By Corbin McGuire
Blake Seiler‘s first K-State football experience was not a good one.
As best as Seiler can remember, he was about 7 years old. The Goddard native came up with some relatives to watch K-State play Colorado. It was his first time in the stadium.
“We’re trying to walk up the south end zone to get a soda,” Seiler recalled, “and it’s raining.”
One of thousands draped in a poncho that day, Seiler said he looked down for a few seconds. When he looked up, he had lost his family.
“I end up in the old press box and they have to call my aunt and uncle over the loud speaker to come get me,” he said. “That was my first K-State football experience.”
Now, because of how his journey played out, Seiler can laugh at this introduction to K-State football. The rest of his experiences with the program, including many where his name was called out over those same speakers as a player, have been much better. They now serve as a template of sorts, one Seiler utilizes every day to help give his players the same type of life-changing experience he had as a Wildcat.
“That’s why we do this,” he said. “To watch the young men that you sold the dream to when you went out and sat in their living room and recruited them to come to K-State because not only are we going to develop you on the field, we’re going to develop you as a young man and by the time you leave here you’re going to be a four- and five-star guy in life, regardless of what you do on the field, and I think to me that’s the most rewarding part of the job.
“It’s not all about wins and losses. At the end of the day you have to win games, we all understand that, but if you’re teaching these guys accountability and they’re getting a good education and they’re setting goals for themselves on the field, in the classroom and in life, to watch them come up from freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors and achieve those goals, that’s why we do this. That’s my favorite part of the job.”
Seiler’s paths as a player and coach are somewhat mirrored.
Before the former defensive lineman became a team captain for the Wildcats, he was a walk-on. Before he was a Wildcat, he was a part of Oklahoma State’s 2003 national championship wrestling team.
After playing and finishing his degree in mechanical engineering, Seiler landed a structural engineering job at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita. After about three years there, he left it for an unpaid graduate assistant position at K-State in 2009. After nine years on staff, he was named K-State’s defensive coordinator.
“I don’t think I took the easy road on any one of my choices, but I just think you know what you’re called to do and no matter what it takes you’re going to find a way to make it work,” Seiler said. “You don’t focus on the negatives. You just focus on the positives and you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. You just focus on doing a good job at what you’re called to do and what you’re asked to do day in and day out, and you just have faith that things will work out. Luckily, for me, it did.”
He added again: “I believe this is what I’m called to do.”
Seiler’s journey helps him relate to current players, and vice versa. What he says carries more weight because of what he’s been through. What he demands does not seem unfair because he’s done it. In most cases, he’s done more.
“He’s easy to look up to because he’s a guy that’s been through the program. He succeeded in school, not only in sports,” former Wildcat Laton Dowling said. “He was just a guy that you knew was capable of doing what you were currently doing. He’d been there and done that.”
“It’s so easy to play for a man like that,” added former defensive end Tanner Wood. “He’s just a great coach and he knows what he’s talking about. You just want to perform well for that guy.”
Jordan Willis, entering his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals, said Seiler occasionally would tell stories about his time at K-State or even his time as a wrestler at Oklahoma State to give his players a different perspective.
“If you were feeling sorry for yourself when it’s spring camp and you have to do conditioning,” Willis said, “he was just bringing up how much harder other people have it.”
“I was in their shoes once,” Seiler added. “I know what they’re going through. I know how it can be tough but I also know it can be done, and I know it can be done at a high level.”
Willis, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, was known for his intense habit of watching film while at K-State. He credited Seiler for making it part of his routine.
“If you wanted to watch extra film, he would always be willing to do that. Obviously working with Coach (Bill Snyder), those guys are in the office a lot and I still could go up there around 8:30, 9 p.m., after study table and watch practice or any kind of film with him because he was always there,” Willis said. “We were close as coach and player could get. Since my freshman year, if I could go watch film or do anything with anybody, it was with Blake. He introduced me to watching NFL film. Every year he would get our video guys, like Scott (Eilert), to bring in more film, NFL film, and he would spend hours breaking it down so I could watch it.”
Seiler’s film room sessions were “like a business meeting,” Wood said. They were thorough, broken down to the finest detail and communicated in a way where players walked out of the room without any doubt of what to do on the field.
“He’s a very bright individual,” Dowling said. “He breaks it down on pre-snap reads, things like that. He takes you back to before the ball was even snapped and breaks it down to what we worked on in practice and he goes back to step one on how we could have succeeded on that snap. As a player, it makes you start to do that and it really helped the guys out in the room, along with myself, to envision themselves on the field instead of just watching that current play. That was great.”
Seiler, who’s worked with every position group on the defense since returning to K-State, said he approaches the film room as a way to simplify life on the field for his players.
“My role as a coach is to relay the information to my players and simplify things so that they can take the information from the meeting room, take it to the field and play fast,” he said. “I think once they see themselves having success then they start to buy in.”
Willis is just one example.
“He always used to say this, ‘You are what you are on film,'” Willis said. “That’s something that has stuck with me because no matter what you say or do, whatever you put on the game tape, that’s who you are. Perception is reality. It just keeps me humble. I know that every time you take the field, you have to set the bar because you’re going to be judged by that.”
The first time Dowling met Seiler was in 2009 on a recruiting visit. Seiler, a graduate assistant at the time, picked up Dowling and his family at a hotel in Manhattan. For a second, Dowling thought a current player was in the driver’s seat.
“You kind of thought, ‘Man, does this guy still play?'” Dowling recalled. “He still looks like he could take some snaps on the field today.”
Seiler’s sturdy stature caught Dowling’s attention, but it was everything else about his future position coach that resonated and reassured the Dodge City High School product that K-State was the place for him.
“He showed my family and me around campus, around the town and made us feel even more comfortable with the decision that we’d kind of already made,” Dowling said, “to go ahead and commit to K-State.”
As Seiler’s players go through the program, these strong first impressions develop into lasting relationships. Wildcats come to know him as a tough but loving figure in their lives, someone looking out for their best interests in the short and long term.
“He cares a lot about every single guy individually. He wanted us to succeed and he had high expectations for our room,” Dowling said. “He was very easy to get along with if you were doing things right. That wasn’t very hard to tell right from the beginning.”
One specific example Dowling recalled was the first workout back after Seiler was promoted to defensive ends coach in 2013. The returning players, Dowling being one of them, expected the transition to be smooth sailing. So much so that they relaxed a little too much.
“It wasn’t a very good workout for some guys in the group and he jumped all over them and kind of demanded their respect, in a sense that you could tell that he cared about our room and he cared about the guys in our room,” Dowling said, “because our room reflected him and he wanted that to be known.”
Dowling also said he remembers his last meeting with Seiler well. It was before the 2015 Alamo Bowl.
“He called me into his office and thanked me for my five years of being there and being a leader on the team,” Dowling, now a marketing manager for Kansas Farm Bureau in Manhattan, said. “You could sense some mutual respect in the room that he genuinely cared about me and I genuinely cared about him. I feel like he has that with all of his players.”
Entering his 10thseason back with the program, Seiler has helped a number of players like Dowling walk the path he once walked, highlighted by the one with a cap and gown in Bramlage Coliseum as college graduates. These moments, where the dream he sold them four or five years before becomes reality, are the biggest reasons he returned to K-State a decade ago.
“You recruit young men coming out of high school and you know what our program’s all about and you know what it can do for them, and to see those guys come in here, develop and become young men is very rewarding,” he said. “Now, I’ve been doing it long enough to see these guys go on and start families, and to see them truly succeed in life with that they learned in this program I think is the most rewarding thing about the job.”
To have K-State Sports Extra delivered directly to your email, sign up here.
Source: Kansas State Sports