The weight room inside Kansas State’s football complex is a chaotic place. Fill it with competitive personalities, constantly pushing one another, and you will find an atmosphere that rivals a Saturday afternoon game.
Yet, there are also times when the weight room falls still and quiet, such as when Jonathan Truman lifts an iron bar loaded with 415 pounds to his hips and thrusts it above his shoulders. Stunned teammates regularly stop and marvel at his hang-clean form. Some pull out their cell phones and take pictures.
“He is not just among the best on the team in the weight room, he is the best on the team in the weight room,” K-State linebacker Will Davis said of Truman. “He is a beast. He is a freak of nature.”
There are countless ways to explain how Truman has grown at K-State, going from unheralded walk-on to standout linebacker since graduating from Wichita Kapaun Mount Carmel five years ago, but this is the best place to start.
The Kechi, Kan., native came to K-State without a single scholarship offer above the Division II level. He was best known as a state-champion wrestler, enrolling at K-State because he saw a future in football. In time, he hoped to work his way into a scholarship and the starting lineup. But it was a long, difficult journey. As a freshman, he remembers being “humbled daily” by older, more experienced teammates in the weight room. He could barely hang clean 200 pounds.
Truman chuckles as he recalls his beginnings, mostly because it illuminates his improvement. He is now more than twice as strong as he was then. That progress carried over to the football field, where he has also blossomed into a driving force on defense. He leads the Wildcats with 43 tackles, playing so well in a recent game against Texas-El Paso that coach Bill Snyder, often a pessimistic evaluator, described Truman’s 12-tackle day as “perfect.”
That Truman played so well after opening the season with a pair of average, at best, showings left Snyder in a complimentary mood.
“He is a very conscientious young man and one of the issues that he had previously was his pursuit angles and how it impacted his tackling,” Snyder said. “He was overrunning some tackles and he made a conscientious effort during the week to repair that and he did a tremendous job.”
“He is always going to go hard. You know that. He is always going to play hard and play smart. Sometimes he was just overrunning ball carriers laterally. He made all of those tackles, took the right angles and fundamentally did a nice job of tackling that was a big improvement.”
Truman’s teammates also praise him.
“He has really stepped up his game and become a complete leader,” defensive tackle Travis Britz said. “He knows exactly what he is doing. Whenever we have questions as a defensive line, we go ask him and he helps with both alignment and execution. He is really helping bring this defense together.”
It is difficult for Truman to comprehend that anyone views him as a leader. Sure, he has tried to set an example and rally his teammates with speeches since he was voted captain in the spring. But this is new territory for him. His favorite activity outside of football is fishing, a hobby he often enjoys alone as a way to “relax and get away.”
His goals were different as an underclassman. Back then, all he really wanted was to earn a scholarship. As the youngest of four children, Truman watched his parents put his two sisters through college and help his brother earn a track scholarship at Wichita State. He was thankful they were willing to pay for him to attend college, too, but he wanted nothing more than to remove that financial burden.
“That was a huge motivation for me,” Truman said. “When I wasn’t on scholarship, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘My parents are paying for me to be here. I can’t give up. I can’t quit.’ I am doing it for them, also myself and my team, but at the same time with everything my parents have done for me, I just couldn’t let them down.”
He hasn’t. Truman earned a scholarship after two years, crediting his mind-set for that success. He vowed to listen to his coaches, and to do exactly as they instructed in every area. Whether it was in the weight room or on the field or the classroom, he tried to perfect his technique. He may not have been great when he started, but that dedication helped him radically improve.
His wrestling background helped.
“The biggest thing that translates from wrestling to football is mental toughness,” Truman said. “Wrestling is a pretty grueling sport and you have to just out-tough people sometimes. That correlates to the football field. Then there are the physical attributes, like balance and reflexes and getting someone on the ground when you have to.”
K-State will be relying on Truman to do exactly that more than ever the rest of the season. Though the Wildcats have excelled on defense, allowing 315 yards and 21 points per game, injuries are beginning to mount and a difficult string of games looms starting at No. 11 Oklahoma on Saturday. He may need to boost his tackling numbers even higher.
The task is difficult, but it’s no harder than earning a scholarship or lifting 415 pounds above your shoulders.
“I have a sense of pride that all my hard work, dedication and values have paid off, but I still have a lot of work to do the rest of the season,” Truman said. “I don’t want to put any kind of limit on this team. I’m going to keep working and doing everything I can to help this team be the best team it can be.”