SE: Tanking Works from Walk-On to Special Teams Standout

Trent Tanking had no idea at the time. 

On a frigid November night in Manhattan in 2006, he was among the thousands of K-State fans to rush the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium after the Wildcats upended No. 4 Texas, 45-42. 

This was before Tanking was even in middle school, so any inclination of playing for the Wildcats was non-existent. Soon enough, the dream would take hold. Down the road, it became a reality. 

“The stars aligned for me to be able to come here,” said Tanking, as K-State hosts Texas Saturday at 11 a.m., in a game shown nationally on ESPN2. “I’m so grateful and so blessed to be able to play against Texas after watching them play K-State when I was younger.” 

Tanking grew into an all-state linebacker for Holton, where he helped lead his team to a 4A state title in 2012 and was named the Kansas 4A Defensive Player of the Year. 

The 6-foot-2 high school star received scholarship offers to play football, just not at the Division I level. Tanking looked into a few Division II schools, but a visit to Manhattan cemented his decision. He was going to walk on at K-State.  

“When they asked me to walk on,” Tanking recalled, “I told my dad, ‘This is where I want to be. This is there I want to contribute. This is where I want to play.’”

Those were more than words for Tanking. It was more like a mission statement. He wanted to work his way onto the field, earn a scholarship and continue K-State’s tradition of successful walk-ons. 

“It was definitely an attractive place to come if I was going to walk on anywhere,” he said, citing former walk-ons like Jordy Nelson and Jonathan Truman as inspirations. “Being a walk-on, you definitely have a chip on your shoulder coming in because no one expects you to do anything. It’s up to you to prove everybody wrong, that you’re worthy of a scholarship.”

During his redshirt freshman season, Tanking proved worthy of getting a chance on special teams. Specifically, he played on K-State’s kickoff unit. He appeared in all 13 games, making seven of his nine tackles on kickoffs to rank fifth on the team for special teams tackles. 

The next season, Tanking was on scholarship. 

“It was amazing because you work so hard for it. All these guys who are walk-ons now, I have the utmost respect for because I know what they go through,” Tanking said. “When (linebackers coach Mike Cox) called me into the office and said I was going to be put on scholarship, it was just the greatest feeling. I couldn’t wait to call my parents and tell them that I did it.”

Tanking maintained his role as a special teams asset in his sophomore season, again making seven special teams tackles. This season has been more of the same, with the junior leading K-State in special teams tackles with eight, including a crushing hit on the opening kick of the Texas Tech game. 

“I love it a lot because it’s my way to contribute to the team,” he said. “All of those offensive and defensive guys do their thing to contribute and help us win. Anything I can do to help, which has been special teams during my tenure here, I just love being out on the field.”

For Tanking, now on K-State’s kickoff, kickoff return and punt teams, accepting his role on special teams has never been difficult.

“I grew up a K-State fan and I wanted to do anything I could to help us win. When they asked me to play on kickoff my freshman year, all I wanted to do was get on the field,” he said. “That passion hasn’t changed. I just love playing. I’ll do whatever it is they ask me to do. If eventually it is to play linebacker, I’ll do that at 100 percent but right now, playing special teams, I’ll do that with all my heart too.”

With experience, Tanking said he has grown into a smarter special teams player. He watches film differently, dissecting possible weaknesses of opponents. He even takes in football games differently on TV. 

“Being a part of my trade, I always pay attention to guys that are running out on kickoff or kickoff return,” he said. “If I’m watching a game and someone makes a great play, I always rewind and see what they did to see if I can learn from them.”

In his current role, Tanking knows his tackle numbers will never stand out. He’s aware his name will likely be left out when mentioning K-State’s renowned return game — ranked seventh in the nation in kickoff return average and 19th in punt return average. 

To him, the recognition does not matter. He takes pride in being part of it and knows it takes more than talented returners to produce those numbers. 

“A kick return is such a long play. To be able to take it back to the house means 11 guys are doing their job,” Tanking said, referring specifically to Byron Pringle’s 99-yard kickoff return against Texas Tech. “We take just as much enjoyment as he does in getting a long return.” 

To continue a four-game home winning streak against the Longhorns that dates back to 2002, Tanking said K-State would need to play well in all three phases of the game. The Wildcats, he added, also need to feed off the home crowd that he was part of when the streak began in 2006. 

“It’s largely due to the fans,” he said of K-State’s 6-1 record against the Longhorns in Manhattan. “The teams that have been able to prepare and get victories here against Texas have been great teams, but when you’re playing behind fans who are going crazy, even at 11 in the morning when normally they probably wouldn’t want to be up and they’re going nuts, it’s really easy to get motivated and ready to go when they’re all in the stands.”