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Football student managers reflect on behind-the-scenes work

| Friday, November 8, 2019

In 1759, Adam Smith created the “Invisible Hand” concept. Though his idea referred to the unobservable forces that move a free market economy, at Notre Dame a similar Invisible Hand allows the football program to run smoothly, making sure the team is equipped with everything it needs to succeed.

Even though students and Irish fans may pay no heed to their efforts, a group of about 24 students are constantly working behind the scenes to maintain the football team’s equipment and travel accommodations. They make sure balls and machinery are present during practices and players have warmers in the cold winter games. From fixing helmets and drying balls to waking up players and creating music playlists for their practices, the football student managers are there to cover the program’s every need.

Courtesy of Jennifer Buck

Student managers fulfill one of their major responsibilities, maintaining and preparing the football team’s equipment.

A four-year program

The program, which has three divisions — operations, equipment and personnel — is designed with a tiered model, with managerial duties increasing each academic year. First year students, the largest group, work as volunteers, shadowing upperclassmen. Sophomores have greater responsibilities, having to work during home games. At the end of the year, eight students are chosen to continue the program as juniors, selections being made through peer-evaluation. Juniors are then able to work both home and away games, and, when the year comes to an end, four are selected to be the senior managers, who have the tasks of overseeing the program and training members.

During the year, the football student managers tackle both academic and work responsibilities, juggling not only the challenges present a college student’s reality but also the responsibilities associated with the jobs.

In the summer, these students stay on campus in order to assist during the football team’s practices. Once the college football season begins, they must not only attend practice, but also prepare the home games and travel with the team when they play away from Notre Dame. Though one might imagine a student manager’s work ends once the season comes to an end, but during the spring semester, students must continue attending practices, make the Blue and Gold game a reality and train the incoming class of managers who will take over the senior’s responsibilities once the year ends.

“There’s really no off season in this job,” Notre Dame senior Harrison Kranz said. “We’re there for practices, games, winter workouts, conditioning and [the] summer.”

 

Always on their toes

Like any other student, Kranz wakes up and attends classes in order to complete his accounting degree. Around 2 p.m., his role changes from student to football student manager.

In a normal practice day, Kranz heads to Guglielmino Athletics Complex, or “the Gug,” in the afternoon and takes attendance to make sure all 120 players are present. Then, he sets up for practice and makes sure that scheduling and itinerary tasks are ready in case the team is traveling. Afterwards, Kranz goes out to the field to check that all the necessary equipment is there. Finally, he oversees post-practice recovery for the players and leaves at around 7 p.m.

On game days, the football managers arrive at the stadium at 8 a.m. in order to make all the arrangements for the day.

“Basically, everything you see on game day are things we set up,” Kranz said. “Long days, but they are definitely really rewarding.”

Even though there is a certain routine regarding the tasks they must complete, Saint Mary’s senior Jennifer Buck said every day brings a new surprise, meaning she must always be “on her toes.”

“You never really know what a coach might want,” Buck said. “It’s hard to plan ahead because you just kind of have to be in the moment and adjust to what they want, and that’s kind of hard.”

Hart said some days might be harder than others, and that sticking through is definitely important.

“Sometimes you don’t have the best days and sometimes something goes bad at practice, but there are days where everything just perfectly fits together,” Hart said. “It’s a lot of rolling with the punches, and if something happens you just have to adapt and overcome.”

Kranz believes this adaptability is an important skill to have while working behind the scenes, especially since “the job of manager is to not be noticed,” he said.

 

Building Relationships

Howbeit their mission is to remain as unnoticeable as possible, their support is not invisible to the football team, junior linebacker Reed Gregory said.

“Without the managers, practice would be chaos,” he said. “They always have everything ready to go so no time is wasted. We need managers during the week so we can be successful on Saturday.”

Football student managers do everything from packing trucks for traveling and tying the players’ shoes to waking the team up at hotels and making sure they get the nutrition they need. As such, an enormous part of their job is spent with the football players.

“Traveling with the players is really fun and going to all these places where I wouldn’t be able to go otherwise,” Notre Dame senior John Geppert said. “We also get to work with coaches and other incredible people.”

Spending that much time with the team not only means these students know the songs they like to hear during practices — “they like ‘Circle of Bosses’ and ‘God’s Warrior’ a lot,” Geppert said — but they also build relationships with players that translate into greater cooperation and success in their work.

Yet, perhaps one of the most meaningful relationships they cultivate during their four years in the program is the one they share with each other, Geppert said.

“I really love the relationship you form with other managers,” he said. “The work can be hard and tedious, but we have a great group of kids.”

Saint Mary’s senior Molly Hart agrees that having a close-knit group of people to work with is one of her favorite parts of the job and considers last year’s trip to the Cotton Bowl one of her favorite memories.

“I really enjoyed our week-long trip to the Cotton Bowl because we’re already a close group, but we spent a lot of time together, hanging out in the hotels and spending Christmas together,” Hart said.

 

Looking back on their time together

Even though they work arduously as football student managers, the sentiment Buck, Geppert, Hart and Kranz said they shared was one of deep gratitude for the program.

Looking back on the four years they have spent on the job, the group of four considered that, despite the difficulties associated with their work, the football manager program has been an important part of their time in college.

“It’s definitely a great commitment, and so it’s hard to commit yourself to something where you’re not there to get recognition and you’re not there for the spotlight,” Kranz said. “But, I think it’s an awesome experience and you gain so much from it.”

Buck provided a piece of advice for the first-year students who are beginning the program this year and will eventually fill in her shoes.

“I want the freshmen to know that it’ll be difficult and that there will be moments when they’ll maybe want to quit, especially when school gets hard, but it’s so worth it to stick with it as long as you can because you learn so much from this experience,” she said. “Push through the hard times.”

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