This is a story about choices. To understand them, you must put yourself in Blake Seiler’s shoes.
Here we go: You are a freshman wrestler at Oklahoma State. You are a scholarship athlete, and you just helped your team win a national championship. But wrestling isn't what you grew up dreaming about.
Do you stay?
Before you answer, consider another scenario: You are a structural engineer for Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita. You have a steady job with a lucrative salary and perks. But, again, part of you feels like you were meant to do something else.
Seiler grappled with those questions many years ago, not knowing where life would take him if he ventured off the safe path. Ultimately, he followed his dreams. His passion for Kansas State football was too strong to ignore.
First, he left Oklahoma State and joined the K-State football team as a walk-on defensive end. He earned a scholarship and became a captain in 2006. Next, three years after playing his final game for the Wildcats, he left an engineering job to join Bill Snyder’s staff as a lowly paid quality-control coach.
Seiler didn’t begin college at K-State. He didn’t play football as a freshman. He didn’t intend to coach. Still, it worked out. This is where he always wanted to be. Today, he is K-State’s defensive coordinator. And he’s only 34.
“It’s crazy just the amount of paths he could have taken,” former K-State linebacker Trent Tanking said. “He will be really successful at this, but he could have been successful at so many other things. It’s incredible. You hear people say they bleed purple. Well, I think Blake really does bleed purple. He is going to be coaching in Manhattan for a long time.”
The full package
Alan Schuckman calls back quickly when he hears you want to talk about Seiler.
The retired Bishop Carroll football coach ranks Seiler among his best high school players and says he tops the list when it comes to work ethic.
“Blake had the full package,” Schuckman said. “He was your smartest player, he was your hardest-working player and just a great leader. He took care of business on and off the field like no one else.”
There is a story Schuckman likes to tell about Seiler that illustrates that point.
One summer morning before Seiler's sophomore year at Bishop Carroll, the team had just finished a morning practice when player and coach struck up a conversation. They were scheduled to practice again that evening as part of a grueling two-a-day routine. So Schuckman asked Seiler what he assumed to be a rhetorical question.
Are you going home to rest?
Most players would smile and nod. Not Seiler.
“When he wasn’t at football practice, he was working for his dad on the family farm in Goddard,” Schuckman said. “I asked if he was going to take a nap. He said, ‘No chance. I’m going to do chores.’ His work ethic was impressive, and that carried over into every aspect of his life.”
That hasn’t changed. K-State players say Seiler strives to be the best father and husband he can be when he’s not on the football field. He always makes time for church and family breakfast every Sunday morning.
“He’s the perfect role model,” former K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller said. “If you can leave K-State being half the person Blake Seiler is, you are doing amazing.”
Seiler's biggest motivation in high school: the thought of wearing purple and making tackles at Snyder Family Stadium. The pursuit of that dream made Seiler a better athlete and a better student.
So how did he end up wrestling at Oklahoma State?
Seiler’s journey to Stillwater began with a broken leg. He was able to impress college football coaches and got recruiting attention as a high school junior, but that interest faded the following year when he injured his leg.
In a display of toughness, Seiler played hurt with a cast. But he could go only half-speed. He wanted to play for K-State. But the Wildcats never offered a scholarship.
So Seiler turned his focus to wrestling. And, after his leg healed, he became a pinning machine. Seiler won enough matches to win a Kansas 5A championship and receive a scholarship from powerhouse Oklahoma State. It was an opportunity that seemed too good to pass up.
Until it wasn’t.
Though he seemed on track to be a great college wrestler when he helped Oklahoma State win the first of four consecutive national championships, K-State never left his mind. He watched the Wildcats play football every Saturday and felt like he belonged in Manhattan when they capped an 11-2 season with a 34-27 victory over Arizona State in the 2002 Holiday Bowl.
So much so that he decided to transfer there. When his freshman year ended, he met Schuckman and asked for advice. Was he making the right decision? They talked for a long while that afternoon. Staying at Oklahoma State seemed like the wise choice, but it wasn't his dream.
“He has always been a K-State guy,” Schuckman said. “It’s always been in his blood. Even when he was at Oklahoma State and with Cessna, he was a K-State guy. I just told him to do what he had to do.”
The following year, he played a small role in K-State's journey to the 2003 Big 12 championship.
History repeated itself years later when Seiler left his lucrative day job to enter the coaching business. He was leaving a good gig to start at the bottom of Snyder’s coaching staff with no guarantee he would ever work his way up. The journey to defensive coordinator was not easy. It seems like Seiler has worked every job possible: quality-control coach, graduate assistant, defensive ends coach, linebackers coach.
Through it all, he has been one of K-State’s hardest-working coaches and top recruiters. Many of his players have excelled. Jordan Willis is now in the NFL.
“Clearly, he made the right decisions,” Schuckman said. “It’s kind of a fairy-tale story with how everything fell into place.”
Brains and brawn
Ryan Mueller has a joke he likes to tell about Seiler.
The former K-State defensive end tied the school’s single-season sacks record while playing under Seiler in 2013 and went on to play professionally, but he says he was never the best pass rusher in Manhattan. That title went to Seiler.
“Blake is still probably the best-looking defensive end we’ve got,” Mueller said. “Blake is solid muscle, the biggest guy in the room. We always joked that he should be our starting defensive end instead of our coach. His size and stature are incredible. He could still play on Saturdays.”
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds as a college senior, Seiler appears to have an equally strong frame today.
Coaching hasn’t slowed him down. Former players say he hits the weight room over lunch and gets on the treadmill when he can. Staying in shape has its benefits. Whenever Seiler needs to teach a new tackle or pass-rush technique, he lines up in a three-point stance.
Trent Tanking will never forget the time he volunteered to help Seiler teach a new rugby-style tackle.
“He was trying to show us how to get our hips involved and pull. It’s really common with wrestlers,” Tanking said. “He demonstrated it with me on a pad, and I can tell you I don’t think I ever want to be tackled by him again. I felt it for a few days.”
Seiler has the experience, the work ethic and the physique to coach multiple positions, but his intelligence is what makes Snyder view Seiler as a potential star coordinator.
When he draws up plays, he sees more than X's and O's. He approaches game plans the same way he used to approach engineering assignments.
“Coach Seiler is a genius,” K-State sophomore defensive back Brock Monty said. “He just knows where everything is supposed to be, and he is very intense about it. He has a great football mind. That’s the type of guy you want in your corner.”
Snyder had many options when Tom Hayes abruptly retired as defensive coordinator, but he promoted Seiler into the position after a few days of thought.
“He is a very bright individual,” Snyder said, “but he has got so many other traits that go along with it. Football IQ goes a long ways, but if you don’t have some of the other values, that can go for naught."
Changing of the guard
Tanking smiled when he heard Seiler was taking over as defensive coordinator. So did Mueller and other former players.
They are excited to see where he takes the defense.
For years, K-State has been known for playing bend-don’t-break defense, a less-than-flattering description of a unit that regularly stopped the run and limited big plays but yielded huge yardage and struggled against the pass. A year ago, the Wildcats ranked 18th nationally against the run (121.8 yards per game) and 129th against the pass (310.3 passing yards per game), good for 98th nationally (432.1 yards per game) overall.
Fans griped about soft coverage, defensive backs lining up 10 yards off receivers and a third-down formation that featured four pass-rushers.
Snyder does not allow K-State assistants to speak with media (an interview request with Seiler went unreturned for this story), and Seiler has never called plays before. So his vision for the defense remains unknown. But there is a belief he will shake things up.
“He will throw in some new wrinkles to the defense that will make everybody turn their head,” Tanking said. “I am looking forward to what changes he makes. I think you will find the K-State defense to be a little less predictable. I think a lot of tendencies we have had in the past will probably get broken.
“I think there will definitely be a lot of different stuff on first down. Nothing against Coach Hayes, but I think he had gotten into a bit of a routine and teams knew what to expect on first-and-10. We mainly ran a Cover 4 and that put us in a tough spot when teams would get seven yards on every first down. With how smart Blake is, he will throw in some stunts and run defense that will be a little different and better, instead of just falling back into a base defense.”
Several players have used the word “aggressive” to describe Seiler’s scheme.
They already have confidence in the rookie.
“Blake is the perfect blend of play-caller,” Mueller said. “He is going to be aggressive when he needs to be. He is going to be cautious when he needs to be. He is a perfectionist and a student of the game. You can tell he will be a head coach someday. The defense is in good hands.”
The right choice
It’s fascinating to ponder where else Seiler could be at this moment.
How different might his life have turned out had he kept wrestling at Oklahoma State? What about if he had stayed in the engineering business? What if he didn’t bleed purple?
They are reasonable questions to ask, but those who know Seiler best say they never cross his mind. Why would they?
The life he chose matches his dream.