The powerhouse football program at Kansas State relies on two men—and one truck.
BY: MIKE HAMMER
PHOTOS BY: BRIDGET BARRETT
The Kansas State Wildcats suit up as many as 125 players before each football game. Who makes it happen? At 27, Al Cerbe is one of the youngest equipment managers in major college sports. He is responsible for making sure every player is fully equipped for action and for ensuring the coaches and support staff on the sidelines have the tools they need on game day.
Last season, the ’Cats traveled over 6,500 miles as they fought their way through the NCAA’s tough Big 12 Conference. An International LoneStar® hauled the gear to every game. The good folks at Dodge City International donated the 2008 LoneStar to the program back in 2009, customized with K-State’s purple and silver colors and an imposing ’Cat logo. The truck hauls a 48-foot trailer packed with helmets, pads, shoes, computers, fans, heaters, kitchen equipment, luggage, laundry bins and a charging station to keep it all humming.
Then there’s the preparation for each road trip. “We start loading up about 30 tons of equipment and apparel on Tuesday when we take our show on the road for a Saturday game,” Cerbe says. “I gotta thank the heavens above that we have our LoneStar to make that trip a dream come true for me. It’s amazing what we’re able to put in that truck—and even more amazing how it handles it. It’s a perfect fit for the program.”
Cerbe is a pretty good match for the Wildcats himself. He started working as an assistant equipment manager for the Memphis Xplorers arena football team while he was just a junior at the University of Memphis. He climbed the ladder there, landing an internship with the Baltimore Ravens before he became assistant equipment manager for the ’Cats back in 2007. By 2009, he had taken over the big job—and all the responsibilities that come with it
But Cerbe couldn’t do his job without his right-hand man and driver, Johnny Brown. “We wouldn’t be lining up for kickoffs all over the country without Johnny Brown,” Cerbe says. “He’s in charge of all the heating and cooling at the university, and he times and maps out all of our road trips for us before he gets behind the wheel. The guy is definitely one of our MVPs.”
The pair navigated one of their most adventurous journeys during a New York blizzard at the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl on Christmas 2010. “We left on the 23rd and pulled into New York on Christmas Day,” says Cerbe. “The truck handled the trip fantastically. We got lost in the Bronx and backed it out of a slim one-way road without a problem.”
Then the blizzard hit. “It was unbelievable,” Cerbe says. “We had to move to a training field in New Jersey, then pack up and head back to the Bronx the next day for the game. I gotta tell ya, I climbed into the bed on that LoneStar for the ride back—I’ve never slept better in my life.”