Matt Wendelberger might not have the most glamorous job in Fort Hays State’s offense, but it’s a role that perfectly suits the junior tight end and one that is vital for the Tigers.
“I take pride in my blocking,” Wendelberger said on Tuesday at MIAA Media in Kansas City, Kan. “Really not selfish. I like to block, that’s my thing. If I get the ball in my hands it’s fine, but I really enjoy blocking. It’s just what I like to do.”
Whenever the ball did come Wendelberger’s way last year, the two-time All-MIAA pick took advantage. He made 22 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
“I feel like I get rewarded if I do my job and I do it good,” he said. “I feel like the coaches reward anybody with a chance to put the ball in their hands.”
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound native of Pewaukee, Wisc., supplied one of the more memorable touchdowns of Fort Hays State’s undefeated regular season. With redshirt freshman quarterback Jacoby Williams in for injured stater Jacob Mezera in Week 6 against Pittsburg State, Wendelberger helped fuel a comeback win by rumbling for a 70-yard catch and run for a touchdown to give the Tigers a boost late in the first half.
“It was crazy,” Wendelberger said. “It was one of those things like, ‘Alright, we’re going to set it up. Don’t drop it.’ It just took off and helped us get some momentum going into halftime. It was crazy. It just flipped the game around.”
Wendelberger, a second-team All-MIAA selection last year, ended up at Fort Hays by chance after attending a prep school in Bridgton, Maine in his first year out of high school.
“Got connected with Pitt State somehow and the guy that was recruiting me at Pitt State ended up moving jobs,” Wendelberger said. “He connected me with (offensive coordinator Jeff Bryant) out at Fort Hays State and I applied at Fort Hays State and got accepted. They were like, ‘Come out here and play some football.’
“Got to Hays, Kansas, walked on, earned my name on the scout team and that’s all she wrote.”
After his redshirt year, Wendelberger made an immediate impact, earning All-MIAA honorable mention in 2016.
“After coming in, watching the first game on the sideline, ‘I was like, ‘Wow, the speed of the game is crazy,’ " Wendelberger said. “It’s crazy. This conference is the best in America. I love it.”
Wendelberger is one of six all-conference performers returning to the Tigers offense, which put up 32.3 points and 441 yards of offense per game a year ago.
“Right now, we’re working on the offensive line,” Wendelberger said. “We’re losing Travis Talley, an All-American, but Pat Kelly is coming back from an injury. We’re going to hold it down up front. We do it every year. We seem to have short numbers every year up front, but we somehow get the job done and that’s a credit to coach Bryant.”
Already one of the emotional leaders of offense, Wendelberger said he won’t look to change his role for the Tigers as they look to defend their conference championship, starting with the season opener against Central Missouri on Aug. 30 at home.
“I’m going to do what I’ve been doing the last couple years,” Wendelberger said. “I’ve been a leader in the weight room in the offseason. I’m an intense guy, so I bring the intensity every morning with a smile on my face and I start yelling and do whatever I got to do to get my guys going.”