Kansas State University

Trey Dishon, Reggie Walker start strong on Kansas State’s defensive line

K-State defensive end Reggie Walker applies pressure to Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns.
K-State defensive end Reggie Walker applies pressure to Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns. The Wichita Eagle

Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker didn’t know what to expect when they walked onto the football field for their game against Stanford.

Would they be nervous? How would the game compare to practice? Could they tackle Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey?

These are the questions you ponder before playing in your first college game, especially as a redshirt freshman. Rarely do underclassmen start for the Wildcats. A pair of K-State rookies playing together on the defensive line feels as common as a four-leaf clover.

But K-State fans will see plenty of it this season. Dishon, a defensive tackle from Horton, and Walker, a defensive end from Ponchatoula, La., have earned starting jobs after a year on the scout team. They weren’t sure how they would perform in their debuts, but, as it turns out, they had no reason to worry.

“Once we hit the field, we weren’t nervous,” Dishon said. “We just looked at each other and knew we were ready to go.”

That enthusiasm quickly showed. Dishon and Walker helped K-State’s defense hold Stanford, one of the nation’s most potent offenses, to numbers well below its 2015 average. The Wildcats limited the Cardinals to 272 yards and 26 points, ending a streak of 13 consecutive games in which Stanford had eclipsed 30 points.

K-State’s front four had a lot to do with that. McCaffrey broke free for touchdown runs of 35 and 41 yards, but was held in check otherwise. Stanford managed a mere three first downs in the second half. Dishon made one tackle and Walker made five, including one for loss.

Many assumed it would be difficult for K-State to replace Travis Britz and Marquel Bryant, who combined for 73 tackles, but Dishon and Walker are off to a strong start playing alongside veterans Jordan Willis and Will Geary.

“Our guys up front played well,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “I was worried. I really didn’t know if we could equate the physicality Stanford brought to the table with their offensive front, and I thought our guys up front really did. Stanford didn’t win the line of scrimmage.”

How did Dishon and Walker rise up the depth chart so quickly?

Odds favored older players at both positions. Dishon was a late, unexpected addition to K-State’s 2015 recruiting class. Walker had to compete against rising contributor Tanner Wood. But the redshirt freshmen say they beat out the competition with hard work.

As roommates, they continually pushed each other on and off the field, staying up late to watch practice and game videos together for an edge.

“I came here to play and play as soon as I can,” Dishon said. “I expected to be in this. I had to work to get here. I had to work on my technique. Being in high school, this was beyond my standards, but once I got here, there was a different mindset. I can play here. I believe I am ready and will work to continue to improve.”

The biggest adjustment for Dishon was learning how to play within a defensive system. At tiny Horton High, the entire defense looked to him to make tackles. Now, he is playing alongside 10 talented teammates. Assignment-sound football can be more important in college than leaving your gap to make the occasional big hit.

For Walker, it was all about mastering the playbook. Once he figured out where to line up and how to attack the quarterback, his talents took over.

He won’t enter his second game with questions.

“For my first game, I am pretty encouraged,” Walker said. “It just really showed me college football. I’m ready for more.”

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett