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Student football equipment managers assist program behind the scenes

| Friday, September 15, 2017

The student football equipment managers may not have their names on the back of a jersey, but without them the magic of game day would never come to fruition. Since 1920, equipment managers have been working behind the scenes to ensure that football practices and games go as planned. The 24 students currently in the program set up drills for practice, ready the stadium for the games and make the team’s golden helmets shine.

Ryan Grooms, head football equipment manager who oversees the student equipment manager program, began working for the University in 2010. In 2012, he adjusted the program — which employs around 12 sophomores, nine juniors and three senior managers each year — to the structure it uses today.

“We want it to be a smooth operation where coaches and players don’t have to think about anything … so they can focus on the task at hand — winning football games,” Grooms said.

The program is highly competitive and the only equipment managing program that makes cuts, Grooms said.

“We’ve got a really great team, a great group of guys and coaches who really appreciate what [student football equipment managers] do,” he said.

Interested students start freshman year with a “tryout period,” where they are assigned shadow shifts with experienced returners and learn how the job is done. This year, Grooms said, over 100 freshmen signed up at activities night. From that pool, Grooms chooses around 14 students to continue on as sophomores. The juniors and seniors are chosen partly through a peer evaluation process by the student managers, who take each person’s trustworthiness, honesty, care for Notre Dame football and work ethic into account. Only three are selected to continue on their senior year, Grooms said.

The students are paid a scholarship stipend for their work, which increases each year with the time commitment, Grooms said. The three senior managers receive 85 percent of their tuition through the program.

Saint Mary’s senior Ashley DeJonge, one of the three senior student managers, described the equipment managers as the people behind the scenes that keep the football program running.

“Anything behind the scenes that you would expect to go into a practice or a game day production, we’re doing it,” DeJonge said. “It’s pretty amazing hands-on experience, especially if you love the game and love the atmosphere.”

During a regular practice, the equipment managers’ duties might include setting up drills — two managers are assigned to each position — cleaning shoulder pads and helmets, helping out in the equipment room or heat pressing locker numbers into issued gear. In fact, DeJonge said, every single piece of apparel the players wear was distributed to them by the student managers.

The managers attend all three practices each week, and all hands are on deck for home games. On game days, managers report to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in the morning with the players, and set up the field, pylons and drills, DeJonge said. Some managers work inside the locker room at halftime, she said, getting players replacements for ripped jerseys or malfunctioning cleats.

After the game, DeJonge said, managers are responsible for helping clean the stadium as well as various equipment items such as shoulder pads.

“It’s been really fun being behind the scenes and seeing how the program comes together,” she said. “There’s so many things that I’ve learned about sports programs — especially football in general — that I never thought about going into gameday production.”

For most managers who happen to be fans of the sport, it’s a dream come true, DeJonge said, and juniors and seniors get to travel to away games with the team.

Junior equipment manager Ryan Green works as a ball boy for the opposing sideline on game days. He said he works with the referees about 15 feet ahead of play and always keeps an eye out for incoming players or coaches, with whom he’s had a few close calls.

“How hard the student athletes work isn’t something I had an appreciation for before my job,” Green said. “Though I need to be there for practice, they need to be there before practice for meetings. I need to memorize what coaches need for certain drills, they memorize entire playbooks. That’s what I’ve gained the most out of it. How ridiculously dedicated some of these kids are to playing football for Notre Dame.”

Beside standing on the sidelines during games, football equipment managers also have the opportunity to experience things they never have before, making the sacrifice of not tailgating more than worth it, Green said.

“I have one of the best seats in the house,” Green said. “During the Temple game, when Josh Adams ran through for a touchdown on the second play of the game I was probably 20 feet away from him, and that was a surreal experience for me.”

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