Cody Whitehair can’t envision blocking on an offensive line without B.J. Finney by his side. Nor does he want to.
“It is going to be really different,” Whitehair said Wednesday at Kansas State’s Alamo Bowl media session. “Losing a leader like that, who has done so much for our offensive line, it is kind of upsetting. It is going to be hard to see him go.”
Everyone associated with K-State, from Bill Snyder on down, feels the same way. Finney, a senior from Andale, has been a staple on the offensive line for four years, starting 51 consecutive games. He has also been a mainstay in the team’s leadership circle, serving as a captain since he was a sophomore.
He will play his final game in a K-State uniform against UCLA on Friday in the Alamo Bowl. For some, it will feel like the end or an era, similar to a longtime starting quarterback running out of eligibility.
“You don’t replace him,” Snyder said. “But you have got to put somebody in there (next year). B.J. is a fantastic young person, as well as being a knowledgeable and fantastic player. ... He is a very good and caring, quality leader. That quality has been with him since Day 1.
“He is a three-year captain. Players voted him there. They appreciated his leadership all along, and I do, too. It is a unique type of leadership this day and age. It is a demanding leadership and he is vocal about doing the right things. He walks the talk. He is a good man.”
Snyder will make sure to appreciate Finney’s final K-State appearance.
So will senior quarterback Jake Waters, who has taken all but one snap from Finney (he switched to left tackle for one play against West Virginia this season) during his two years in charge of K-State’s offense. So will senior receiver Tyler Lockett, who has started along with Finney for four consecutive seasons.
And so will offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, the man who has set aside time the past few weeks to evaluate other centers, such as freshman Dalton Risner, for the future.
“We have given him ultimate responsibility,” Dimel said. “It is going to be really hard to replace him – really, really hard.”
So comfortable is K-State’s coaching staff with Finney that they involve him on game strategy, constantly asking what he thinks of certain plays against specific defenses. His opinion impacts play-calling.
That’s what happens when you provide sound blocking for so long. Finney became a starter following his redshirt year as a walk-on with the scout team. He was quickly promoted to scholarship status and promptly began turning heads.
He never wanted to watch from the bench again.
“Sitting through that redshirt season, I hated it,” Finney said. “I know why they redshirted me, but I couldn’t stand sitting on the sidelines and watching my team play on the field, I just told my mom and my family I am not built to play on the sideline. So whatever it takes, whatever position they are going to put me at, I am going to work hard to make sure I fit in.”
In time, he did much more than that.
Finney was an honorable mention all-conference recipient as a freshman and a first-team defensive lineman honoree the past three years. His best season was as a senior, paving the way for a K-State offense that 426 yards and 35.8 points. At the end of the regular season, the Big 12 coaches named him co-offensive lineman of the year. He was also a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s top center.
“He’s the anchor of our offense,” Waters said. “Having him there really puts me at ease.”
The honors and experiences have multiplied throughout his K-State career. Just don’t ask Finney to discuss them.
He considers four bowl trips and a conference championship to be his top accomplishments. Another bowl victory would rank, as well. Beyond that, he says nothing else matters.
“I really don’t think about them, because if I sit back and think about what I have accomplished I am detracting from what the team is trying to accomplish,” Finney said. “I don’t like doing that. There are 11 guys on the field and 10 guys who are working just as hard as me, if not harder. They are not getting recognition, so it would be classless of me to be like, ‘Hey, I have done this and feel good about myself,’ while these other guys are trying to reach a goal.
“It doesn’t work if I’m sitting back and not working as hard as they are.”
So Finney has dug in and put everything he has into Alamo Bowl preparations. At the beginning of practices, he advised younger teammates on how to stay upbeat and motivated for a game that was so far away. When he arrived in San Antonio, he told stories about the importance of treating their time away from home as a business trip.
He even coined the term “Super Cat Time” to encourage teammates to show up 20 minutes early for every team meeting and practice.
That leadership will be missed next season as Finney pursues a potential NFL career. So will his stability on the offensive line.
Until then, the Wildcats look forward to using him in one final game.
“To be at center, you have to be a great leader and a great vocal leader to get the other four guys around you going,” Whitehair said. “B.J. does that effortlessly. He works so hard and is very dedicated to the program. It will be hard to see him go.”
No. 11 Kansas State vs. No. 14 UCLA
When: 5:45 p.m. Friday
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Records: KSU 9-3, UCLA 9-3
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM