Kansas State football players are all wearing bracelets these days.
They are made of rubber. They are purple. And they mean a great deal to everyone who knows the story behind them.
Sophomore quarterback Daniel Sams happily rolled up the sleeves of his sport coat earlier this week to show his off during an interview.
“I wear two of them,” Sams said. “The whole team has them.”
The bracelets honor the memory of Braxton Kooser, a K-State fan who died in a car accident at the age of 14 in January. Braxton regularly attended games with his family — his parents are K-State alumni and season-ticket holders — and was an athlete himself, playing football and baseball at Derby High.
Braxton attended K-State’s final game of 2012 and watched the Wildcats defeat Texas to clinch their first Big 12 championship since 2003. His family celebrated by running onto the field. As the stadium emptied, he stayed on the field and took a picture looking up with his arms spread wide. He would later call it “a night I will never forget.”
“He was a huge fan,” said Alana Kooser, Braxton’s mother. “Braxton’s whole room is Kansas State.”
Braxton died when the Dodge Durango he was riding in spun off the road and rolled over several times into a ditch on Jan. 26. He was on the way home from a movie with friends. Afterward, students at Derby and two other area schools paid tribute by wearing purple. Coach Bill Snyder and K-State president Kirk Schulz sent flowers and handwritten letters to the family.
Now the Wildcats are getting in on the act with bracelets that feature Braxton’s name.
Some players, including quarterback Jake Waters, wore them during Friday’s opener.
“It is amazing and very humbling,” Alana Kooser said. “We knew that the players had been wearing them, but we didn’t expect to see them during the game. We got to meet some players afterward, and they all came out with them on. It was a very special moment, and it meant a lot to us.”
Sams helped distribute the bracelets with the help of one of Braxton’s friends, Josh Springer. In the offseason, Josh peppered Sams with messages via social media about the bracelets. Sams was hesitant to respond but decided to give Josh a chance after a week of persistence.
“At first I was blowing him off,” Sams said. “I thought he was just some fan who keeps trying to message me, but something just told me to reply back.”
Sams is glad he did. Josh told Sams about Braxton’s life and passion for K-State, and Josh told Sams he was one of Braxton’s favorite players.
Eventually, Sams asked for bracelets to be sent to the K-State football office. When about 70 arrived in a box, Sams shared Braxton’s story with his teammates and started passing out bracelets to everyone who wanted one.
But there was a problem. He didn’t have enough to meet demand.
“I told the team the story along with an attached letter,” Sams said. “I read the team the letter about this kid, and it really motivated us. It just goes back to show how much this community looks up to us as football players. I read the letter to the team and they all said, ‘Let me get some.’
A few weeks later, Sams received a new box of bracelets. Now every K-State football player has one.
Sams has met Josh Springer and the Koosers in the last few weeks. He posed for a picture with Braxton’s brothers after Friday’s loss to North Dakota State, and referred to them as family.
He was wearing two purple bracelets when they said goodbye. It will be a while before he takes them off.
“A lot of good came out of (the bracelets) as far as not taking this football game for granted,” Sams said. “It really made me look at things differently as far as being a football player. It’s not just about what I’m doing on the field.”