Kansas ties to NFL Playoffs

By CONOR NICHOLL
cnicholl1@gmail.com

Pittsburgh Steelers guard B.J. Finney and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson have often been underestimated and overcame obstacles throughout their careers.

It’s a theme shared by multiple Kansas products who will see action in this year’s NFL playoffs.

Finney, from Andale, and Nelson, a Riley County graduate, emerged from smaller towns as high school standouts before they walked on at Kansas State. After All-American careers, each enjoyed strong NFL seasons.

Circle’s Jordan Phillips, an Oklahoma product, is a defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins. He could face off against Finney when their teams meet Sunday afternoon in an AFC Wild Card contest. Growing up, Phillips overcame multiple deaths to family members and lived with a close friend’s family in high school.

Maize’s Ryan Schraeder plays tackle for the Atlanta Falcons, which earned the No. 2 seed and first round NFC bye. Schraeder is well-known for not playing high school football and then walked-on at Butler Community College, hit a late growth spurt and grew a foot in a year.

He was an All-American at Division II Valdosta State and, like Finney, was an undrafted free agent in 2013. Now 6-foot-7, 307 pounds, Schraeder was an All-Pro last year. Nearly two months ago, he agreed to a five-year deal with a maximum value of 33 million.

Ben Heeney, from Hutchinson High and KU, shined for Oakland last year but has missed the majority of this season with injury. Blue Valley West’s Andrew Gachkar is an outside linebacker with the Cowboys. Gachkar battled through Thoracic Outlet Syndrome at Missouri and needed more than 20 hours in surgery. He’s been a key reserve throughout his career.

Finney is one of 15 Steelers on the current 53-man Steeler roster who spent time on the practice squad. An undrafted free agent, Finney was ecstatic when the Steelers signed him after the ’15 draft.
Finney and his father were both diehard Steeler fans. When Finney signed, he held a draft-weekend barn party celebration that has drawn more than half a million YouTube views.

Finney, with tears in his eyes, announced that “dreams do come true” and he was under contract by the Steelers. Finney, named after his father, has made an impact in his second season with Pittsburgh.
Finney received his first career start against the Chiefs on Oct. 2. Overall, Finney has played in 13 games with three starts, including a key Dec. 11 win against Buffalo. The offensive line yielded zero sacks and opened holes for a team-record 236 rushing yards from Le’Veon Bell.

Nelson, one of the NFL’s top receivers, suffered a season-ending knee injury last year. This fall, he has bounced back with another outstanding season. He’s considered the key piece in Green Bay winning its final six contests after a 4-6 start. Nelson has 97 catches for 1,257 yards and a league-best 14 receiving scores.