MANHATTAN — At 6 feet, 2 inches and nearly 250 pounds, Kansas State’s Reggie Walker never will be confused for a defensive back.
That’s a good thing, too, because Walker wants no part of the position.
“I mean, I’ve never been out there (in the defensive backfield) and I don’t want to be out there. I’m going to let you know that now,” Walker said earlier this month during K-State’s media day, drawing laughter from his media audience
Walker, recently named to the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award presented annually to the nation’s best defensive end, understands the difficulties his teammates in the secondary often face. He realizes how challenging it is for guys like cornerback Duke Shelley to keep opposing Big 12 passing offenses in check.
Walker also realizes he and his peers along the defensive line must do a better job of helping those guys behind them.
“Like even today for practice, I just kept yelling, ‘We making you guys’ jobs easy,′ ” said Walker, who earned second-team all-Big 12 recognition in 2017 despite playing much of the season banged up. “That’s my No. 1 goal, to make the defensive backs’ jobs easy.”
A year ago, nothing came easy for K-State’s pass defense. The Wildcats allowed more passing yards than any of the 129 FBS teams in the country, yielding 4,018 by season’s end. They ranked next-to-last in yards allowed per game, giving up 309.1.
While most casual observers tend to fault players in the secondary for such shortcomings, Walker and K-State’s other defensive linemen believe they were as much to blame as Shelley, Kendall Adams, Denzel Goolsby and others.
“They always think about the defensive back when it comes to pass coverage, but like our coaches say to our defensive line, we’re just as much responsible for the pass as the run,” said Horton product Trey Dishon, a 6-2, 305-pound junior defensive tackle. “Everybody is in on it at all times.”
Dishon and Walker say the team’s d-linemen have made it a priority to improve K-State’s pass rush this year. Sure, they want to continue to be dominant against the run — the Wildcats ranked 13th nationally a year ago in rushing defense, allowing only 117.7 yards per game — but they also are determined to apply more pressure, giving opposing quarterbacks less time to work through their progressions and spot open receivers downfield.
Last season, K-State finished with only 24 sacks, which ranked seventh in the Big 12. Former Topeka High star and now-departed All-Big 12 tackle Will Geary led the team with 4½ QB takedowns, the fewest by a Wildcat leader since 2008.
“That’s all we’re thinking about,” said Dishon, an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick who will be asked to fill Geary’s sizable cleats. “We’re kind of upset with ourselves on the performance last year with the sacks and the pass rush, so that’s the only thing we’re focusing on.”
While Walker and Dishon look to be the leaders of K-State’s defensive front, the Wildcats could get a boost from Topekan Wyatt Hubert. The redshirt freshman from Shawnee Heights not only is competing for playing time, he could find himself in the hunt for a starting spot opposite Walker — if not by Sept. 1 when the Wildcats open the season against South Dakota, then possibly later in the season.
“I definitely feel like I belong a lot more,” Hubert said when asked how different this fall camp is compared to his first one. “I’m stepping up in my leadership roles. I have a lot more experience with the playbook and with all the players and coaches.
“I’m definitely trying to get on the field. Being so young as a redshirt freshman, that’s one goal I have in mind and I’m trying to work to achieve right now.”
According to his peers, Hubert is succeeding.
“He’s a great player,” Walker said. “Great getoff, great takeoff. Very energetic guy, very nice guy, but when it comes to the field he’s about his business, and I always like that about him.
“He’s improved a lot. Now he’s learned what you’ve got to do and he’s going to be a great player.”
Dishon believes Hubert’s determination will serve both the 6-3, 250-pounder and the entire K-State defense well.
“I would say his best trait is definitely he’s a hard-headed, go-getter type of guy. He works hard,” Dishon said. “Everybody who knows him knows he works hard and he’s always going a hundred percent.”
Hubert, named city and Centennial League defensive player of the year as a senior at Shawnee Heights, is competing with juniors Kyle Ball and Chase Johnston as well as sophomore Bronson Massie for playing time. He also could play a big role in the Wildcats’ third-down package, although Hubert insists “it’s a little too soon to think about” whether he’ll start or how much action he’ll see.
“Wyatt’s done really well,” K-State defensive coordinator Blake Seiler said. “Wyatt’s a guy I recruited coming out of high school; made the transition really well. Wyatt is a guy I look for this fall.
“He’s very physical, he’s got a great motor and I think you’re really going to like what (No.) 56 does this fall.”
Joining Dishon on the interior will be Joe Davies, Drew Wiley, Jordan Mittie and perhaps others. Davies, a 6-3, 286-pound junior, played in 12 games a year ago after transferring from Coffeyville Community College, while the 6-4, 295-pound Wiley appeared in 13 games as a true freshman.
Mittie, the son of K-State women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie, transferred to K-State from Texas State where he recorded 83 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and 4 sacks in two seasons. Just a redshirt junior, Mittie already is working on his MBA after completing his undergraduate degree in finance.
“You can tell being a coach’s son, even though it’s a different sport, he gets it,” Seiler said. “And he’s been a two-year player in Division I football, so he’s got a leg up and he’s adjusted fast.”
As for the group of tackles overall, Seiler is pleased.
“Maybe we don’t have Will Geary, but Trey’s done a great job stepping up on the inside,” Seiler said. “I think we have a group of guys there that’s more plentiful than we’ve had in the past — possible guys that can play.”