MANHATTAN — Imagine you are coming home from a taxing day of work. You spent so much time at the office that it’s well past midnight on a Saturday morning and your car is the only one on the road.
What do you do next?
Go to sleep? Eat a snack? Unwind in front of the TV?
Those are the most predictable options, but for Junction City football coach Randall Zimmerman the answer is often to gather up his family and keep driving until they cross state lines. It’s a routine he started nearly four years ago and will continue on Friday after Junction City takes on Shawnee Heights and his game evaluations are complete.
The destination: Austin, Texas. He plans to hit the road with his wife and two youngest children before the sun comes up on Saturday and admits he may not sleep until he returns home. In between, he will watch his son, Ty Zimmerman, take the field with Kansas State for its first road game of the season against the Texas Longhorns.
It’s a daunting trip for a man who has to have a strategy prepared for Junction City’s fourth game in time for his weekly coaches meeting on Sunday. But he embraces it. Whatever it takes to support his son, who he has watched blossom into an elite free safety as a K-State senior.
“There has never been any consideration not to go watch his games,” Randall Zimmerman said. “It’s a balancing act, and it’s difficult, but we are used to it. We have other kids, and we always find a way to go to their activities, as well. We are going to go support our kids no matter what.”
Ty Zimmerman is thankful for that support. One of the things he enjoys most about playing on the road is leaving tickets for his family and finding them in the crowd. Knowing they are there gives him confidence.
He always tries to find them after games, particularly after victories. Nothing beats celebrating with people who drove through the night to support you.
“I feel tremendously blessed to have the family support that I do,” Ty Zimmerman said. “I wouldn’t be here without them. We have tons of guys on the team from around the country who don’t have a chance to go home during their breaks. Being so close, having my family at the home games and parents at the road games is very uplifting.”
Perhaps the gratifying part of the road trips for Ty Zimmerman is knowing how few football games his family attended before he arrived at K-State. Other than the occasional trip to Arrowhead Stadium, the Zimmermans never used to cross state lines for a gridiron trip.
Randall Zimmerman says he once flew to Michigan and took in a Big Ten game on a whim, but that was about it. Then his son became a freshman starter and he was flying to games in Miami and West Virginia, and driving to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl.
He has been inside every Big 12 stadium and attended two major bowl games.
“It is kind of like a vacation for my family,” Ty Zimmerman said. “They get to go on the road and see all these stadiums they wouldn’t have seen without me playing. I think they enjoy it. I know it’s something I will always enjoy talking about. My freshman year at the Pinstripe Bowl, they drove up and I ended up driving back with them. We saw all kinds of stuff and made it into a family vacation.”
The trips haven’t always gone so smoothly. Randall recalls a hectic trip to Miami with his wife, Stefanie, in which they boarded a 6 a.m. flight in Kansas City and arrived in south Florida minutes before the Wildcats’ afternoon game against the Hurricanes was scheduled to start. Luckily, a weather delay allowed them to get to the stadium in time for kickoff.
A lengthy drive to Texas Tech also presented some challenges two years ago. Last season, following a Junction City game in Topeka, the Zimmermans didn’t travel home with the team in order to get to Ames, Iowa in time for a morning kickoff the following day.
“Some of the trips are a little more challenging than the others,” Randall Zimmerman said.
A road trip to Austin will rank on the easier side, especially with a 7 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. There might be enough time for a nap.
But Randall Zimmerman can never be sure. He has to spend nearly every minute he isn’t behind the wheel in front of his iPad, breaking down video for his team’s next game. Rarely can he relax.
For a high school football coach who follows a college football team, that’s the way it has to be.
“It takes a total team effort,” Randall Zimmerman said. “I have a staff of great assistant coaches that help me do it. They have been very supportive and pitched in a little extra. My wife is great at organizing everything and balancing out our schedule. It takes everybody to get something like this done.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to make it work. Watching the whole process and seeing how much Ty and Kansas State have developed over the last four years, it’s just been so much fun.”