Joshua Youngblood is already enjoying the type of success to which few Kansas State freshmen can relate. He’s contributing in his first season, which is relatively unheard of around Manhattan, and he’s returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns and scored once more on the ground.
He’s also unabashedly superstitious about his pregame routine — and just wait until you hear what that entails.
Youngblood has to down four BodyArmor drinks before every game. The strawberry banana and fruit punch flavors are his favorites. He warms up to the same playlist he’s listened to since his junior year of high school back at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Florida. He has to — has to — watch the high school highlights of former high school opponents Nate Craig and C.J. Cotman.
And that’s to make no mention of the accessories — or lack thereof — that he pulls on.
“I don’t wear tights in the game. I just wear socks and gloves,” Youngblood says. “That’s what I’ve been doing since high school. People are like, ‘Why don’t you have any swag?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t play with none.’”
Youngblood’s pregame routine is among the most distinctive on K-State’s roster. Every player’s is different, whether it involves listening to country music or smearing on eye black that, admittedly, doesn’t have much practical benefit.
Part of the way the Wildcats have amassed a 7-4 record and positioned themselves for a higher-tier bowl game revolves around preparation, in other words, in particular the way they prepare in the days and hours before games.
“Everybody’s got their own little thing,” running back James Gilbert said. “I feel like you’ve got to stick to it. I feel like it doesn’t have nothing to do with how the game’s going to go or how the game’s going to be played. Just do what you do, stick to it.”
Here’s how it all happens.
The team always stays in a hotel Friday nights before home games. That way, everyone is in the same place, and meetings go smoother. Trainers can administer meals and snacks, which usually consist of sandwiches, granola bars, fruit.
“Not anything super big,” offensive lineman Adam Holtorf said. “Just some light stuff that you can have.”
That food supplies the Wildcats with fuel to watch extra film. Senior safety Denzel Goolsby is especially partial.
“For me, I think you can always get ahead,” Goolsby said. “You can always gain an edge. It involves watching extra film, going over my notes that I take throughout the week on tendencies that I see and what I notice about them, to freshen my mind up. There’s a saying that ‘champions get ahead on Fridays,’ and I think there’s a lot of value in that.”
When he’s not doing that, Goolsby finds himself reading. He likes Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo,” plus several novels by author David Goggins. Throw in a few books about Navy SEALs — all titles unrelated to football — and you really start to understand Goolsby’s thinking here.
“It’s my way to relax a little bit,” Goolsby says.
When the night winds down and the players hit the hay, their pregame meal awaits in the morning. For a 2:30 p.m. kickoff, for example, they’ll eat around 11 a.m.
The meal includes beef tenderloin, pasta and rice pilaf, among other foods.
“You can get your treatments, your meals and everything,” Holtorf said. “And that way everybody is kind of locked in.”
Then, it’s time to load up onto the bus to head to Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
When the Wildcats disembark from the bus and walk into the stadium, their options open up. They aren’t locked into a strict routine.
“We have a lot of freedom to do what we want right before the game,” kicker Blake Lynch said.
Here is where the players go their separate ways and begin their routines, superstitious or not.
For Lynch, he likes to head straight to the hot tub to warm up — literally. Defensive end Reggie Walker will do the same, but he’ll also dip into the cold tub.
For others, getting to the venue means getting their wrists and ankles taped. That goes for wide receivers Dalton Schoen and Landry Weber, defensive ends Wyatt Hubert and Kyle Ball and running back Harry Trotter.
Then, certain players will throw on some headphones and walk onto the field to stretch. Count Hubert among that camp.
“I usually go to our end zone, the far left zone,” Hubert said. “It’s the closest end zone to the visitors’ locker room. I just do my routine and my warmups and stretches and stuff like that.”
For the Wildcats on the field at this time, most listen to music. That’s true for Hubert, Youngblood, Schoen, Weber, Gilbert and defensive tackle Trey Dishon. The few exceptions include offensive lineman Scott Frantz and Ball, the latter of whom admitted he doesn’t have headphones.
No headphones. That’s right.
“I don’t have the new thing for my phone. I need this cordless one,” Ball said with a chuckle. “So I just never got in the habit of wearing headphones for games. But that’s fine for me because it keeps me talking to some guys around me, because I know I’ll miss that later on.”
And actually, the Wildcats who do partake share several similarities in music tastes. Most said they prefer rap, even Hubert, who is more of a country fan. “You can’t really get warmed up to country music,” he said.
The artists K-State players like include:
Schoen: Drake, Van Halen, Motley Crue
Walker: Lil Boosie, Lil Wayne, Webbie
Trotter: Lil Wayne, Future, NBA Youngboy
Dishon: Meek Mill, Kevin Gates, Drake, Meek Mill, Future, Gunna
The most noticeable anomaly in this trend: Weber, who listens to the old pregame playlist that boomed throughout Bill Snyder Family Stadium during Bill Snyder’s tenure.
The songs on that list included ACDC’s Thunderstruck, Van Halen’s “Right Now,” and, of course, the Wabash Cannonball.
Weber, after all, is the son of former K-State quarterback Stan Weber, who called signals for the Wildcats from 1980 to 1984 and now provides color commentary for games on the K-State Sports Network.
“I’ve been coming to games my entire life, so I have a total connection with K-State football and that music,” Landry Weber said. “So when I hear that music, it gets me fired up. So sometimes I’ve got to listen to that music before games.”
Mostly, though, players like music because it mellows them out. None of these Wildcats want to get fired up before games, at least not in the locker room. That doesn’t help any.
Take it from the likes of Dishon, Goolsby, Walker and Youngblood.
“With my pregame stuff, I’m very chill,” Dishon said. “I don’t like to get all riled up and get just mean and get going, because I feel like I don’t play as well when I’m too hyped up before the game. When we come out, and when the defense is about to go on, that’s when I like to flip the switch. So then I have as much in the tank as I have.”
Ditto for Goolsby.
“Sometimes,” Goolsby said, “you can be so amped up to go out there and play and make a play that you see play action, and you think it’s run all the way and you want to run up there and make a tackle, and it’s play-action pass, and they can hurt you deep. So there’s definitely a tendency to take a few deep breaths and calm yourself before you go out onto the field, just to make sure you’re mentally there.”
After the players take their initial walk around the field and stretch for the first time, they’ll head back into the locker room. There, if they’re not listening to music, they’ll have trainers stretch them out or chat with teammates.
Pregame stretching and warmups are important here, too. On the field, assistant strength and conditioning coach Corey Meredith leads a group stretch, according to Frantz, who laughed in adding that he “might get shot up with some medicine to help me play a little bit better.”
Ball often will join the group led by Meredith, who lets players know when to be out on the field. Even if a player isn’t all the way loose after the stretch, Meredith will stretch them out individually, Ball said.
Then comes the part of each player’s pregame routine that fans often watch: the second warmup period, roughly an hour before kickoff. Here, almost every player is on the field. Wide receivers catch passes from quarterbacks. Linemen practice blocking.
“I kind of have a specific catching routine that I do every time,” Schoen said. “It’s pretty much the same thing I do after practice every single day. I do that to get my hands warmed up and train my eyes, tracking the ball over my shoulder and stuff like that.”
Then, it’s back into the locker room.
“The worst part is just waiting,” Ball said. “You wait for your stretch group to go again, then you’re back out for pregame. So it’s a lot of waiting around sometimes, which I hate, because for a game, you’re pumped, ready to go, you’re excited. But you’ve got to be patient until it’s game time.”
During part of this locker room time, different players will paint on eye black. Weber in particular. He explained the process is fairly simple — “You’ve got to put a straight line, then put a diagonal line, and then one on the inside, then you fill it in,” Weber said — but there isn’t much real-life benefit.
“It might help with the sun, but it’s just a superstition,” Weber said. “I totally do it for the looks. I’m not going to lie.”
As kickoff approaches, though, players begin to come together and adopt a more shared procedure. Dishon will listen to a unique pregame message that performance coach Ben Newman records for different players — different for every player, every game.
Later, the seven teams captains — quarterback Skylar Thompson, Dishon, Goolsby, Hubert, Schoen, Walker and Holtorf — will get up in front of the team and deliver a message.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, Hubert said, it may mean a little more.
“You take one week (at) a time,” Hubert said.” The only thing that matters right now is us and how we go out there and play. Preaching Iowa State this week — this week is obviously very important for the senior class because it’ll be senior day on Saturday. Obviously this week is important for them, and we dedicate this week to them.”
Shortly after, it’s time to take the field. This is when the days and hours of preparation, the Wildcats hope, will begin to pay off.
For Walker and the other 26 seniors, it’s more like years.
“I feel like this time, when I walk around the stadium,” Walker said, “it’s going to be pretty special because it’s going to be the last time I get to walk around the stadium and just look at everything — look at the lights and the sunshine and stuff like that. It’s going to be something special.”