Blue Valley Southwest senior linebacker Nick Allen was getting his hair cut last month when his phone buzzed with a text message.
It was good news, the kind he’d hope for since the idea of playing football in college became a reality. Kansas State was offering Allen a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on — and there was no way he’d shun it.
“It’s been my dream,” said Allen, a Buck Buchanan Award finalist. “I grew up in Kansas my whole life, and I always loved K-State and the color purple.”
Allen was a standout defender in the Eastern Kansas League. He averaged 17 tackles per game. He was the league defensive player of the year. He earned all-state honors and was a first-team All-Metro selection for The Star.
He had opportunities to go the junior-college route on a scholarship, or he could have walked on at Oklahoma State. But the Wildcats gave him one thing other programs couldn’t match: a clear picture of the future.
Kansas State has built a sterling reputation among local football players over the years. So much so that at least six members of the class of 2018 from the Kansas City area decided to forego upfront scholarships for a chance to earn one at K-State.
“I just told myself if I were to get a scholarship to anywhere that I would consider it until I got a scholarship or PWO from K-State,” Allen said.
Of course, playing for a perennially successful program that has appeared in a bowl game for eight consecutive seasons may have something to do with decisions like Allen’s. K-State coach Bill Snyder has led the program to a 74-42 record since coming out of retirement in 2009, and he’s seen his team ranked as high as No. 2 in The Associated Press poll during the 2012 season.
“You’re gonna go, get a fair shake as a walk-on — and sometimes a walk-on there might hold more credence than perhaps earning a scholarship at other schools,” Park Hill football coach Joshua Hood said.
But perhaps the foremost thing that’s given K-State’s staff an advantage is the stability it boasts, which has helped the Wildcats to build trust with athletes.
“K-State has a tremendous program with Coach Snyder,” said Bishop Miege defensive back Cameron Key, who could also have walked on at TCU or Duke. “What they have going there is really special. Hopefully I can come up there and help them out.”
The thing is, Kansas State has made it possible for players like Key, who will also be on K-State’s track team, to do just that. Like any program, walk-on players are every bit a part of the football team as those on scholarship. They have access to the same facilities and support system.
But K-State has been consistent with their walk-ons as far as offering funding goes. The Wildcats typically carry 30 walk-ons on their active roster, and they often move a handful of players up to scholarship every year. On Wednesday, they announced that walk-ons Blaise Gammon and Colby Moore received scholarships.
The chances of attaining a scholarship are high enough to encourage players like De Soto offensive lineman Marshall Kellner, who was a Bobby Bell Award finalist and an All-Metro selection, to walk on with Kansas State instead of continuing a career at William Jewell or Central Missouri.
“You won’t even know the difference between who’s on scholarship or who’s a walk-on player at K-State,” Kellner told The Star in January. “The walk-on tradition there is so great. You have a great chance of earning a scholarship there and playing eventually. It looks really promising.”
Even Park Hill long snapper Randen Plattner, whose family is full of University of Missouri graduates, figured K-State offered him a better idea of the future than the other programs he considered.
“Another thing with that is you have to think about the playing time going forward,” Plattner said.“Playing is the goal but if I end up with a redshirt year, I would not be disappointed.
“Being able to say I’ve been coached by Bill Snyder is an honor. I’m very excited to have that.”
St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adam Davis, St. James Academy’s Mason Dunsmore and Lee’s Summit West’s Phillip Brooks are among the others from the Kansas City area who will join Kansas State as walk-ons.
They’ll all strive for a chance to become the next walk-on player to become a star.
“They’re true to their word as far as their program goes,” Hood said. “The kids feel like it’s a safe bet when they go there and they feel like they’ll get a good opportunity with that staff. That’s such a likable staff, and it makes kids want to take a shot there.”
The Star’s Kellis Robinett contributed to this report.