get to play with everyone again this year, we get to grow even tighter and closer as a unit, which is going to help the chemistry of this team and ultimately help the team grow.”
All five of its starters are back, and so is a capable reserve. K-State didn’t lose a beat at its open practice without Lucas. Whitehair moved to left tackle and Taylor and Stiverson played left and right guard. The unit has both talent and depth.
“That is a great thing,” Stiverson said. “We all have great chemistry together and we all play great together. The concern is that we come into this season thinking that just because we are back we are going to be great. But I don’t think that will happen. We come out every day working hard.
“We know each other’s tendencies and things like that. We are friends off the field. Me and Tavon and B.J. know everything about each other. We have a lot of fun together.”
Life always seems fun when you get noticed. Though K-State’s linemen will never have the on-campus appeal of a quarterback or a linebacker, they feel more popular than ever at the moment.
But they are still The Misfits at heart.
“We are getting more attention, especially Cornelius. That guy is going to be a high NFL draft pick,” Stiverson said. “People respect us and expect a lot out of us. That stuff is nice, but at the same time we don’t really worry about it. We are linemen. We don’t care if people know us.”