Kansas State University

New coach, new hair, new player: K-State’s Wyatt Hubert expecting breakout season

Wyatt Hubert is rocking a man bun. The Kansas State defensive end is also wearing brown cowboy boots that perfectly match his western belt and accent his jeans. His white K-State polo shirt and burly physique make it clear he’s here to talk about the upcoming football season, in which he hopes to become the first sophomore to log double-digit sacks for the Wildcats in more than a decade, but he also looks ready to wrestle a steer or star in a shampoo commercial.

Whatever he does next, one thing is for sure: He will do it in style.

Hubert is living, breathing proof that things have changed in Manhattan. At this time last year, he carried himself like the model Bill Snyder football player. He kept his hair short and he wore a team-issued blazer when he spoke with media. He looked ready to go to school and play football. Not much else.

His personality is beginning to show under new K-State coach Chris Klieman. And a breakout season might follow.

Hubert has big expectations for his sophomore year. Some experts, including Phil Steele, think he’s ready to put up all-conference numbers. Hubert wants to prove them right. That’s the main reason why he decided to let his hair grow.

After a lifetime of buzz cuts, the 6-foot-3, 258-pound Topeka native was quite literally ready to let his hair down when teammate Jahron McPherson dared him to try something bold. New coach, new player. But his thinking went deeper than that. He is also trying to mimic some of the best defensive players in the NFL, many of whom tend to rock long hair.

Just look at Clay Matthews, Hubert says. If one of the best linebackers in the world rocks wild hair, so should he.

“I’ve got a few years before I have to get a real job, so I’m going to go all out and just let my hair grow,” Hubert said. “It’s been about a year since my last haircut. I will just let it keep going. I like it more than I thought I would.

“It just makes you stand out and lets people know who you are. I guess you could say I’m building my brand and getting my name out there. It’s a good marketing strategy.”

Dreaming big

Have you ever heard of the GOMAD diet?

Hubert can tell you all about it. The first thing you need to know: it isn’t much of a diet. It’s more of a bulk-up strategy. For the best results, you drink a gallon of whole milk once a day (hence the acronym) for 30 straight days. That’s in addition to your regular meals. When you’re not chugging the white stuff, you work out like Dwayne Johnson.

There are more conventional ways to add muscle, but Hubert was anything but conventional as a high school football player. He wanted to make a name for himself at Shawnee Heights and he didn’t think he could do that until he was the biggest defender on the team.

So when a trainer suggested he try chugging 72,000 calories of milk over the course of one month, well, Hubert started carrying a gallon of the stuff everywhere like a second cell phone.

He drank milk at school, in the gym and on the football field. He drank milk when his family and friends teased him about it. He drank milk after it began to taste like motor oil.

“People laughed at him, but it worked,” Hubert’s father, Steve Smith, said. “He gained 28 pounds in one month. It felt like we were feeding an army with all that milk, but he drank it all. That’s how dedicated he is. When he sets his sights on something, he always follows through.”

You can find confirmation of this in Hubert’s bedroom. He likes to write down his goals and then display them on the wall, using calendars and exercise charts to track his progress.

His latest aspirations include helping K-State win a conference championship and making it to the NFL. Those are big goals, but he’s allowed to aim high after he achieved his No. 1 goal in high school. Back then, the only thing he wanted to be was a K-State football player.

Hubert comes from a K-State family and grew up going to games in Manhattan. He was always one of the best players on his youth teams and even helped a group of Topeka sixth-graders win a national football tournament in Las Vegas. His older brother, Austen, plays receiver at Washburn. But Hubert probably could have set his sights anywhere, and his father encouraged him to keep his options open. But he only had eyes for the Wildcats.

That’s why he committed early. When former assistant coach Blake Seiler offered him a scholarship at the team’s junior day three years ago, Hubert was so overcome with joy that he tried to accept it on the spot. Seiler advised him to think it over. It was his first offer, offer. No need to rush. Hubert reluctantly agreed, but only for so long. The next morning, he called Seiler and committed for real.

Other schools noticed and tried to get involved, including Nebraska and Michigan. But Hubert wouldn’t take their calls.

If you look back at his recruiting profile, Hubert seems overlooked as a three-star prospect with one scholarship offer. But he’s fine with that. He didn’t drink all that milk to impress strangers. He did it to play for the Wildcats.

Overlooked no more

Jason Swift laughs when you ask him about Hubert’s hair.

That’s about the only thing that has surprised the Shawnee Heights football coach about Hubert’s time at K-State. He expected everything else, including a promising redshirt freshman campaign that saw Hubert register 8 1/2 tackles for loss, including four sacks.

“You could just tell he was going to be special,” Swift said. “He has the perfect package of talent and work ethic.”

So why didn’t his high school stats jump off the page?

Swift is eager to explain. Shawnee Heights never tried to showcase Hubert, he says. It could have, but Hubert didn’t want that. He put the team first, worked hard and did whatever his coaches asked of him. Most of the time, that meant going against the biggest and best offensive lineman on the opposing team, regardless of where he lined up.

That helped the Thunderbirds win the line of scrimmage most weeks, but it prevented Hubert from piling up sacks. Same thing on offense, where Hubert played tight end. The coaching staff could have designed touchdown passes for him, but they preferred to run behind him as a lead blocker.

Still, when Shawnee Heights needed big plays from Hubert, he always seemed to deliver. That was particularly the case in a close game against Seaman High during his junior year. At one point they needed a goal-line stand from their defense.

“It became the Wyatt Hubert show,” Swift said. “He was always outstanding, but I will never forget that game. He single-handedly took over and dominated with sack after sack. He won it for us.”

New coach, new player

Klieman thinks Hubert is ready to dominate at the college level, too.

And he doesn’t care who knows it.

“He does it all,” Klieman said. “I am really excited. I think he just scratched the surface last year. I think he is an All-Big 12 player.”

Hubert may be the ideal athlete to help guide K-State’s defense into a new era.

That might seem odd considering he not long ago displayed the characteristics and style of the prototypical Snyder recruit, but Hubert has embraced his new coach, his new defense and his new look with unrivaled enthusiasm.

He has always been one of the team’s hardest workers. Now he is also a vocal leader. His teammates call him Thor.

“The players don’t have to be robots anymore, and that’s what you’re seeing with Wyatt,” said Smith, his father. “I love it. He’s got a little bit of an edge now. He was such a sweet kid growing up, helping neighbors and all that stuff, and he still is. But he’s learning how to be mean. He won’t back down to anybody now. That’s the attitude you need on the football field.”

At North Dakota State, Klieman valued a strong defensive line above all else. He likes to say his teams win games up front, and that starts with edge rushers that can stuff the run and get after the quarterback.

There’s nothing better, Klieman says, than pressuring the QB without blitzing.

Hubert has embraced that mindset. In past years, coaches preached fundamentals. Now, they are asking for big plays. Unlike high school, Hubert should have an opportunity to put up big numbers this season playing alongside three-year starters Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker.

“We have a lot of freedom in this defense and that is the type of player he is,” Dishon said of Hubert. “He is really a go-getter, a guy who is going to make a play on fourth and one, a guy who is going to do whatever it takes for his team to win. That is what makes Wyatt so unique. If he keeps growing, it’s scary to think where he might end up.”

Hubert only started seven games and made 35 tackles last season. His best highlight came against Mississippi State when he reeled in an interception in traffic and returned it into scoring range. He had moments of brilliance, but not a full year of them.

That could change this season. Opposing defensive coordinators might soon fear the sight of his long hair.

A little bit country

The best thing about Hubert’s new style is that it reflects who he is away from the football field.

It’s more than just “a good marketing strategy.”

Hubert likes to wear cowboy boots, because they are comfortable, and his hobbies include hunting and fishing. But he objects to being labeled a country boy.

Yes, Hubert once caught a 50-pound catfish that was too big to reel in so he jumped in the water and pulled it out with his bare hands. Yes, he has also shot his fair share of deer on hunting trips. But he was born in Topeka and he now lives in Manhattan. He says he’s a city boy.

Perhaps he’s a mixture of both, and that’s why he epitomizes the values of two different coaches.

Whatever the case, Hubert will be rocking a man bun for the foreseeable future.

If he plays up to expectations this season, maybe some of his teammates will, too.

“NFL guys inspired me to grow my hair out like this,” Hubert said. “Hopefully I can inspire someone down the road to do it as well.”

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