WEST POINT, N.Y. (Oct. 10, 2018) -- Kickoff between Army West Point Football and San Jose State may not be until 3:30 p.m. Saturday, but with roughly 3,000 miles separating the two campuses preparation for the game started days in advance.
The Black Knights' equipment semi filled with everything needed by the football team, Rabble Rousers and Cadet Spirit Band pulled out of New York Monday for a 50-hour drive from coast to coast. The trip to California finishes a hectic four weeks for the football team and the team of equipment managers working behind the scenes.
In the past month, the team has traveled roughly 5,000 miles each direction between trips to Norman, Oklahoma, Buffalo and now San Jose.
"I think it is something we all kind of circled when we saw the schedule," Assistant Football Equipment Manager Adam Braun said of the month spent on the road. "We circled the whole month and realized that in four weeks we are on the road three of them and off one. It is something we all look forward to. We look forward to the challenge of getting everything turned around so quickly. It is also kind of crazy. It is a long trip to Oklahoma and then, luckily, Buffalo is kind of close so we have a little more time. Then, we had the off week before the San Jose trip."
The football team was lucky to have a week off before traveling to California. For a typical away game, the equipment trailer leaves midweek, but with a cross country drive ahead, the truck was forced to leave Monday. That feat would have been nearly impossible if the equipment managers had been forced to prepare for the trip in little more than a day.
"You're pretty much accelerating your schedule by at least two or three days," Braun said of the trip to California. "We get into a groove of, the truck needs to be packed by Wednesday to leave Thursday and uniforms need to be done by this day so we can get it loaded. The coaches' attire needs to be dry cleaned on Monday and turned around for Wednesday. Now we are moving it up two, three, four days where everything has to be turned around quicker, loaded quicker and everything is fast."
The full-time equipment staff and cadet equipment managers are responsible for everything behind the scenes that goes into getting the football team ready for practice and games.
After games, they are tasked with collecting the uniforms and equipment used each week and getting them back in shape for the next week.
Manager Evan Tucker is the team's helmet doctor and he spends each week prepping the helmets for the game by fixing any issues, replacing the decals and making sure they look brand new week in and week out. Other managers spend the week cleaning uniforms, setting up for practice and making sure everything is ready for game day.
"There is tons of stuff going on at all hours of the day," Braun said. "It is all hands on deck. It is cleaning the jerseys and making sure the jerseys are checked in and look good, recollecting the game cleats and helmets. We are cleaning cleats and helmets, fixing helmets and redecaling them. Everything they wear, players and coaches, we have a hand in. We are making sure it is clean, it is back, reinventoried, repacked and reloaded for the next week."
It is the equipment manager's job to make sure the players and coaches have nothing to worry about except their play on the field. Multiple checks and redundancies go into making sure there is never a situation where a player is missing a cleat or his helmet for a game. The managers also bring along extra jerseys, pants and helmets on the road for the inevitable situations that happen in game where something breaks or gets torn.
"I don't think the average fan understands how much work and preparation goes into it," Nick Determan, assistant athletic director for equipment operations, said. "I don't think the average fan understands that there is a 53-foot semi that is full of 35,000 pounds of equipment that has to travel across the country. I think a lot of people just turn on the game, and if they thought about it, think the players just carry their helmet, shoulder pads and jersey with them and go out and play. It takes a big team of people to get it done and, fortunately, our equipment staff does a good job."
Once the game kicks off, the managers switch gears from preparation mode to damage control. It is their job to make sure a player who has an equipment issue is quickly able to get back on the field. When a player loses his helmet in college football, he is forced to leave the field for the next play. In that short window of time, the managers are tasked with diagnosing the issue and getting the player back on the field.
"If you ever see a guy's helmet come off and you see two or three guys running over to him, it is probably the equipment guy making sure he gets his helmet back on and refit," Braun said. "Football is a game of seconds and inches so if you have your best player off the field for more than one play and you give up a touchdown, that could be the decision in the game. We are constantly making sure we are fixing any issues that arise and keeping an eye on what is happening."
Their work continues after the game when the managers are tasked with loading the truck back up for the trip home and making sure any trace of the Black Knights having visited disappears from the locker room. Every piece of trash is picked up and the equipment room is left spotless before Army hits the road, even if that means Coach Jeff Monken is helping to clean.
"I think it is showing professionalism in everything you do down to the minute details of cleaning the locker room," Braun said of cleaning the locker room, something the team went viral for after the Oklahoma game. "I was taught to leave something the same, if not better, than you found it. It is not only a big thing with all of our full-time staff, it is also a big thing with Coach Monken."