ARLINGTON, Texas — Zach Hanson sauntered across the field at Cowboys Stadium earlier this week with his long hair tied up in a pony tail and a helmet in his hand, towering above everyone around him as he prepared for practice.
At 6-foot-8 and 313 pounds, the senior offensive lineman is one of the biggest players in the country and the tallest player on the Kansas State football team.
Even after coaching him for three years, Wildcats co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel can't get over the way he looks in a football uniform.
"He's huge," Dimel said. "He's gigantic."
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He's finally learned how to play like a giant, too.
Following a redshirt season and a junior year in which he played in 12 games as a backup, Hanson appears to have found his place on the left side of K-State's offensive line. The tackle, who at times has struggled to block smaller opponents and opened the season behind Manase Foketi on the depth chart, enters the Cotton Bowl as arguably the Wildcats' top lineman.
He rarely allows sacks and is a talented run blocker in both straight forward and pulling situations. The Big 12 coaches made him a second-team selection.
Quite the change from early September, when Foketi went down with a season-ending injury and Hanson was thrust into the lineup as a full-time contributor.
Back then, his mindset was simple: "Don't be the guy that makes us lose."
Today he is the guy who helps K-State win.
"It was really his time to step up," said right tackle Clyde Aufner. "He didn't know he was going to be in a starting situation, but he took that in stride. I think he's a really great player. When the team needed him, he came through big."
Dimel was confident he would. He had the size and skills to become a standout offensive lineman. He just needed the proper motivation. Fighting for a spot on the field wasn't enough. The competition frustrated him and prevented him from reaching his potential.
But knowing his teammates were counting on him to come through allowed him to take his game to the next level in a figurative sense. In a few months, maybe a literal sense, too.
"He runs well, and he's smart," Dimel said. "I told Zach two years ago, 'If you really take it serious and work hard at this game, you can play at the next level. Now he's made a commitment to this team this year and made a great impact at left tackle.
"Scouts are coming in saying, 'Look at this guy.' How can you not consider him for a NFL team?"
Hanson doesn't know what to make of comments like that. Obviously, he would like to play professionally, but right now he's focused solely on the Cotton Bowl.
He knows his teammates are still counting on him, and he wants to end his college career with a win. Some would associate a great deal of pressure with that situation, but not Hanson. He seems more relaxed than ever.
Now that his game resembles his size, there's no reason to feel any other way.
"This really has become a dream season for me," Hanson said. "I had been fighting for a starting spot since I got here. I came in and struggled a little bit at the beginning, but I feel like I've been getting better and better and so has the team. We've won a lot of games together. I'm really happy for this season."