'He's just been consistent': Inside Wayne Jones' ascent to starting linebacker role for Kansas State football
MANHATTAN — Wayne Jones' Kansas State football career has been all about transition and adaptability.
Two years ago, as a redshirt freshman, he started every game at safety, and last season he made one start at safety and another at nickelback as the Wildcats' defensive coaches searched for the perfect spot to suit his talents.
So as they made a move during the winter and spring to a 3-3-5 defensive alignment, Jones again found himself on the move. His new position: strong-side linebacker.
Jones and senior Ryan Henington made the switch from safety together, though Henington has started all four games in which K-State opened with three linebackers.
Now it appears to be Jones' turn. For the first time this season, Jones has moved ahead of Henington on the two-deep heading into Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game against Iowa State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Not that Jones was particularly impressed by the news.
"I didn't even know that was true," he said Tuesday, when asked about the starting role. "Honestly, it doesn't mean much to me, because each day at practice you've still got to earn it, even on Saturday."
Then he chuckled: "I didn't even know that."
Through the first four games, Jones recorded a total of four tackles, though he did not play against Nevada. Then in the Wildcats' 37-31 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 2, he doubled that with four stops, including one for a loss.
But more importantly, K-State coach Chris Klieman said, Jones is settling into his new role.
"He's just been consistent," Klieman said. "Wayne's been a starter here. Wayne's a good football player and they're both (he and Henington) going to play.
"Whether you have one or the other, they're both going to play — both he and Henny are going to see time there. Reggie (Stubblefield) is going to see time there, just based on the personnel."
Stubblefield, a senior transfer from Prairie View A&M, has played both safety and nickel.
Jones said the transition from the secondary to linebacker has been relatively smooth, though it is far from complete.
"I would say it's kind of similar and I'm still learning and settling in," he said. "But I think the more reps I get at it, the more game reps I get at it, the more comfortable I'll be.
"I feel confident where I am at the Sam linebacker position. I think the reps (and) building that confidence are the most important."
While they are competing for playing time, Jones said he and Henington have built a good working relationship as they navigate the position change together.
"Communicating on and off the field, whether that be when he's in and I see something that's going on, he'll come off the field and we'll talk about it," Jones said. "Or if I'm in, when I come off the field we'll discuss what I did wrong, or even if I did something good. That constant communication between us at practice and even in the game has helped both of us get better at the Sam linebacker position."
And for one week at least, Jones has moved into a likely starting role.
"I won't get caught up a whole lot in starters," Klieman said. "I know kids do and I know it's important, but it's what you do and how much you can contribute on Saturdays.
"But Wayne's a good football player and he's earned an opportunity."