Linebacker Daniel Green has emerged as a leader of Kansas State defense

Junior middle linebacker a force for Wildcats

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State linebacker Daniel Green tackles Stanford running back E.J. Smith (22) during the Sept. 4 season opener in Arlington, Texas.

MANHATTAN — It's a classic contradiction in terms, and yet it fits Daniel Green to a tee.

Three years into his Kansas State football career, the game is finally slowing down for Green, which in turn allows him to play faster.

"I feel like it's more a maturity thing," said Green, the Wildcats' 6-foot-3, 234-pound middle linebacker, who has emerged as the leader of a resurgent K-State defense. "I've played a lot of football now.

"I played a lot of snaps in 2019 and last year also, so now the game is kind of slowing down a lot this year and I feel a lot more comfortable out there."

No doubt the Wildcats also feel more comfortable when Green is on the field. Through the first two games, they did not allow a single point with him in the lineup.

By the time Stanford scored in a 24-7 K-State victory to open the season, Green was on the sideline. A targeting penalty late in that game also disqualified him for the first half the next week as the Wildcats came from behind to beat Southern Illinois, 31-23.

Green

Whether it was a coincidence or not, the Salukis did not score in the second half after Green returned.

"He's just playing so fast," K-State senior safety Ross Elder said of Green, who leads the unbeaten Wildcats in tackles with 22 through three games despite missing that one half. "It's awesome.

"And he knows the defense so well now that it makes him play fast. He's able to run to the balls and make plays. He's more confident in himself, so it's great to see."

In last week's 38-17 victory over Nevada, which catapulted K-State to No. 25 in the Associated Press rankings, Green was again a disruptive force. His nine tackles led the Wildcats and included a sack of Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong.

He also had nine tackles in the Stanford game and four in his one half against Southern Illinois.

K-State (3-0) faces another test Saturday, traveling to Stillwater, Oklahoma, for the Big 12 opener against unbeaten Oklahoma State.

More:When is Kansas State football vs. Oklahoma State? How to watch, stream and listen to the K-State game

Through his first three years in Manhattan — he redshirted in 2018 — Green showed signs that he was ready to step into a more prominent role for the Wildcats. As a freshman in 2019, he had 34 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and two sacks.

Last year he started twice when veteran Justin Hughes was sidelined and finished with 39 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. In his two starts, he had six tackles at Iowa State and 13 with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks against Baylor.

K-State coach Chris Klieman saw evidence during the offseason that Green, rated one of the nation's top-500 prospects coming out of Madison High School in Portland, Oregon, in 2017, was ready to take another step forward this year as a starter.

"He's focused on having a great year," Klieman said. "He had a great offseason. He put on 13 or 14 pounds. He put on another 12 or 13 pounds of lean muscle mass.

"He's just stronger. He's quicker. He is spending more time in the film room, doing everything of the intangibles that allow you to have a chance to be successful out on the field. You can see that on the field with his production because he's playing the game really fast."

Green said his improved play is simply the product of an entire defense that, through three games, ranks 15th nationally, allowing just 280 yards per game.

"I feel like just as a defense, it's everybody holding each other accountable and having, we call it a mob mentality," Green said. "In practice we're going at it with the offense.

"I just told (offensive lineman) Noah Johnson that, 'I feel like you all are the best O-line in the Big 12 and you make us all better.' So it's more a team thing of everybody pushing each other and making each other better, and I feel like that's what has elevated my play a lot."

Green also is comfortable in the Wildcats' new 3-3-5 defensive alignment, which features three linebackers instead of the two deployed most of the time last year in their 4-2-5 set.

"I feel it's a good change-up because we have a lot more things we can do out of the three-down than four-down (linemen)," Green said. "I really like the three-down and I feel like our defense likes it also."

Regardless of how they line up, Green has become an impact player.

"He just plays with a lot of energy — and energy-built player," junior cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe said. "He just loves to get down there and hit somebody.

"He's always waiting for the opportunity to make a play. Daniel Green is definitely a special player for us."

His teammates also have praised Green's leadership, though he is quick to point out other veterans such as tackles Timmy Horton and Eli Huggins, linebacker Cody Fletcher, and defensive backs Jahron McPherson and Russ Yeast as well.

"We've got so many people," Green said. "That's what makes our defense so good. We have a lot of different leaders."