MANHATTAN — As an offensive lineman, Zach Hanson knows a thing or two about physical contact.
Sometimes he is forced to come up with something extra against charging linebackers. Sometimes they juke and try to go around him. Other times they lower their shoulders and try to go through him. Either way, he braces for impact.
Hanson says he has been hit hard this season, and has some good stories to tell. But only a few came in games. By far, he says his most painful experiences have come on the practice field, fending off teammate Blake Slaughter.
"He's one of those linebackers at practice that you just know you're going to take a hit from," Hanson said. "Even if you're just blocking him, he's going to come out and hit you hard like you've got the ball."
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That statement might not match up with Slaughter's quiet personality or slender physique — at 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, he looks more speedster than heavy hitter — but the sophomore is quickly becoming a force on K-State's defense. Through four games he ranks third on the team with 23 tackles and played a huge role in the Wildcats' 17-13 victory over Central Florida.
With 13 tackles and a key 10-yard sack in the fourth quarter, he helped keep the Golden Knights out of the end zone and set up K-State for a thrilling comeback.
Not bad for a guy who came into the season without any fanfare. As a freshman, he had three tackles. Even with the linebacker position being wide open, Slaughter's name was mentioned by coaches only as a possible sidekick to junior Alex Hrebec.
"He is a very competitive young guy,” coach Bill Snyder said. “I like his spirit. I like how hard he plays. He is still learning about the system and being at the right place at the right time. Sometimes his aggressiveness can get him out of position. But overall he has done well.”
Slaughter isn't used to receiving such praise. Ask about his size and he jokes, "I'm not the tallest guy around." Ask about his strong start to the season, and he refuses to compliment himself.
Other than admitting he played well against UCF, he talks only about how much better he needs to be by the end of the year.
"I'm still learning," Slaughter said. "I'm still far away from where I need to be. I'm still growing and developingæ.æ.æ. I need to make sure I keep working hard every day."
With two years remaining at K-State, Slaughter will have plenty of time to improve. But there is one area in which his teammates see no room for advancement: his enthusiasm.
"Blake has a split personality," defensive tackle Raphael Guidry said. "Sometimes he can be calm and cool, but when he gets out there he's amped. He's ready to go. That's why he is a really good player for us. He comes to practice every day and works hard. He finds holes in the offense and gets through them."
Big or small, that's a skill K-State can always use. Just ask Hanson.
"Blake isn't the biggest guy out here," he said. "But he’s a solid player. There's no denying that."
2011 schedule out — The Sunflower Showdown will be played in Lawrence the next two seasons.
In order to convert the Big 12 Conference's current eight-game league schedule into a nine-game, round-robin format once Nebraska and Colorado leave next year, conference officials had to get creative.
So in 2011, several league teams will make repeat trips to stadiums they visit this season. K-State is one of those teams. The Wildcats will travel to Kansas for a Thursday night game on Oct. 14, and will return on Oct. 22, 2011.
Wildcat athletic director John Currie said repeat trips were inevitable under the new scheduling arrangement.
“The conference office did a good job of limiting those instances, but overall we were more concerned about getting the proper balance right since we anticipate that this schedule pattern will be in place for many, many years,” Currie said in a statement.
Worth noting — K-State senior long snapper Corey Adams was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy. The Campbell Trophy, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy, is presented annually to the player with the best
combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance, and is considered the an academic version of the Heisman Trophy by many.