MANHATTAN — B.J. Finney can't fully describe the thoughts that rushed through his mind when Kansas State football coaches informed him two years ago they wanted him to join the team as a walk-on.
For Finney, a former standout offensive lineman and wrestler at Andale, it was the ultimate dream-come-true moment.
He had grown up watching K-State on TV in his living room and idolized Bill Snyder. More than anything, he wanted to play for him. When other coaches came calling, some offering a scholarship, he told them he wasn't interested.
He was headed to Manhattan, even if it meant paying his own way there. Simply knowing Snyder wanted him on K-State's roster was a joyous thought he figured could never be topped.
Then came a day in early June when Snyder called Finney into his office and informed him he was being promoted to scholarship status. Suddenly that moment two years earlier seemed like a footnote.
"It felt like a 10,000-pound weight had been lifted off me," Finney said. "It was one of those moments where you have some really good news and you're just like, 'Did that really just happen?' You've got to pinch yourself to make sure it's real. It was a true blessing, and I thank my coaches every day for it."
Before long, they may be the ones thanking him. After a successful redshirt season spent on the scout team, Finney is ready to open the season as K-State's starting center.
Taking over for the graduated Wade Weibert, a two-year starter and team leader, won't be easy given Finney's age — 19 — and his size — 6-foot-4 and 297 pounds. He's one of the smallest players on the offensive line, but coaches have faith in him.
"In the spring he was very, very impressive," Snyder said. "During the out of season he was just a guy who was conscientious and worked hard. He was a walk-on freshman and stepped up and put himself in a leadership role. Freshmen don't do that. B.J. did. I'm proud of that."
So proud that when Finney took a lead in the center competition early in spring practices, Snyder named him the starter for the spring game. He has maintained that lead throughout fall training camp.
"B.J. is the hardest worker we've got on the offensive line," senior Zach Hanson said. "He's the guy who always finishes first in running and doesn't need substitutions. He's picked up the offense really fast, and he's just really dedicated. He really wants to do well. You can see it in everything he does."
K-State offensive line coach Charlie Dickey saw it long before he arrived on campus. Finney's father was 6-foot-5 and his mother is 6-foot-1, and as he puts it, "I never had the chance to be small." But he never fell back on his size advantage to stay ahead of the competition in high school.
While Dickey watched Finney win a state title in 2007 and go undefeated on the wrestling mat as a senior, he saw a physically-gifted lineman with the desire to work on his game and improve each day at practice.
"I liked his toughness and the way he went about doing things the right way," Dickey said. "He was a wrestler, too, and we really liked that he was an all-state wrestler. It meant he could play with good leverage and balance and was athletic. Anytime you can find good wrestlers who are good football players, it's a good thing."
His background as a two-sport standout helped him hold his own in practices and carry himself like a veteran. After watching him do both, a few newcomers assumed he was a senior when they first met this season.
All Finney could do was laugh. He gets that a lot. There's something about the combination of his buzz cut, posture and vocabulary, especially when he wears a suit, that makes him appear much older than he is.
Fans have even approached him thinking he was an assistant coach.
"Sadly enough, I get told that all the time," Finney said. "I guess I look like a coach. Between wrestling and football, people are always coming up to me and asking, 'Are you a coach?' No, I'm a player. A freshman, actually."
Senior tackle Clyde Aufner often chuckles about Finney's mistaken identity problems, but on the field he doesn't care how old he is.
"He's an incredibly smart kid who likes to do right," Aufner said. "He's disciplined and he'll do whatever the coaches tell him to. That's important as a center, because you've got to tell other people what to do and be accountable. He has no problem with that."
Coaches haven't made a depth chart public, and Finney won't know for sure until then whether he will take the field Saturday against Eastern Kentucky as a starter.
Besides, if he is going to daydream about the future, he has another moment in mind.
One that he's been picturing since he signed with K-State as a walk-on.
"I'm ready to hear the crowd and the stadium when everybody is in it," Finney said. "The electricity you feel running out of that locker room, knowing you're about to play for them, is going to be unreal. That's the feeling I can't wait for."