Since 2009, Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder has started six freshmen in the first game of the season. All six being offensive players and three of those being being linemen.
This Friday, four freshmen will play their first snap of college football under the lights of a hostile Stanford Stadium versus the No. 8 Cardinal, the highest-ranked opponent the Wildcats have ever opened a season against.
Defensive end Reggie Walker, defensive tackle Trey Dishon, left offensive tackle Scott Frantz and left offensive guard Tyler Mitchell, who all redshirted during the 2015 season, will step on the field and start with only a wealth of practice experience and lessons learned from the sidelines in their arsenal versus veteran Stanford linemen on both sides of the ball.
It’s not how the 76-year-old head coach probably would’ve drawn up his 25th season but Snyder has confidence in his young talent.
“It’s not necessarily the most desirable thing but I like the way they have come along and progressed,” Snyder said about the freshmen starting on the offensive line. “They’ll probably see the brunt of Stanford’s defense and movement and all that goes along with it.”
That’s not to say that the four won’t be ready. They’ve reached this precarious position by impressing both their coaches as well as their fellow teammates throughout their redshirt season and throughout the past offseason.
“There are some guys who play like they’re not freshmen,” junior linebacker Elijah Lee said. “That’s what I’m excited about because I’ve seen them grow in the offseason, so I’m ready to see what they’ll do this season.”
Having said that, once kickoff hits, the kid gloves come off. Inexperience will not be accepted as an excuse for failure. Expectations for starters are equally high whether it’s your first or 30th game in a K-State uniform.
“Some of the younger guys, as older guys, we’ve talked to them and say, ‘You have to mature quick,'” Lee said. “There’s not ‘I’m young; I made this mistake.’ Once you get put out there with us you have to know what you’re doing. That’s the way you’re going to get onto the field.”
And while those four will be playing their first game, 25 Wildcats in the two-deep offensive and defensive depth chart released earlier this week are underclassmen, some of which are sophomores who saw time with the rash of injuries that crippled K-State throughout the 2015 season.
Snyder summed up his roster succinctly on Tuesday.
“We’re young with a certain degree of experience,” he said.
And while that degree may not be nearly as high as Snyder would like for it to be, this is still a team that accelerated its maturation process during last season. In result of that, sophomores who played significant time as freshmen like sophomore right offensive tackle Dalton Risner or sophomore running back Justin Silmon will be expected to take the next step in a major way, while freshmen like the four new starters and the others sitting behind upperclassmen on the depth chart look to establish themselves and give credence to their elevated status.
That process starts Friday, two time zones away.
“It is a really huge game,” Silmon said. “We have been working so hard ever since the offseason, so we just want to go in there and win. That is our only goal, and that is what we are going to try and do on Friday.”