Senior linebacker Jonathan Truman has a story that has become common in head coach Bill Snyder’s K-State programs. He had no guaranteed scholarship and no clear chance at playing time.
As many have done before, the Kechi, Kansas native capitalized on his opportunity and now serves as a team captain. He is also currently the team’s leading tackler.
“There was a chip on my shoulder, thinking, ‘Nobody’s offering me anything, so I might as well just prove them wrong,'” Truman said. “K-State was the best place to take that opportunity.”
He was redshirted in his first season with the team and the journey has been anything but easy. It was hard for him to see his teammates and peers have their tuition paid for, while he was paying for school himself.
“It’s a struggle at first thinking, ‘Man, am I good enough?'” Truman said. “I asked myself that and I’d always answer myself with, ‘Absolutely.’ There’s no reason that I can’t. If I’m not right now, I will be good enough later on down the road. I’m just going to get better every single day and work until I am at that point – to where I do deserve a scholarship, and they wouldn’t have any choice but to give me one.'”
Truman played almost exclusively on special teams in 2011. The next season, he continued to help cover kickoffs, but also saw some action on defense. He had 25 tackles in 2012, with 12 of them coming on special teams.
During his sophomore year, Truman received his coveted scholarship.
“We were home on break and my position (assistant) coach, (Mike) Cox, called me and told me the news,” Truman said. “My parents were at work, so I called them. It was a very emotional day. I was so glad and relieved that my hard work paid off in that instance. But obviously my expectations and my goals did not stop there.”
After Truman earned his scholarship, he received a starting role on the Wildcat defense. In his junior season, he racked up 89 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He had a career-high 12 tackles against Texas Tech.
Truman is not the only walk-on to become a team captain this season. Seniors B.J. Finney, Ryan Mueller and Weston Hiebert were all walk-ons when they started their career with the Wildcats.
Sharing that experience has forged a special bond between the players.
“We came in together, didn’t really know each other, and now we’re leaving as brothers,” Mueller said. “We kind of saw this process slowing happening, just because of the success we were having individually. Now that we’re now here collectively, we have something here that can be really special.”
Mueller, Finney and Truman all deal with something that most walk-ons never experience – expectations. No one puts pressure on a walk-on to produce for his squad. As a team captain, there is a certain level of play that is expected.
Truman may have the most pressure of all three players, as he was the only returning starter in the linebacking corp for 2014.
“I think he should be ‘the guy’ on defense outside of Mueller,” said Ben Leber, former K-State linebacker and current FOX Sports college football analyst. “They need to find somebody that can lead that defense and who better than him? I’m looking for big things out of him.”
Truman’s role increases on the field and also in the locker room. He has already earned a great deal of respect from some of his teammates.
“His work ethic is unlike anyone else,” Mueller said. “He’s a freak in the weight room. He just throws up ridiculous stuff. He just prepares himself for the game so well, I love his approach. I have a great deal of respect for him.”
His 2014-15 stats would say that whatever Truman is doing has worked. He is tied for the team lead in tackles with 22 in the team’s three games. It’s possible that his impact is larger than just the 22 plays he has ended.
Truman is a key cog in the Wildcats’ run defense. The unit allowed only 128 rushing yards to No. 5 Auburn, the Tigers’ fewest since week three of 2013-14. They are statistically the fourth best rushing defense in the Big 12, allowing just 100.7 yards per game.
If Truman continues to lead his fellow linebackers, his team’s defense could become one of the most feared units in the Big 12.
“Expectations can be whatever anyone wants them to be,” Truman said. “Preparing yourself and actually doing is what matters. I can have all the expectations I want, but if I’m not preparing myself to make them a reality, then it doesn’t matter.”