Cody Whitehair could have played college football for a number of teams, but his recruitment ended the moment Kansas State offered him a scholarship.
Growing up in nearby Abilene, he couldn’t picture himself anywhere else.
“I grew up watching K-State football,” Whitehair said. “After coming to so many games and watching them on TV, it was always a dream to play here and to play for Coach (Bill) Snyder. I had a few other looks, but I wanted to go to Kansas State.”
On most teams, that passion would stand out. At Kansas State, it seems mundane.
Whitehair is the Wildcats’ starting left tackle, and as you move right on the offensive line to left guard Boston Stiverson, you find four other examples of K-State pride that match or surpass his own. Center B.J. Finney and right tackle Matt Kleinsorge paid their own way to play for the Wildcats as walk-ons. Right guard Luke Hayes worked his way through junior college until he was noticed by K-State’s coaching staff.
If school pride was a measurable statistic, K-State’s offensive line would lead the nation in it.
All five of its members – Stiverson (Andover), Finney (Andale), Hayes (Scott City), Kleinsorge (Olathe) and Whitehair – are from Kansas. They come from similar towns, share similar backgrounds and enjoy similar hobbies.
“Cody came from a pretty small town here in Kansas,” Hayes said. “B.J. came from a pretty small town here in Kansas. I came from a small town. Boston and Matt came from larger towns, but they act just like us. That is just how it goes in Kansas. We are all the same.”
That has helped them form a bond off the football field and play as a cohesive unit on it.
“It is a fun fact and it is a sense of pride that just correlates to the K-State program,” Finney said. “Everyone on our line, growing up, wanted to be part of the K-State program, and that is just a testament to the five guys that are on the offensive line. We take pride in what we do and being part of the in-state program.”
Camaraderie is a must for any offensive line. Unlike most positions, there is little those five blockers can do to stand out in a positive way. Even the best blocks can go unnoticed by fans. Both praise and criticism are usually heaped on the group as a whole, leaving the linemen themselves to celebrate individual achievements.
The stronger they bond, the stronger they play. K-State’s line embraces that thinking.
“Our offensive line is a different breed,” Snyder said. “They are interesting young guys. They are good young guys that care about each other. The unity, so to speak, you hear people talk about all over the country. … They take great pride in it.
“They are together. They do things together, they hang out together and they get together on the weekends with each other. They are just very tied together.”
The group’s favorite activities include dining, golfing, bowling, watching movies and studying football.
Whatever they do, they make sure to do it together.
“We will do anything,” Finney said. “Honestly, it just depends on the mood we are in.”
Snyder didn’t intentionally assemble an all-Kansas offensive line, but he likes the results. Though K-State has failed to run the ball efficiently in its last two games, the Wildcats have won with a balanced offense most of the season. And K-State’s line has led the way.
It will certainly be motivated to open holes against in-state rival Kansas on Saturday.
“Any day that you walk in the football complex and see (the Governor’s Cup) counts as a good day,” Finney said. “As long as it’s here, I’m happy.”
That’s the way you think when you grew up in the Sunflower State, dreaming of playing for K-State.
“That gives us motivation,” Finney said, “but I think the thing is, now that we are here we are making new goals. So we aren’t too busy talking about how we accomplished one goal and made it to K-State. We are too busy trying to reach another one. That’s our way.”
Kansas at No. 11 Kansas State
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan
Records: KU 3-8, 1-7 Big 12; KSU 8-2, 6-1
Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM; KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
TV: Fox Sports 1 (Cox 60, DirecTV 219, Dish 150, U-Verse 652)
Three things about Kansas
1. The Jayhawks’ long road losing streak has been overshadowed by some other story lines, but it’s still going strong. Kansas has lost 29 consecutive true road games and 32 straight games away from Lawrence. KU’s last victory in Manhattan came in 2007.
2. Kansas’ bowl drought has now reached six years, with its last appearance coming at the 2008 Insight Bowl. It’s the longest drought since Kansas went eight seasons without a bowl from 1996 to 2002.
3. Senior linebacker Ben Heeney, a Hutchinson native, enters his final game ranked second in the country in solo tackles (7.3 per game) and ninth in tackles per game (11.0).
K-State receiver Tyler Lockett vs. the KU secondary. Lockett, who will play his final home game on Saturday, is the only player in the FBS with 1,000 receiving yards, 200 kick return yards and 200 punt return yards. Lockett is also five catches from surpassing his father Kevin’s school record for receptions (217). While KU’s defense has its problems, the Jayhawks do feature two superb cover corners in JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. Kansas can’t afford to get burned too often.
Kellis Robinett's pick
Kansas State 30, Kansas 14. The Wildcats will get back to the basics — running the ball and controlling the clock — on senior day against the Jayhawks and win by a comfortable margin.