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Hayes is KSU's next big 'Cat

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN -- When B.J. Finney first laid eyes on Luke Hayes four years ago at the Class 4A state high school wrestling tournament, he didn't see a future Kansas State offensive lineman.

"The only thing I thought of Luke was he was tall and lanky," Finney, K-State's fourth-year starter at center, said chuckling. "At tall as he is, he was a 189-pound wrestler, so I just looked at him as a baseball player, basketball player, wrestler.

"He was a great athlete and he could do it all."

Finney, a senior at Andale, won the heavyweight title that year and Hayes finished fourth in the state at 189 pounds as a Scott City sophomore. Hayes followed that up with 3-2-1A state championships at 215 pounds his junior year and 285 in 2013.

Hayes also played tight end for the Beavers' football team and went on to play two seasons at Jayhawk Conference power Butler in El Dorado, receiving second-team All-America honors at tackle his sophomore year. He signed with K-State at semester break and halfway through spring practice is battling for a starting job at right tackle.

"Right now I think Luke Hayes has come along quite well," K-State coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday. "I think he's doing very, very well right now.

"He's still in the learning process, but he's making headway and we feel good with him."

Hayes, who now packs 295 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, said he is enjoying the transition from the junior college level to Division I.

"I'm adjusting pretty well, I think," he said. "I just need to work on my technique a little bit more and some things -- getting used to the plays a little bit more.

"Other than that, it's going pretty good."

With two-year starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks gone from last year's veteran offensive line, Hayes knew an opportunity existed to move into the lineup right away. That's just one reason he chose K-State after also visiting North Carolina State and Kentucky.

"It's definitely something that motivates you when you see that there's no one really there and the competition's wide open," he said. "(But) one of the big things that sold me on K-State was it's closer to my family where they can come to games more easily.

"And then also when I came up here for my visit I could feel that the offensive line was really close together. You could feel that they hung out with each other, and that's something that I liked."

In fact, all three returning starters on the line -- Finney and junior guards Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson -- are home grown talents. Stiverson played at Andover Central High School and Whitehair, who could be moving to left tackle, was a standout at Abilene.

Hayes said he has leaned on all three while trying to pick up K-State's offense, but especially Finney. And working against the first-team defense hasn't hurt, either.

"I go against (all-Big 12 defensive end Ryan) Mueller a lot at practice, so that's definitely one of the best looks that you can get," Hayes said. "He definitely is making me better."

Finney already has seen Hayes' growth through the first two weeks of spring.

"Luke has made some pretty big strides in terms of knowing plays and his technique to help block," Finney said. "So he's hungry and he's making huge improvements."

Youth movement

Snyder said Tuesday that sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverette have gotten most of the practice repetitions at running back with senior DeMarcus Robinson sidelined.

"He just hasn't been on the field as much," Snyder said of Robinson without specifying. "He's got some things that are holding him back."

Robinson, the third-team back last year behind three-year starter John Hubert and Robert Rose, started the spring atop the depth chart because Jones and Leverette spend the season on the scout team.

Corner candidates

Junior Morgan Burns has moved to the top of the list to claim one of the vacant spots at cornerback, Snyder said. Senior Randall Evans, who has started at nickle back the past two seasons, could line up at the other corner, with redshirt freshman Corey Jackson and Dodge City Community College transfers Nate Jackson and Danzel McDaniel.

Mixed bag

As usual, Snyder bemoaned a lack of consistency through the first half of spring drills, which wrap up with the annual Purple/White spring game April 26 at Snyder Family Stadium.

He said the offense dominated the first of two minor scrimmages so far and the defense performed best in the second.