There is nothing flashy about the three defensive linemen Kansas State will try to build around this season.
Not their size, not their stats and certainly not their personalities.
But, to a man, they’re each proven commodities – players who have shown they can perform at an elite level in the Big 12.
Adam Davis started every game at defensive end last year and registered 34 tackles, including four sacks.
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Defensive tackle Vai Lutui started 11 games and also had 34 tackles in his first season after transferring from Mount San Antonio (Calif.) College.
And Meshak Williams, who didn’t start a game? The Hutchinson Community College product was named an honorable-mention All-Big 12 defensive end with 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks – the most sacks for a Wildcat in three seasons.
Are they underrated? Maybe a little.
Will they be overlooked? For better or worse, that’s impossible.
“All the guys have done an outstanding job … they’re all up to snuff and have worked extremely hard,” K-State defensive line coach Mo Lattimore said. “Strength, speed, quickness, toughness, aggressiveness … all the things you need for a good defensive lineman, I see in these guys.”
The three returners led the K-State defensive line this summer living, working out and going to summer school in Manhattan where they said they bonded – and thrived – under strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson.
“We worked like crazy, and a lot of that came from knowing we have weak spots and wanting to prove we can be as good as we were last year,” said Davis, who also played at Hutchinson. “We were out here in the heat, trying to push ourselves, mentally and physically, to be able to go without subs if we have to.”
The holes to fill on the defensive front – ranked 37th in the nation last season in rushing defense – are most apparent on the interior, where second-team All-Big 12 tackle Ray Kibble is gone, as is Raphael Guidry.
Seniors Javonta Boyd, a Butler Community College transfer, and John Sua seem likely candidates to replace the duo, although both played sparingly in 2011.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me as a starter coming back, but I know how I can perform and help this team up front,” said Lutui (6-foot-2, 301 pounds). “I had the whole offseason to work on my quickness and my strength with Coach Dawson, my quickness more than anything so I can help out on the pass rush a little more. I need to be stout up there.”
Williams (6-3, 245) replaces Jordan Voelker in the starting lineup and could have the biggest upside of the trio. He’s nominated for the Ted Hendricks Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive end, but his 28 total tackles – even if 10 of them were for loss – left something to be desired.
“I have to perform. I have to double everything from last year, and that’s not just stats,” Williams said. “I need to work harder if I want to take that role from Jordan as the full-time starter.
“I feel like I could be a dominant rush end if I put my mind to it … but to be a dominant end you have to practice hard every day, never take a day off.”