MANHATTAN (TNS) — Everything is back to normal for Will Geary.
At least that is how it seemed at Kansas State's media day on Thursday as the senior defensive tackle sauntered across the football field and spoke confidently about the season ahead. He thinks this will be his best year in a Wildcats uniform, and he projects big things from his teammates up front.
Geary took an unexpected leave of absence from the football team for personal reasons last semester and missed spring practices, but you wouldn't know it based on how productive he has been in preseason practices.
"It was surprisingly easy to get back in the flow of things," Geary said. "This was our third practice this morning, and it felt like I was just playing football again, getting back into it."
The only noticeable difference about Geary is his hair. He traded in the flowing locks and thick beard that once made him resemble a caveman, for a cleaner look.
"So far he has done well," K-State football coach Bill Snyder said. "I am pleased with everything he is doing."
Geary is the top returning defensive lineman on the team. The 6-foot, 306-pound Topeka native leads all active K-State players in career tackles with 120, including 16 for loss. He is coming off back-to-back appearances on the Big 12's all-conference team. Replacing him would have been every bit as difficult as Jordan Willis, a nearly unstoppable edge rusher who graduated and is now in the NFL.
Geary is the anchor of that unit.
"It is very nice to have him back," sophomore defensive end Reggie Walker said. "It is fun when you have that senior you can play next to that know all the plays and all the little tricks it takes to get by defenders. To be able to learn from him and play aside him is really nice."
The reason for Geary's spring sabbatical remain unknown. When asked to explain why he skipped spring practices, Geary did little more than shrug.
"I can't really talk about that," Geary said. "I am just working on getting better and focusing on my senior campaign now."
He expects to go out with a bang and give himself an opportunity to take his game to the NFL.
That remains a possibility, because his teammates helped him get back to full speed when he returned to campus in May. They assisted him while he made up for lost time in the classroom, on the field and in the weight room. It was a lot to catch up on. Snyder said Geary needed to take care himself and "take care of business" before he could return. Geary was a bit concerned the Wildcats might not welcome him back with loving arms. But they did.
"After talking to them and everything they were very welcoming," Geary said. "I just had a lot of support."
That support is what he missed most while he was away.
"It was tough not being around the guys," Geary said. "I missed all my teammates."
Some wondered if Geary would make it back to the team in time for the 2017 season when he remained absent in April, but Geary said that thought never entered his mind.
Now that he's back, it feels like he never left.
"He's a very experienced player," K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said. "He is a senior and I expect him to have a senior year that will be his very best."
K-State, which was 9-4 last season, returns eight starters on offense, including senior quarterback Jesse Ertz, and six starters on defense. K-State finished the 2016 season just outside the top 25 following a victory over Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl.
Alabama topped the preseason poll after losing to Clemson in the national championship game last season. Ohio State, Florida State, Southern California and Clemson round out the top five.