SE: Barnes, K-State OL Continuing to Make Strides

Outside of the program, K-State redshirt freshman running back Alex Barnes and the majority of the Wildcats’ offensive linemen entered this season as unknowns, mostly because of a general lack of experience. 

After nine games, it’s safe to say opponents are becoming more and more familiar with Barnes and the Wildcats blocking in front of him. 

K-State has eclipsed 200 yards rushing in its last three games. It is the first time K-State has accomplished that feat against Big 12 foes since 2003 when the Wildcats did so in six-straight games. 

“It’s the continued improvement of our offensive line,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said of the emergence of the Wildcats’ run attack. “They were all new (before the season), with the exception of Dalton (Risner), who moved to a different position. I imagine I indicated that they would get better over a period of time, considering their commitment to it, and they have remained committed to it. I think they’ve gotten better every week and that has so much to do with it.”

In its most recent performance, K-State amassed 345 yards on the ground against Oklahoma State to further a trend the Wildcats, on a bye week, hope to continue when they travel to face Baylor on November 19. 

“It feels really good,” Barnes said of the Wildcats’ running success. “That’s something that we set out to do at the beginning of the season and it’s the goal that we’re accomplishing.”

With 72 yards on eight carries against the Cowboys, Barnes not only helped give K-State three rushers with at least 70 yards in a game for the first time since 2013 against UMass, he also boosted his already high yards-per-carry average to 7.8 to lead his team.

What makes Barnes so effective? 

“The fact that he runs hard,” K-State tight end Dayton Valentine said. “Blocking for a guy, all you ask for is for him to run hard and that guy really lowers his pads. If it’s a play where some guy would get one yard, he may be able to get three or four, just from sticking his nose in there and really running hard.”

“He really is playing well. I like the way he plays, I like the way he practices, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him,” Snyder added. “He’s got very good size and has some strength to him in regards to explosiveness. Yet at the same time he has good vision, can redirect himself and change directions better than you would think somebody that has a little size to them could do. He’s still learning and he’s still finding his way. He’s made a lot of progress and I think he’s going to be a fine player.”

Snyder praised his offensive line similarly. 

“It’s as you would expect,” he said of the group’s progress. “If you do the same things over and over and over and over again, and you are truly committed to doing it the best you can, then good things are going to happen. I think that’s what has taken place.”

Coming into this season, K-State’s front five returned one starter in sophomore Dalton Risner, who was moved in fall camp from center to right tackle in an effort, Snyder has said, to put the five best linemen on the field. Now, the group of Scott Frantz (freshman left tackle), Abdul Beecham (sophomore left guard), Reid Najvar (junior center), Terrale Johnson (senior right guard) and Risner has established a cohesiveness within itself that has allowed K-State’s running game to take off. 

“I knew that they were going to be able to do that,” Barnes said. “I’ve seen those guys working, busting their tails every day and I knew they were going to get the job done.”

Barnes landed on the other side of the coin to start this season, with plenty of experience returning at running back. After redshirting, the Pittsburg High School product entered a running back battle with three teammates who held various amount of experience at K-State, highlighted by senior Charles Jones. 

Like K-State’s offensive line, Barnes has made strides each week and taken advantage of the opportunities given to him. 

“I feel like it’s starting to get easier for me. Getting game reps really slows the game down and I’m starting to see what opponents are doing,” he said Saturday after his second 70-plus yard performance of the season. “It’s just slowing down the game for me.”

Barnes, with 210 yards on 27 carries this year, has displayed the ability to run between the tackles or use his speed to take the play to the perimeter if needed. He’ll lower his pads to grind out yardage or sidestep a defender in open space. For him, he has no preference of running style. He only wants to get the most out of every carry.  

“I want to be more of a well-rounded running back rather than somebody who just sticks their nose in and gets five yards every time,” he said. “I want to be as complete of a player as I can, just like everybody else on this team. I just try to get as many yards as I possibly can on each carry.”

Personally, Barnes said his progress has been “astronomical” since his first day on campus two years ago, when his fundamentals, technique and diversity as a back needed plenty of work. 

Now, as K-State’s only running back without a carry for a loss, he’s comfortable with what his position and his responsibilities. Having a continuously improving offensive line helps too. 

“Every time I’ve been in there the O-line has given me a hole to run through,” he said. “It’s just about me finding it and trying to get through it as well as I can.”