By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
“The center of it all.” It’s fun being in the middle of things, but in football, playing the position of center doesn’t necessarily mean you are the center of attention. In fact, when things are going well, the center usually doesn’t get much recognition. Today we’ll learn about a young man who came from rural Kansas and became a center on a nationally-recognized football team.
B.J. Finney is the starting center on the Kansas State University football team. He is one of those typical Bill Snyder success stories: A small-town Kansas kid who flew under the radar, didn’t get many accolades from the recruiting gurus, and is now making his mark on the national scene. (For more examples of this formula, see NFL stars Terence Newman, Jon McGraw, and Super Bowl Champion Jordy Nelson.)
B.J. Finney grew up at Andale in south central Kansas outside of Wichita. He was an outstanding athlete in high school, and not only in football. In fact, it was in wrestling that he won the state championship as a senior. As an offensive lineman in football, he lettered three seasons and was named the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail Offensive Most Valuable Player in 2009.
But when it came to moving up to the next level, he suffered the fate of too many small town Kansas players, in my opinion: Benign ignorance by the national media. Nobody paid much attention to the big kid from Andale. He received two stars out of five from Rivals.com and had mild interest from several smaller schools and community colleges.
According to a report from the Big 12 Conference, B.J. had only one scholarship offer and that was from out of state.
“I had an offer from Ohio University and that was kind of a crazy situation,” B.J. said. “I told them that I wanted to check out their campus before I made a commitment. But I got a call that Wednesday saying that they had run out of scholarships before I left on Friday.”
So B.J. was left high and dry. But then he had a visit from K-State defensive end coach Joe Bob Clements, himself a former walk-on from rural Kansas. In the end, B.J. chose to walk on at Kansas State, meaning that he received no scholarship and had to pay his own way.
But B.J. seized that opportunity with a passion, just like he grabs the football while preparing to snap it. He redshirted his first year and earned the team’s Red Raider Award for being the top contributor on the scout team in 2010. Then he earned a scholarship offer and a starting position, starting at center for the last 12 games of the 2011 season.
When the season was over, he was named a First Team Freshman All-Big 12 performer and First Team Freshman All-American by Rivals.com.
Still, it is the nature of offensive linemen that they tend to labor in obscurity, while quarterbacks, running backs and receivers get the glory. But K-State quarterback Collin Klein has great appreciation for his center. In fact, the two were roommates until Klein got married last summer. B.J. even served as a groomsman in Klein’s wedding.
On the field, it is Finney who anchors the center of the K-State offensive line. The big lineman is 6’ 4” and 303 pounds. He was voted a team co-captain by his teammates for 2012, making him the youngest offensive player to hold the title in the Bill Snyder era at K-State. He is now an All-Big 12 candidate and on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s most outstanding center.
Not bad for a former walk-on from the rural community of Andale, population 982 people. Now, that’s rural.
“The center of it all.” Yes, the center on a football team may be in the middle of things, but he’s not usually the center of attention. That’s just fine with B.J. Finney, who is making a difference with his rural values of hard work, commitment to team values, and unselfishness. I think his attitude is very well-centered.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are also available. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development.