Those ear-piercing shrills you hear rising from the plains of central Kansas are probably coming from Percell Gaskins. A sophomore linebacker and high jumper at Kansas State, Gaskins has made a habit of exercising his vocal cords at rather unexpected times: when he arches his back to clear a high-jump bar or when he lines up across from an offensive tackle or even when he walks to the water fountain in the school's weight room. "I've been known to startle a few folks with my screams," says Gaskins. "At the NCAA indoor track championships I did it before my jumps, and people kept asking me if my breakfast cereal was too sweet."
Cereal? No. The source of Gaskins's sugar buzz is the tiny, honey-filled packets handed out at Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. During track meets he places several packets in his mouth and chews them into a sticky pulp. Then he swallows it—plastic and all.
"Like with yelling," Gaskins says, "the honey helps me get hyped."
At the NCAA indoor meet one Iowa State high jumper began sampling the honey himself after watching Gaskins leap 7'5¼" to become the 1993 national champion.
Gaskins's high-jumping career began through a combination of happenstance and stubbornness. He was in the eighth grade in Daytona Beach, Fla., when one day after football practice he started leaping over the high-jump bar just for fun. After he broke the bar twice, the track and field coach told him he ought to stick to football. Determined to prove the coach wrong, Gaskins started training in both sports. Many mornings he would rise early, put on a weighted vest he had borrowed from his brother, Reggie, and run wind sprints across the Granada Bridge, which spans the Halifax River. Soon he was sporting calves the size of canned hams. As a sophomore at Seabreeze High, he won the high jump at the U.S. Junior Olympics with a leap of seven feet.
Gaskins was not recruited by a Division I school, so he went to Northwestern Oklahoma State. He won the NAIA high-jump title in 1992, and then transferred to Kansas State, in part because the Wildcats were willing to let him compete in two sports. "Percell is the best athlete I've ever seen," says Kansas State track coach Cliff Rovelto. "The best. Period."
And despite having never played a single down of Division I football, Gaskins quickly made believers of the
Wildcat football coaches, too. "I think he hits better than he high-jumps," says co-defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Jim Leavitt. Adds head coach Bill Snyder, "In golf they refer to the way Percell hits as taking good power strokes."
Gaskins likes that analogy. In fact, he often pictures himself as a two-iron and the opposing running back as a dimpled Titleist. Gaskins, who is 6'1", 213 pounds, insists he's still looking for that perfect collision, and he may find it on Sept. 4, when Kansas State hosts New Mexico State in its opener. In the meantime, Gaskins can most likely be found in the weight room or near the high-jump pit or atop the spray-painted Wildcat on the center of Wagner Field, lying there just counting clouds. "That's where I go to clear my head," he says. "And if that doesn't work, I let out a big scream."