Abilene, Andale, Andover, Olathe and Scott City, Kansas. While they serve as the hometown’s of K-State’s starting offensive linemen, it also demonstrates the growing strength that is Kansas high school football.
In total, 56 of the Wildcats’ 127 players hail from the state of Kansas, amounting to 44 percent. On top of the starting offensive line in Manhattan, four of the six captains are from the Sunflower State.
Those players are senior offensive lineman B.J. Finney (Andale), senior linebacker Jonathan Truman (Kechi), senior defensive end Ryan Mueller (Leawood) and senior defensive back Weston Hiebert (Goessel).
For a state that isn’t traditionally labeled as a “football powerhouse,” players, fans and media are quick to mock, which is something Oklahoma linebacker Geneo Grissom, a Hutchinson, Kansas native, has grown accustomed to in Norman.
“I hear that all the time,” Grissom said of the perception at Big 12 Media Days in July in Dallas, Texas. “Guys start talking about their high-school hero days and I can’t say anything. As soon as I say anything, (I hear) ‘Oh, you played Kansas football.’ I feel like we play good football in Kansas and I’m proud to be a Kansan.”
For Grissom, the representation runs deeper than the names that he dons on his jerseys on Saturdays.
“I feel like I’m not only representing Oklahoma and myself, but I’m also representing Hutchinson High School, the Salthawks and those guys who I played for who helped me get where I am today,” the Sooner starting linebacker added.
For Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney, also a Hutchinson native, it has fueled a fire that has led to being the leader in total tackles in the Big 12.
“It definitely puts a chip on your shoulder,” Heeney said. “Coming from Kansas, a lot of people don’t think the high school competition is very good. That was one of those things when I was coming in as a freshman, a bunch of my teammates from Texas would talk crap on me, saying ‘You played in Kansas and you don’t know real competition.'”
Will Davis, a sophomore who sits in the linebacker rotation for K-State, hails from Southlake, Texas and played high school football at Carroll High School. The school has produced a number of college/NFL players, including Kansas City Chiefs backup quarterback Chase Daniel, former New Orleans Saints and Oklahoma kicker Garrett Hartley as well as Texas A&M; quarterback Kenny Hill.
The sophomore, however, sees the desire and hunger from Kansas players and said they know how to perform on the biggest of stages.
“A lot of the guys from Kansas, they come with a chip on their shoulder and they’re here to prove themselves every day,” Davis said. “A lot of guys (here) have shown that they can do that and they can compete with anyone. No matter where you’re from, no matter what high school you played at, when you’re here you’re here. They come to work every day.”
It’s a sentiment that is shared by Bishop Carroll (Kansas) head coach Alan Schuckman. The longtime head coach has spent 20 seasons with the Golden Eagles and has appeared in 10-straight state playoffs.
“The way I see it, Kansas football players have a bigger upside than a kid out of Texas,” Bishop Carroll High School (Kansas) head coach Alan Schuckman said. “When I say upside, there’s more room for growth and potential. Kids that play in Kansas are generally multi-sport athletes.”
In need of proper tutelage, Shuckman quickly pointed in the direction of 75-year-old K-State head coach Bill Snyder and how he’s able to review and identify the players who come from the Sunflower State.
“We have awfully good players in Kansas, which is proof of why Kansas State is such a good program,” Shuckman said. “I don’t know how many in-state kids they have starting on defense, but at some points last year it seemed like over half of them were in-state players. Coach Snyder has developed a great plan that has developed in-state kids.”
As Kansas continues to ponder the future of interim head coach Clint Bowen and its program’s future, Shuckman said the program should look no further than the blueprint that sits about 84 miles west on Interstate 70.
“I understand what they’re doing down the road is pretty successful,” Shuckman said. “No need to reinvent the wheel, I think you try to emulate what they do. That’s me. If you can develop local kids and have a greyshirt and walk-on program, you get those kids developed, those with Kansas ties are going to take a lot more pride in KU or K-State.”
Morgan Burns, a Wichita, Kansas native who competed from the very beginning of football at Wichita Trinity High School, said it’s a daily bonus to be playing in your home state.
“It has been cool being at K-State because there have been a lot of Kansas players who have come through here and thrive and shine,” junior defensive back Morgan Burns said. “Arthur Brown, Ty Zimmerman, just a lot of guys who come from different backgrounds as walk-ons or on scholarship. We’ve proved that Kansas high school football is good and a lot of great players come from it.”