Just what is the key for a high school linebacker to adjust to play at the Big 12 level?
"The most difficult thing is reading your keys," said K-State freshman linebacker Tre Walker. "It's easy to get out of it mentally and then you lose your discipline."
Other than that, Walker, who was named fourth-team Freshman All-American by the Phil Steele publication, will tell you that football is … well, just football.
"The basics are just football," said the 18-year-old linebacker out of Olathe North High School. "You get to the ball, tackle and just make plays."
But the game is faster, the concepts are more complex, and the discipline must be at a significantly higher level.
So, when you are a freshman, as Walker says, "You just do what you can do. Coach (Bill) Snyder does a great job of teaching the game. At times it can be difficult because the size and strength are not there, but I just keep trying to play ball … to know by keys and know my fits. That attitude has helped me along the way."
Walker was introduced to Big 12 football with spot plays through the first half of the season.
But when middle linebacker Alex Hrebec went down with an injury, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Walker was shoved onto the field.
"I was very surprised. I didn't expect to have this type of role this early," said Walker. "I was in the process of trying to learn from Hrebec, but then all of a sudden it was time to go."
Walker did go. He had 11 tackles, which included eight solo arrests against Texas, and 12 stops with one interception against Missouri, nine tackles against Colorado, and six in the season-finale against North Texas.
His run of 38 tackles in consecutive games against the Longhorns, Tigers, Buffaloes and Mean Green were the most for a freshman player since 1996. The name of that Wildcat was Mark Simoneau.
Walker completed the regular season with 47 tackles with two stops for negative yardage, one quarterback sack, one interception and one pass deflection.
"During the summer my mindset was that I wanted to play as a freshman," said Walker, "God blessed me with this ability, so I wanted to show that I could play, and play well. The opportunity came and I was able to take advantage of it."
While there was a dose of self-confidence, Walker admits that there were also days of doubt. On the flip side of that, however, "I never felt that there was a doubt that came from my teammates and coaches. I never felt that I was looked at as a freshman. I was just another player."
"They were the ones that helped keep me into it mentally and did their best for preparing me for the grind that it is at this level," said Walker.
And grind it has been, especially for someone undersized for the position at 205 pounds.
"I need to add weight and strength," said Walker, who owns 4.65 40 speed. Oh, if there was one other adjustment that Walker had to make, it came in the classroom.
"I've always been a 4.0 student, so the first time I saw a "B" on a report card, that was pretty difficult," said walker, a business/accounting major.
DEC. 26 - 'CATS ARRIVE IN NYC ON
PREPARATION UNDERWAY -
Kansas State departed for New York City on Dec. 26, with a practice that followed later that day at Columbia University.
Kickoff for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse is set for 2:30 (Kansas time) on Dec. 30 at Yankee Stadium.