Taylor Braet is trying to decide how to display his massive collection of purple shoes.
Should he spread them out across the floor of Kansas State’s football locker room for his guests to admire one by one? Should he arrange them in a circle? Should he stack them on furniture so they are visible on different levels?
“Any ideas?” Braet says after trying a few options. “This is what I get for having more shoes than my wife. I don’t know what to do with all of them.”
This is the first time Braet, who works under K-State football coach Chris Klieman as director of recruiting, has publicly shown off his collection of purple shoes. At home, they rest on an eight-foot shoe rack that takes up every inch of his basement closet. Loading them into his Jeep (also purple) and transporting them across town for a photo shoot was quite the chore.
It would have been simpler to leave them in their natural habitat, but this is where K-State football recruits come to flex their muscles and pose for pictures when they visit campus. Braet wants his shoes to do the same.
There are 20 pairs in total. They range from Nike running shoes to Sperry boat shoes to vintage Air Jordans and even cowboy boots. Some cost upwards of $350. Others feature custom paint jobs you won’t find at any store. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: color. They’re all purple.
After a few minutes of thought, Braet makes his decision. He sorts his shoes into two piles, one on the floor and another on a foot stool, and holds a select few in his arms. He’s ready to talk about every single pair, but not before former K-State running back Mike McCoy issues a warning.
“This might take a while,” McCoy says. “He has got so many shoes that I don’t think I have ever seen him wear the same pair twice.”
Kicking it with recruits
Some 34-year-old men would be embarrassed by that kind of statement, but not Braet. He is proud of his huge assortment of purple shoes. So much so, that he brags about them every chance he gets, particularly on social media.
They have taken on a life of their own on Twitter.
Every time he buys a new pair he posts pictures of them on his account and makes sure to send extra photos to recruits.
“Coach Braet is always sending me pictures of something purple, especially shoes” 2020 K-State football pledge Nate Matlack said. “It’s something new every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually bleeds purple.”
Braet is best known as the man who recruits K-State football players to Manhattan, but strangers around town also recognize him as the guy who always wears purple shoes.
“Everybody that comes up to me now makes sure I have purple shoes on,” Braet says. “They want to know what pair I have on. They want to see them. It has become a must. I can’t leave the house without purple shoes now.”
What possesses a man to collect purple shoes?
For Braet, it’s all about passion.
He grew up in Wichita and has been working for the Wildcats since 2006. Much like his father, Steve, who is the associate head coach at Butler County Community College, he dreamed of representing his home state in a football capacity. So when he arrived at K-State, he embraced everything about his job, including the school color.
He drives a purple car, wears a purple wedding ring and sits on a purple couch in his office. He even has a gigantic light-up Powercat in his backyard.
“Loyalty and effort and passion are all things that make K-State different,” Braet says. “This isn’t a destination place, so you have got to thrive with passion and desire and care to make this place great and help it succeed.”
His passion for purple also helps him relate to high school football players, which is a big part of his job.
Throw in purple shoes, and Braet hopes that might be enough to put him over the top with certain recruits.
“It’s important,” McCoy says. “He really cares about his school and it shows. If the only kind of shoe you own is purple, that means a lot.”
Whenever prospects visit campus, Braet makes sure to have extra purple shoes handy so he can wear the right ones to properly impress each player.
He tries to wear Air Jordans (he has three different kinds — 1, 3, 11) for any recruit that likes basketball. He sports cowboy boots for country boys. And he breaks out gator-skin oxfords for recruits from the South. McCoy is most fond of his velvet loafers.
One pair of shoes that tends to check all the boxes: a custom pair of Vans. They were all white when Braet purchased them, but now they are purple with a white Powercat on the right shoe and the word “Cats” written in white script on the left. On the back of each, you will find the Wildcat hand signal.
Good luck finding those at the local mall.
He wishes he had them when Klieman invited Braet to hit the road and recruit for the Wildcats last December. As recruiting coordinator, most of Braet’s work is done on campus.
On some of those trips, Braet devoted an entire suitcase to shoes.
“Chris Klieman had some questions when he saw me pull out a fourth pair from my bag,” Braet says. “He was like, ‘How many did you bring?’ Well, that is the fun part.”
At the very least, Braet’s collection of purple shoes help him stand out as a recruiting coordinator.
He still feels like he’s 18 years old and hasn’t mentally aged since high school, but his “dad bod” tells a different story. He is 34 with a wife and two daughters at home. With each passing year he grows more distant from the high school athletes he recruits.
At some point, he knows he will be too old for this job.
“But,” he says, “I hope I get to do it until then.”
Purple shoes keep him young.
There can’t be many bigger collections of purple shoes out there.
Braet built his quickly.
He purchased his first pair of purple shoes nearly two years ago when he noticed former K-State punter Nick Walsh wearing a pair of purple gator-skin oxfords after a game. He thought they might be a hit with recruits, so he asked Walsh about them and got a pair of his own.
Then he bought another and then another and, well, now he’s approaching two dozen.
He buys the shoes himself (alas, K-State does not provide a special fund for kicks) and he has learned that it’s simpler to ask for forgiveness than permission from his wife.
Braet finds most of his shoes online, but he stops at malls whenever he’s out of town to see their purple inventory. Kansas City typically has good stuff. He’s also had luck in Phoenix. He looks everywhere.
“Sometimes I buy a new pair of shoes and wonder when am I ever going to wear these,” Braet says. “But I find a way. I am always searching. I don’t know if there is one I really need. But my dad has a pair of purple Sperrys that are cooler than mine. That kind of fuels me to find that next pair.”
His next purchase might be purple golf shoes. He doesn’t have any of those. Nor does he own a pair of purple Crocs.
He’s willing to buy purple tap-dancing shoes if they will help K-State land its next big-time recruit.
“The shoes make for a fun topic,” Braet says. “The kids think they are funny and cool. It has become a great thing to surprise kids with, especially if you can get them to come here. I have had recruits say they were waiting to see what pair of shoes I had on when they showed up. I’m going to keep buying more so I can keep them guessing.”