MANHATTAN — The battle to replace former Kansas State center B.J. Finney – one of the best offensive linemen in school history – starts with a little bit of reverence.
And perhaps that’s how it should be.
“I really haven’t looked at it as how we can replace B.J., but more like how can we learn from how he did things,” said redshirt freshman Dalton Risner, one of three players battling for the spot. “I’m lucky because I got to redshirt underneath him and learn from him. It’s more like how can I be more like him?”
Another player of Finney’s caliber would be just fine with K-State’s coaching staff, as the Andale product and Pittsburgh Steelers free-agent signee was a three-time All-Big 12 pick and the first three-time captain in K-State history.
Risner (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) is first in line to replace Finney and has been with the first unit to start training camp. He was a heralded recruit two years ago out of Wiggins, Colo., when he was rated the fifth-best center in the country by Rivals.com.
Also in the mix are sophomore Reid Navjar (6-4, 290) and Butler Community College transfer Reed Bergstrom (6-2, 305).
Bergstrom started the spring game because of injuries — center is the only spot on the offensive line without a returning starter.
“Throughout the summer, I worked at center a lot helping out, but Dalton is doing a really good job there right now, and so is Reid,” Bergstrom said. “I’m available for (center) if they need me, but I think the competition is helping everybody improve right now. B.J. is not somebody you can really replace just like that, because he was a great leader for us, a four-year player.”
K-State offensive line coach Charlie Dickey said left guard Boston Stiverson could also play center in a pinch, and Bergstrom might be there more for depth, as he can play center and both guard spots with ease.
“Dalton and Reid are really kind of battling for that spot right now,” Dickey said. “Both have their pluses and minuses, their strengths and weaknesses.... I like the way both of them are competing right now. Risner is working with the ones right now, but Navjar and Bergstrom are definitely in the mix.
“With Boston also able to play that spot, we feel like we have four capable players we can turn to in crunch time.”
Risner said a big part of his development has been learning from the four returning starters around him — Stiverson, Cody Whitehair, Luke Hays and Matt Kleinsorge.
“You’ve got guys like Cody Whitehair, leaders just like B.J.,” Risner said. “We’re learning from them, and it’s good to have those guys next to you because they have a lot of experience and work hard and you can learn so much from them.
“Competition is everything. If you don’t have somebody ahead of you or behind you pushing you everyday, then what’s it all about?”