by Alec Busse • EMAWOnline – Lead Reporter – @Alec_Busse

On Monday, K-State’s plane landed in New Orleans as preparations for the 2022 Sugar Bowl began on Monday afternoon with the team having their first workout since returning from a short Christmas break away with their families.

“Great to be in New Orleans,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “Left some cold weather up in Manhattan, had some snow, and got everybody down here. We’re excited for our first workout this afternoon and great hospitality that’s already been given to us. Our kids are so thrilled for the opportunity play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.”

This is the first time in K-State football history that the Wildcats have played in the Sugar Bowl. Saturday’s game against Alabama is the first time that the two programs will have ever played against each other.

“As coaches, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have the opportunity to play against a great team like Alabama. It’s going to be a great matchup on Saturday,” Klieman said. “We got a lot of work to do. We’ve given the guys a few days off over Christmas, so we’ve got some work to do this week in preparation.”

While K-State isn’t ready for Alabama yet, traveling to New Orleans on Monday provides the Wildcats an opportunity to have a typical game-week preparation. K-State is spending the entire week in New Orleans practicing before the Sugar Bowl on Saturday morning.

“It’s still going to be what we did every week so far,” K-State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah said. “All of our weeks haven’t changed with our preparation, so we’re still going to get our work in and get the job done. Don’t get me wrong, it is New Orleans, but we have to focus on the task at hand, which is to try to beat Bama.”

K-State is viewing the opportunity of playing Alabama as a large one. The Crimson Tide have won six national titles since Nick Saban’s team beat Texas in 2010 to secure the Hall of Fame coach’s first title with Alabama. Saban’s most recent title came in 2021 when Alabama finished the season undefeated, despite playing only Power 5 opponents.

“It’s going to be a big challenge on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Klieman said. “We have a lot of veteran guys on both sides of the line of scrimmage that know the fistfight that it’s going to be starting on Saturday at 11:00. And so that’s going to a big, big challenge for us.”

Added K-State offensive lineman Cooper Beebe: “For our team and our program, facing a team like Alabama, it’s huge for our program. It is a statement game for our program. Laying a team at the caliber of Alabama being at the top of college football would be huge for our program and give us a lot of credibility.”

Still, Klieman has urged his team to approach each game with a mindset of focusing on themselves and their aspirations instead of the team on the opposite sideline.

“We got to focus on us,” Klieman said. “That’s something we’ve talked about all season long, is focusing on us. It’s all about what Kansas State does. It’s about our preparation. It’s about us detailing our work. It’s about us making sure that we’re attacking the process on a daily basis to get to Saturday and play this game.”

Business trip with some partying

K-State is treating the Sugar Bowl like it’s a business trip, the Wildcats are traveling with the expectation of winning the game on Saturday. But part of playing in bowl games is being able to experience the host city, and few cities offer as many cultural attractions as New Orleans.

“They’ve got a number of things planned for our players, a few things planned for our staff and our wives,” Klieman said. “But we have our work that we’ve got to get done in the morning and afternoon, and then the evenings, we’ll get a chance to get away for a little bit and see New Orleans.”

Neither Beebe or Felix Anudike-Uzomah have been to New Orleans or been inside the Superdome before, but both are anticipatory of what the week ahead holds for them away from the football field.

“Just getting off the plane, it’s already an exciting feeling seeing what the town has to offer,” Beebe said.

“Bourbon Street is where to be. I haven’t heard much, but I’m excited to walk around in my free time and experience the whole thing.”

Anudike-Uzomah’s favorite food is seafood, so he’s excited to get a taste of famous New Orleans cuisine.

“Obviously, I’m going to try to have a little fun,” Anudike-Uzomah said.

K-State’s players were already welcomed to New Orleans with a band and dancers when they stepped off the airplane where Sugar Bowl-themed beaded necklaces were placed around their necks.

“Just seeing the energy and the vibe around the place was unbelievable,” Beebe said. “It wasn’t something I expected. I thought we would get off the plane and go straight to the busses. But it was super cool to see.”