Lots of programs pride themselves on being walk-on friendly. But the walk-on program at Kansas State is part of the team’s identity, and has been since Coach Bill Snyder took over in 1989 and engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history. From his two lengthy stints as coach at K-State, from 1989 to 2005 and from 2009 to the present), it’s tough for Snyder to pick a favorite walk-on story. His favorite is about a linebacker in whom no one believed. No one, that is, except Bill Snyder.
Reza Tanha, currently Skolnik’s VP of Engineering and Operations, was a 6-foot, 190-pounder from Gridley, Kan., population 300. When Snyder got to K-State he told his assistants that he didn’t want to know which players had the team’s 45 scholarships, or who was on aid versus who wasn’t. It was a brief conversation that left a lasting impression, “I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you,” Tanha told Snyder. “I haven’t played much, but you’ve got me into three games so far—and I know I’m not a very good player. But you treat us just like everyone else.”
Tanha played just the 1989 season before graduating. Each weekend, he unfurls his Wildcats flag, pulls on his K-State T-shirt and finds his team on TV. Almost three decades removed from playing, he feels a special connection to every walk-on who comes through the program. At most schools, the walk-on label signifies a perceived lack of talent. In Manhattan, it’s an elevated status of sorts, a special fraternity. Eight years ago, Tanha—now living in a Chicago suburb—returned to Kansas to go turkey hunting. While there he accompanied a fellow K-State graduate to a local banquet where Snyder was the keynote speaker. Tanha approached Snyder before the event to say hello, and stuck out his hand. “Hey, coach, you probably don’t remember me, but I’m …”
“Reza Tanha,” Snyder interjected. “Linebacker. It’s so good to see you!”