MANHATTAN — When Tre Walker signed with Kansas State's football team out of high school, he had such modest expectations for his freshman year that he didn't anticipate playing.
"When I started out, a lot of people said it would be a good idea to redshirt, just because of my size," Walker said. "They knew I wasn't big enough at the time. I knew I wasn't big enough."
So there was no hyperbole involved earlier this week when Walker described his inaugural season with the Wildcats as, "a dream come true."
Not only did the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Olathe North graduate put on enough size to be considered for playing time at linebacker, he worked his way into the starting lineup and did enough on the field — 47 tackles a sack and an interception — to be considered a freshman All-American by some national media outlets.
"I knew Tre was going to be special when I saw him in camp," senior defensive end Antonio Felder said. "He made plays and had the defense going. I remember being like, 'He's going to be special one day,' and that one day was this year."
Talk about exceeding expectations.
"To come in and play in your first go-around in college football is a pretty special thing," K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
At first glance, Walker's rise to the top of K-State's depth chart may seem improbable. But when Walker explains how he went about the season, it seems amazingly simple.
The story goes like this:
Shortly after making his commitment to K-State official on national signing day, Walker held a party and informed his parents that he was setting a goal for himself. He told them he wanted to prove the skeptics wrong and play as a freshman, and then began doing everything he could to gain size and strength.
His bench and squat lifts improved dramatically, he gained 15 pounds of muscle, and as summer practices came to a close, the Wildcats' coaching staff entertained the idea of playing him right away.
When he made it onto the field for his first game as part of a speed-oriented third-down lineup, he was elated. But he spent little time celebrating. He didn't perform as well as he would have liked against Iowa State, and missed a few tackles. The Wildcats won, but he felt like he let the team down all the same.
"I had to grow up and toughen up right there," Walker said.
Afterward, he set a new goal for himself. This time he told his parents he wanted to dive into the playbook and master K-State's system in order to move into the everyday defensive lineup as the season went along.
When that happened, he made a quick trip back to Olathe and shared his ultimate first-year goal with his family over breakfast.
"I told my dad, 'I really want to take this to the next level. I want to be a freshman All-American,' " Walker said.
Well, that happened, too. Only this time, no one was surprised.
"He made a big impression on us and the coaches in fall camp with some of the things he was able to do," said junior safety Tysyn Hartman. "He's improved every week since."