Trent Tanking was challenged by doubt and skepticism.
Coming out of Holton High School, there was skepticism that Tanking could play Division I football. He took the hard route, going to Kansas State as a walk-on and within two years earned a scholarship.
Playing on special teams was one thing, but entering his senior year the doubters resurfaced as to his ability to be the anchor of the K-State defense at inside linebacker. All he did was lead the Wildcats in tackles and earn honorable mention on the coaches All-Big 12 team.
Go ahead and doubt Tanking, it only fuels his fire.
“I’ve always taken the approach of just working hard,” said Tanking, who concluded his K-State career in the Cactus Bowl against UCLA late Tuesday night. “Anything I do, I feel like I will earn. I don’t want to sound pompous or anything, but it means a lot to me personally being able to accomplish what I thought I could accomplish when I came to K-State.”
Tanking’s journey from walk-on to starter is not unique at K-State. In fact, it has become an all too common story but never gets old.
“Trent is the K-State way: A walk-on who got on scholarship who made the best of his opportunity,” Wildcat cornerback Duke Shelley said. “You see guys like Trent on the team and he is such a great role model for everyone on the team. Overall, he’s one of the best guys I’ve been around and played with.”
A standout career at Holton, a perennial Class 4A power, didn’t pave the way for Tanking to collect Division I scholarship offers. He could have gone to any number of Division II programs or a junior college but he chose the walk-on route at K-State.
“Going to high school in Kansas, there’s not a lot of D-I attention, as unfortunate as that is,” he said. “The opportunity to prove yourself is a challenge that I wanted to take on. There are a lot of guys that try it and don’t have quite enough and I wanted to get over that hump, and I was fortunate to get that opportunity.”
Tanking didn’t make the choice blindly. His high school coach, Brooks Barta, was an All-American linebacker in the early stages of the construction of the K-State program under coach Bill Snyder.
“He (Barta) was essential because he told me what the program would be like,” Tanking said of Barta, also a small-town Kansas product from Smith Center. “He told me that if I stuck to it, he thought I would have a chance to play linebacker here.”
That chance came this season. With the departure of all of the starting linebackers from the 2016 Wildcat squad, Tanking was in line to step into that role.
“A lot of people were doubting whether I could play in the Big 12 Conference, play at an elite level,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Tanking entered the Cactus Bowl with 96 tackles, 70 unassisted, to rank No. 6 in the Big 12. He had five double-digit tackle games and two others with nine playing alongside fellow senior Jayd Kirby, also a first-year starter who was right behind Tanking with 93 tackles.
“A lot of people were pointing to the linebacker corps that it was going to be the soft spot and I think we proved that wasn’t the case,” Tanking said.
Tanking’s teammates knew what he was made of, selecting him as a team captain this year before he played a snap as a starter.
“He has a great work ethic,” Shelley said. “Summer days when it’s hot outside, we’ve been running and trying to give up and Trent would step up and get everybody going. He’s yelling and getting everybody fired up like, ‘Let’s go, we’ve got one more.’
“He’s that kind of guy. He gets everybody around him to push themselves. It’s like if you see Trent doing it, you’ve got to do it. He’s definitely a role model for the team.”
Five years of a blue-collar work ethic, with a substantial reward in his senior season, came to a conclusion Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be bitter-sweet,” Tanking said three days prior to his final game as a Wildcat. “There are a lot of guys I’ve been close with over the last five years. I’m excited to play my last game but I’m going to miss putting on the K-State uniform, especially at home being able to play in front of all of our fans.
“It was an opportunity to prove to myself and prove to everybody else that I could exceed expectations, and I think I did that.”