The Kansas State offensive line this year is going to be very talented and also very young. You could count the collegiate snaps of four of the five OL starters this weekend on no hands. The good news is that the line will be anchored by Jeromey Clary, a 6-foot-7, 300 lb All Big 12 Honorable Mention offensive lineman from Mansfield Summit High School in Mansfield, Texas.
Clary will anchor the line in essence and has the experience the younger linemen will look to this year- having started in all 11 games last year at right tackle en route to earning All Big 12 Second Team honors. Other then the impressive performance Clary turned in on the gridiron, if I can steal a line from the movie "Goodwill Hunting" …."my boy is wicked smart." So much so that Clary was named to the Big 12 All Academic squad last year and is intelligent enough that we will be cross trained at numerous spots along the line this year.
With Saturday's first game against Florida International, Clary will have logged his 26th straight start for K-State. He's the only offensive lineman with any starting experience going into this season and he'll be joined on the line by any combination of talented players. The recent season ending injury to center Ryan Schmidt caused more concern with the coaches at K-State with their young offensive line squad. There has been a lot of talent going at it hard in efforts to not only help the team but to make their mark with teammates. More importantly however, this team will need to find an identity and become comfortable with one another- a task forged only on the field with repetitions and battle.
"It's been very heavy" said Clary. "Everyone's been practicing very hard and I'm very proud of how camp has gone. We're ready to put everything together on Saturday."
There's almost a sense of relief within the Wildcat players that the season is so close at hand. Soon they can begin to erase the memories of last season and start hitting someone other than their teammates in practice. For the soon to be first time OL starters, the jitters and the adrenalin will both be in high supply and going through the roof on Saturday against Florida International- something that will need to be tempered. Youth notwithstanding, Clary says he is ready to put the ghosts of last season behind him and start a new legacy at K-State.
"It feels like it's been a long time, said Clary. Last year was a little glitch in the system. We try to forget about those and move on."
Fans, players and everyone involved with the Wildcats football team got used to Coach Snyder et al. putting up 11 win seasons and the bowl trips. Going into this season, the Cats are not seen as serious threats to challenge for the Big 12 North and this begins a season where the team is seen as underdogs and not contenders. A very familiar place indeed for some of the older Cat fans reading this article.
"I think it hurts all of our feelings said Clary but, I would rather be the underdog than the team that everyone expects to win the National Championship. We are going to surprise some people this season. The best thing to do is take it one day at a time, one practice at a time and one rep at a time."
There have been the persistent rumors and frustration about the lack of leadership and work ethic of some players on last seasons' squad. This is something that is talked about less and less with this team. That is largely due to the tone Coach Snyder set in two-a-days and the expectations that have been made in regard to the ownership and dedication to the team.
In talking to more then one coach, team spirit and morale this year is head and shoulders better this summer then in past seasons. Which is not to say it was bad with other teams, but the over spirit of this years' squad and team chemistry is said to be very good.
"This is 2005 not 2004, said Clary. We have a very strong team this year and a bunch of guys that are ready to step up and lead already."
The effectiveness of the offensive line will be one of the biggest keys to the success of Kansas State this season. With the rash of injuries and moves to bolster the depth, it is only natural that the line show growing pains and their inexperience. There is talent, but it is young and untested to date. Jeromey Clary is the sole returning starter and is also a senior this year and fair or unfairly- the ability for this line to come together will rest as his responsibility. Given his ability to excel on both the field and in the classroom- who else would you want in charge of whipping the troops together?