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Football equipment manager continues passion on field

By CHRISTIAN MYERS | Friday, September 20, 2013

If there’s one constant in Irish football, it is that in their pristine golden helmets the players look good. For the past few seasons head equipment manager Ryan Grooms has been the man responsible.

Grooms said he became a football equipment manager in order to remain involved in the sport when he could no longer play.

“I played high school football and couldn’t continue my career past high school. It was my way to stay in the game and be involved with it. I get to be part of the game and still enjoy it, and I found out I could get paid to do it so it was a win-win situation,” Grooms said. “It keeps me young and I get paid to go to Notre Dame football practice, so I can’t complain too much right now. Things are good.”

Grooms, a father of two, said his favorite aspect of the job is the opportunity it gives him to bring his son, a toddler, into the locker room to hang out with the players.

“My favorite part of the job is that I have a two and a half year old little boy and I get to bring him up in the locker room. Coach Kelly is a very family-oriented guy, which allows everyone else to bring their family around,” he said. “We have a job that takes a lot of hours and consumes a lot of our time away from home. It’s fun for me to see him running around the locker room and high-fiving Zach Martin, T.J. [Jones] and all those guys. He gets to hang out with them and gets to be part of it.”

Grooms said his role in the overall team structure is to focus on player safety so the players and coaches can focus on the game.

 “My role, my goal, is to make sure those guys are healthy and safe and protected as much as I can do,” Grooms said. “It’s Coach Kelly’s role that determines the success. I want nothing more than for these guys to win.” 

Grooms said he is in charge of maintaining the locker room and coordinating all team travel, but primarily he and his staff work to provide players and coaches with any and every item of equipment they need.

“First and foremost is player safety. It all starts with helmet fitting, that’s the most important, and then everything trickles down,” he said. “We fit them with all their equipment – helmets, shoulder pads, shoes, leg pads, you name it. … I work closely with Adidas on a daily basis to order the apparel and footwear, anything you see a player or coach wearing we take care of from the equipment room.”

In order to prevent concussions and other injuries it is essential to constantly maintain and adjust the athletes’ equipment, Grooms said.

“The biggest fear of the job is player safety – there’s a lot of concussion talk,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can every day to make sure we’ve got our helmets properly fit – checking the air, checking the chinstraps. … We do routine maintenance repairs and checks on all the equipment. … You just want to make sure the players are always safe.”

In addition to their formal duties, Grooms said he and his staff make an effort to provide a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for players who visit the equipment room.

“We are very close with the players, whether we want to be or not. We try and make sure that we have a good atmosphere for those guys to come into, whether it’s to get away from school or get away from the locker room, they know they can come to the equipment room and just hang out,” he said. “It’s an area where they can just be themselves and not have to be the starting receiver or running back or whoever it may be. An area where they can kind of get away and have a good time.”

As head equipment manager Grooms is responsible on a daily basis for a 25-person staff, which consists of one full-time assistant equipment manager and 24 student managers.

Grooms said these student managers work hard and work well without receiving much recognition. 

“The three senior managers, the juniors and the sophomores on a daily basis really make practices work. They make things run smoothly. They’re not seen and they don’t get heard about and they do an outstanding job,” he said.

Grooms said he enjoys showing the locker room to visitors because it reminds him how fortunate he is to work in a place other people dream of seeing.

“It’s so unique to be able to bring people into the locker room and see their reaction,” he said. “I catch myself sometimes taking it for granted … walking in to [the locker room] is walking into my office, which is pretty cool to say. When I get to bring people in for their first time and they see how special it is, it’s a reality check.”

Grooms said his favorite moment in the long and storied tradition of Notre Dame football was the 2012 victory over USC that capped an undefeated season.

 “My favorite moment in Notre Dame football history, because I lived it myself, was when we beat USC last year. To see the reaction of the guys, the coaches and everybody coming together, it was awesome,” Grooms said. “Nothing like being 12-0, I’ve never done that anywhere else. To do it at Notre Dame and at this level of competition, and to know where we were going to go after that, you can’t match it.”

The best story of a player losing equipment happened two years ago on the night of the game against Michigan, he said. Former Irish place kicker David Ruffer realized he forgot his kicking cleats in the equipment room in Notre Dame Stadium after the team had reached Ann Arbor, Mich.

Grooms said the reason his staff had not brought the cleats with the rest of the team’s footwear is that kickers often refuse to let anyone else transport their kicking cleats.

“Kickers are by far, and I say this in a good way, the weirdest guys on the team,” Grooms said. ” They don’t let their kicking shoes out of their sight … They’ll bring [the shoes] in their backpack because they don’t want anybody else to handle them.”

Grooms contacted the team’s doctors, who had yet to leave campus, and after police and firefighters helped them get into the locked stadium equipment room the doctors brought Ruffer’s cleats to the game.

Grooms is in his fourth year as head equipment manager for the football program. He said he has worked with the equipment staff at five different universities in the past 14 1/2 years, 11 of those years as a full-time manager rather than a student. His last position prior to coming to Notre Dame was as the head equipment manager at the University of Minnesota.

The traditions and fans of Notre Dame football make it very different from the other schools at which he has worked, Grooms said.

“I’ve been fortunate to able to go from job to job and to advance each time. You get to one place and you learn about the program, and it doesn’t take that long. Well, there is a learning curve at Notre Dame with how special a place it is and with the world-wide, not just nation-wide, following that Notre Dame football has,” he said.

Grooms said he is happy his path as a professional equipment manager has brought him to Notre Dame.

“It’s Notre Dame, at the end of the day you can’t beat it,” Grooms said.

Contact Christian Myers at
cmyers8@nd.edu