Sports Extra: Cerbe Dresses Them

Al Cerbe

Sept. 16, 2011

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By Mark Janssen

Al Cerbe is just 25 years of age, but he has a resume well beyond those years that has prepared him to shepherd his Wildcat family of 136 18- to 23-year-old Kansas State football players.

Believed to be the youngest NCAA Division I football equipment manager in the nation, Cerbe (pronounced: SIR-be), and his staff of 14 student managers, play semi-mother to the Wildcats by laying out the uniform clothing that his players are going to wear that day, and then wrap it up by washing that sweaty, stinky uniform-type gear each day.

That's every day. Every. Single. Day.

"I'm here to make life easier for the coaches and the players," said Cerbe, who served as assistant football equipment manager at K-State for the previous four years. "I want to put my players in the very best equipment, and we have it with Nike. It makes them look good, it makes them feel good, so they will play good. I really believe that."

A native of Horn Lake, Miss., Cerbe got involved in the managing role while a senior in high school. That would lead to a scholarship as a manager at Northeast Mississippi Community College, which would lead to being a summer-time equipment manager for the Memphis Xplorers, which would lead to an internship with the Baltimore Ravens.

"I learned how to set up an NFL locker room at Memphis, which I took back to Northeast Mississippi. Those guys thought they were in the NFL. It was a neat experience," said Cerbe, who completed his degree at K-State in 2010. "Northeast is where I was told I would either realize I loved it, or just liked it. I loved it from the beginning."

Cerbe calls himself a "...naturally very organized person, who likes to take care of people. It's not for everybody, but it's just my niche in life. I love everything about it."

Cerbe says little is new with K-State's 2011 uniform that includes a New Orchid jersey (the deepest purple that Nike produces) and K-State Silver pant. "K-State Silver" is really what Nike calls it and K-State is the only school that wears the shiny silver color.

"The only thing that is different is that I've altered the bottom of the jerseys with an elastic bottom that will make it look like they are tucked in all the time," said Cerbe. "All of the NFL teams do this. The players will love them because they'll never have to tuck their jersey in."

With a Riddell helmet costing anywhere from $230 to $300, shoulder pads $250 and higher, and shoes up to $80, Cerbe says that each Wildcat is dressed in around $800 in gear when they trot onto the Bill Snyder Family Stadium turf.

Cerbe says doing everything possible to prevent concussions continues to be a topic of concern in college football, which for him starts during the recruiting season.

With each potential new recruit, a question is asked about whether there is a history of concussions at the time when each player is individually fitted for either a Riddell IQ or Speed helmet.

"Riddell helmets go through a five-point safety testing procedure, which includes front, back, both sides and the top," said Cerbe. "With the helmets we use, testing has shown to have a 31 percent reduction in concussions if an individual has previously had one, and 33 percent reduction for individuals who have never had one. Riddell is one of the few companies that tests for side impact."

Cerbe says there's an art to fitting helmets as skilled position players normally don't like a tight-fitting helmet, while linemen want their football hat to be tight. Cerbe fits each player with specific pads inside the helmet for proper fitting depending on head shape and even hair styles.

"If they have long hair or dreads, we have them fixed inside their helmets as if it were a game day," said Cerbe of the player fitting. "We do whatever we can for the safety of the player."

Also new to the helmet this year is a pop-off facemask so a player can be easier attended to in case of injury, and, that red-lettering "Riddell" on the chinstrap last year is in purple this year.

With shoes, Cerbe said, "Players want the lightest shoes available, but when you're a 290-pound lineman, shoes like that just do not last, so the type of shoe has to fit the type and size of player."

Cerbe works with a staff of 10 scholarship student managers, plus four walk-ons. Scholarships are awarded based on years of service ranging from books the first year, to books plus roughly $500 a month for individuals who have served for four seasons.

These managers are on duty well before the start of practice/game day, to hours after practice/game day, whether it's during the regular season, off-season conditioning,  or spring practice.

K-State is in a select group of "Nike Elite" schools, which covers every sport in the department. Six other Big 12 schools - Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Baylor - are also in Nike gear, while Kansas and Texas A&M are Adidas schools, and Texas Tech has a contract with Under Armour.

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