Odds are against former Bluejay
And he’s OK with that
It’s hard enough for a recruited player to make the Kansas State University football team. Goessel High School graduate Weston Hiebert, a walk-on, is determined to make the team despite the odds stacked against him.
“I have to think I’m going to make it to perform my best,” Hiebert said. “I have to have the mindset that I’m going to do it.”
Football has been Hiebert’s life since he moved into the dorms in Manhattan June 21. He wakes up early in the morning to lift weights. He then goes out onto the football field for drills and conditioning exercises. After that, he goes to classes so he can knock out his prerequisites before the season begins.
Then it’s back to the football field for position-specific drills and scrimmages in the afternoon. Hiebert has nights to rest and prepare himself to start the process over next morning.
“There is nothing comparable to what they’re doing,” Goessel Head Football Coach Justin Coup said. “It goes from seven in the morning to seven in the evening.”
Not that it phases Hiebert.
“He says it’s fun,” Coup said of Hiebert. “It’s nothing but football. To him, there’s nothing better than that.”
Five days a week Hiebert battles with highly recruited players from big schools and the other walk-ons.
“There are so many walk-ons,” Hiebert said. “I’m fighting to not get cut.”
Hiebert won’t be the first one cut. Some players have already been brought to the chopping block. The team will be cut to its final roster in a couple of weeks. Every day Hiebert battles in drills to prove he is as fast as the other recruits; he battles in the weight room to prove he’s just as strong.
“Everybody is doing the best they can to look good,” Hiebert said.
Every mistake is magnified. Hiebert said that he has made mistakes learning the Wildcats elaborate coverages, but he uses the pressure to make sure he gets it right.
“When you make a mistake, you’re definitely going to think about it,” he said. “(A) weight is definitely on you.”
It didn’t help that Hiebert had missed some practices in Manhattan. He started a week late because he played in an eight-man all-star game in Beloit. Then again, Hiebert has to adjust to many changes. The differences between playing eight-man and playing at Kansas State are startling.
First, the Kansas State football team, with its current roster, is larger than Goessel High School.
Second, Hiebert is switching positions. He played linebacker at GHS; he’s playing strong safety for Kansas State. Coup thinks that Justin could eventually fill a role in KSU coverages against teams that run a spread offense. He said that KSU often uses multiple strong safeties to keep the defense from being dangerously vulnerable to a run.
Third, part of switching to safety is that Hiebert has to learn KSU’s coverage schemes. While GHS played more zone than most other eight-man teams, learning the defense will be Hiebert’s biggest adjustment.
“I’m more involved in the defense,” Hiebert said. “It’s more than just line up and play, which is what it can be sometimes at eight-man.”
While the challenges for Hiebert are daunting, there are plenty of reasons Hiebert could make the Wildcat team.
Coup said that Hiebert’s biggest strength as a football player is his fundamental ability to tackle.
“When you watch him on film, it’s obvious he has a nose for the ball,” Coup said.
Hiebert looked strong on film regardless of opposing teams planning to contain the GHS linebacker. That’s where Coup said Hiebert’s active motor is in play. Coup described Hiebert as a player, much like many great defensive players, who never gives up on a play.
“He has that motor that some people don’t have anymore,” Coup said.
Not that Hiebert isn’t athletic. He played four years in high school on a good Bluejays team.
“His freshman year, we had 36 guys out for an eight-man school,” Coup said. “Weston was somebody that was hard to keep off the field.”
Coup could think of two especially memorable moments from Hiebert’s sophomore and senior years at GHS.
In a game during Hiebert’s sophomore year, the GHS linebacker could not resist crushing wide receivers as they ventured over the middle of the field during a lopsided Goessel victory.
“They kept throwing slants and he kept hitting guys over the middle,” Coup said. “It just got everybody going.”
Hiebert’s love of the big hit is akin to that of many strong tackling safeties.
“That’s an enjoyable thing to do,” Hiebert said. “It’s definitely the best feeling I can have when I’m playing.”
However, Hiebert’s most athletic play came his senior year in a regional game against Madison. Hiebert dropped back into zone coverage as the Madison quarterback was unleashing a pass. Reading the play perfectly, Hiebert jumped into the air and made a one-handed interception at the apex of his leap.
Coup also thinks that Hiebert could continue to grow. Hiebert played three sports in high school — football, basketball, and track — and thus couldn’t train year-round for any one of them. At Kansas State, Hiebert will train for football nonstop.
“He can easily put on 20 more pounds,” Coup said.
Hiebert is 6-foot-2 and played football at Goessel at around 200 pounds. Right now, Hiebert said he is at 190 after track season.
“I definitely need to put on more muscle,” Hiebert said.
Hiebert said that 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, is good size for a safety. Coup said that Hiebert can run a 40-yard dash in the 4.6 to 4.7 seconds range, which he believes is fast enough for the position.
Despite all of his talents, Hiebert has no illusions. Coup said Hiebert realizes that his shining moments may come seldom on special teams late in his college career.
“Wherever they stick me, I’ll be happy to play,” Hiebert said.
Hiebert’s willingness to play wherever he is needed is his advantage over other players.
“He sees it as an opportunity that most people don’t have,” Coup said. “This is a challenge to himself to see if he can do it.”
Hiebert’s journey to KSU is really a journey of modesty. While he believes he can make the team, he doesn’t believe he’ll be a star. If Hiebert wanted to be a star he had offers from smaller colleges one of them Bethel College, the same place his brother went to school.
“At a smaller school it would definitely be easier to get playing time,” he said.
For Hiebert, its more about being a part of something great.
“Just the opportunity to play at this level and the experience and being part of the team is great,” Hiebert said.
Hiebert is the kind of player coaches look for to fill out a roster. According to Coup, Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder told him that Kansas State University needed somebody like Hiebert who doesn’t care about being a star.
Last modified July 7, 2010