Talk has been rampant in the past several years on whether or not the “student-athlete” exists anymore.
Seemingly lost behind the television deals, one-and-done players and the celebrity-like title that comes with being a player on someone’s favorite college basketball team, is that schools like Kentucky or Kansas are still academic institutions of higher learning.
Redshirt junior Brian Rohleder is one of the few examples left of a player from years past. A student who happens to be an athlete rather than an athlete who happens to be a student.
Rohleder was asked to walk on by former K-State head coach Frank Martin’s staff in 2011 after his senior season at Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita, Kansas.
Following his brother, former K-State football player Kevin Rohleder (2007-10), Brian took Martin’s offer and declared a major in mechanical engineering.
Having picked a major that is extremely involved, Brian soon learned that his work load was going to be large, and that he was going to have find discipline to have success both on the court and in the “engineering building” at Rathbone Hall.
“It’s definitely a lot of time management,” Brian said. “I can’t take whatever time I do have off. Any time I do have is usually set aside for homework or studying or stuff like that. For instance, on the trip to Morgantown on Tuesday, I was doing homework on the plane, and I’ll probably do homework on the way back too. I’m in my fourth year now, so I’ve kind of gone through the process and I know what I’m going to do. It’s just making sure you don’t waste time. Definitely the teachers have been very helpful, just making sure I get everything that I missed. I mean, it’s hard but it’s doable.”
It was his major that afforded him the opportunity of an internship at G.E. Johnson Construction, the company responsible for building the West Stadium Center and the in-progress Vanier complex. Brian has had a hand in both projects.
“I got to know the CEO of G.E. Johnson,” Brian said. “He went with the team on a trip to Brazil three summers ago. Coach Weber mentioned to him that I’m an engineering major and so we just got to talking a little bit and he wanted to know if I wanted to work with him the next summer because they were going to be starting the project then. I said, ‘Yeah, sure, of course.’ So I kind of came in the last two months of construction trying to help finish up before the season started. Basically, I just did what I could do to help. I was working with the construction documents, keeping them updated because they’re changing all the time. Aside from that I was just helping the other engineers out and doing what I can.”
Even being as busy as he is, Brian has found time not to just be on the K-State men’s basketball team, but to make his own mark for the Wildcats.
This season, the junior has seen time as a starter and is playing important minutes in big games, including Wednesday’s 76-72 loss to West Virginia. Earlier in the year, he spearheaded a 20-point victory over Savannah State by taking three-consecutive offensive charges in the opening half.
According to Brian, major playing time is not something he expects, but it’s a challenge he’s willing to accept.
“Being a walk-on, you don’t expect to get a lot of playing time,” Brian said. “You just come to practice with the same mentality of getting better as the team gets better and getting ready for the next game. Coach (Weber) knows what he’s going to get out of me. So maybe sometimes when we need a little consistency, or if we need somebody to work hard and go play defense, he’s been more comfortable with putting me in there.”
Brian’s coaches aren’t the only ones who enjoy seeing his hustle and energy. He’s quickly become a fan favorite among K-State supporters who love watching the intensity he brings to the court.
“It just carries over from practice, I think,” Brian said. “I definitely like to be an energy guy, keeping people’s spirits up. Make a play, everybody loves to see those hustle plays where people are diving on the floor for a loose ball or taking a charge or getting stop or a big rebound. I think those plays make a difference and I see those plays as my goal.”
The six-time Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll honoree still does it right in a time where so many do it wrong. Brian Rohleder may not fill stat sheets or scouting reports, but he’s shown that hard work pays dividends both on and off the court in substantial ways.