MANHATTAN — Alex Hrebec has played in 23 games and recorded 100 tackles during his Kansas State football career. By far, he is the Wildcats' most experienced linebacker.
For that reason, coaches are singling him out entering his junior season. With last year's starting linebackers John Houlick and Ulla Pomele graduated, they see Hrebec as a player capable of providing both athleticism and leadership to an unstable position.
Hrebec says he is ready to do whatever is asked of him, and already views himself as the go-to guy in the middle of K-State's defense.
But he doesn't see himself as a starter.
Not yet, anyway. Not with the ultra-competitive battle for playing time currently going on in his unit.
"Nothing is ever promised," Hrebec said. "I've gotta take it one day at a time just like everybody else. I'm trying to provide leadership, but we are all very competitive. It's such a competitive spot, and we're really pushing each other to get better."
Depending on whom you ask, there are as many as eight linebackers being considered for starting spots in the season opener against UCLA.
K-State coach Bill Snyder said Hrebec, Kevin Rohleder, Jarrell Childs, Troy Butler and Blake Slaughter will be in the mix. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh considers Kadero Terrell and Jarett Wright viable options as well. And Hrebec is impressed with freshman Tre Walker.
In other words, the Wildcats have options.
"We've got a plethora of guys," Snyder said. "It's not that we don't have depth. I'm not going to say that it's not quality depth. These are good young performers. These are young guys who do what you ask them to do. They play well within the system.... There's a lot to choose from. It will be very competitive."
Who ends up starting will be based almost entirely on summer practices. The group is filled with youth, and three players are new to the position. Only Hrebec reported to training camp with significant on-field experience.
K-State coaches will have no choice but to base their personnel decisions on what transpires during the next four weeks.
With two practices behind him, Cosh offered no predictions.
"It's wide open," he said. "You have some new additions there. We lost the two guys who played most of the time there last year, but we have Alex returning with some experience and Slaughter was at that position last year. I think he's going to come on and help us.
"We're going to have to play quite a few guys. We did that last year too. We're going to have to get it done as a unit."
Childs, a converted running back who is wearing a cast on his right hand because of a sprained wrist, agrees with that logic. Though he believes he has turned heads with his speed and athleticism so far, he said his effort needs to be taken to a higher level.
To win a spot on the field, there is no other option.
"All of our starters left, so we know that we need to step up," Childs said. "We've been working hard out here in practice to do what we need to do to help the defense. There is big competition going on at this spot."
Former East standout Arthur Brown, a linebacker who will sit out this season after transfering from Miami, is already impressing teammates.
"He is a tremendous athlete and a class act as well," Hrebec said. "I think he will be a valuable asset moving forward."
Tysyn Hartman, a high school friend of Brown's, said it was good to see him in a K-State uniform.
Brown's brother, Bryce, has long been rumored to be interested in joining K-State after playing one season at Tennessee — a situation Hartman had no fresh insight into.
"I'm sure there is still a lot they need to work out," Hartman said. "Whatever he ultimately decides, I'm sure it will be whatever is best for him and his family."
No timetable for Snyder
When asked how long he could see himself coaching at K-State, Snyder said he felt good going into this season and offered no timetable for his future.
"That's the furthest thing from my mind," Snyder said.
* Adam Davis, the highest rated junior college transfer to join K-State in the offseason, will miss the season because of an injury to his back. Davis was a standout defensive end at Hutchinson Community College last year.
* Sophomore Torrell Miller has moved from linebacker to wide receiver.
* Justin Williams, a juco transfer from Navarro College, did not qualify academically and was left off K-State's roster.