MANHATTAN, Kan. — Travis Britz is about to enter new territory.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
On Friday, Britz, a sophomore defensive tackle, will start his first college game. It’s a moment he has been looking forward to since he signed with Kansas State as a high school senior out of Harrisonville.
He doesn’t know what to expect, but he is sure of one thing: He won’t let nerves get the best of him.
“Last year at this time I was nervous,” Britz said Tuesday at K-State’s weekly news conference. “I was a couple days away from my first college game. It was my first time in front of 50,000 people. I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t think the game was going to be as fast as it was. Now that I have played the game more and learned my position, everything has really slowed down.”
Not surprisingly, he has improved. So much so, that many consider Britz to be the new face of K-State’s defensive line. So what if he is 19 years old and has only played in 11 games? He has taken advantage of his playing time to become one of the most mature underclassmen on the team.
Britz will take the field with three other defensive linemen who are trying to fill a large void. The Wildcats lost all four starters off their defensive line last season. Their replacements — Ryan Mueller, Chaquil Reed, Marquel Bryant and Britz — are all former backups.
Good thing Britz talks like a veteran and has advice for his teammates.
“Clear your mind,” Britz said. “That’s really all you can do. You don’t have to worry about the 50,000 fans. They are behind you and supporting you. You just have to execute your job and know what you are doing.”
Those words come from his on-field experience. Even though Britz has never started, he has played meaningful snaps. Last year, he made six tackles in 11 games and forced a fumble while bringing down former Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle.
That was his favorite play from last season. But his favorite memory is wider ranging.
“It was just being out there,” Britz said. “I never thought I would be playing as a true freshman. Just thinking back to watching the Rose Bowl when I was 10 years old, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, those guys look so old.’ To be out there was crazy and just a dream come true.”
Britz thinks he is fully adjusted to the college game now. He says he can consistently stop the run, and the defensive line has come together as a group. They want to prove they are every bit as good as their predecessors.
That much seems unlikely, at least right away. But they will enter the season opener against North Dakota State battle-tested. Practicing against an offensive line that returns six starters from last season isn’t easy.
“It was so much help knowing these guys are a pretty good offensive line, maybe the best in the Big 12,” Britz said. “When you defeat a block against them, you know you are beating a quality block. It was back and forth. That’s how it should go as a team.”
Junior center B.J. Finney has been impressed by the unit’s progression and Britz’s maturity.
“Travis has worked extremely hard,” Finney said. “He is a lot bigger and a lot more physical guy. He has stepped up into a leadership role. He has got that D-line going. Guys are working. Guys understand what is expected of them. Travis has helped them and has them going in the right direction.”
Echoed fullback Glenn Gronkowski: “Watching him out there, he is a big dude. I know it’s tough for some of our linemen to block him. I’m expecting big things out of him.”
Britz’s time is coming.
“I knew I needed to be a leader for these guys, because I have been pretty experienced from last year,” Britz said. “I needed to show these guys this isn’t high school any more. This is a higher level. You really need to work hard to be successful. They have all responded. I see flashes of guys who really want to work hard and improve every day.”