When the University of Toledo Rockets football team charges out of the locker room for a game on a crisp autumn Saturday afternoon, Rusty Rogers can relax.
The team s equipment manager and his staff spend so many hours leading up to the game shining helmets, fitting shoulder pads, doing laundry, chasing down footballs, helping out coaches, smoothing out practice routines, loading bags, unloading bags, packing planes, unpacking planes, and doing all the other myriad chores that come with handling the team s equipment, that Mr. Rogers down time comes during the actual game.
I just sit around and wait for something to break, he said between scrubbing helmets and doing laundry on a recent Wednesday night. I m there to trouble-shoot.
One thing he and his seven-person staff don t do and if you ask them they ll immediately and emphatically disavow the notion is fetch water.
We don t do water. We are not water boys, we are not water girls, he said before pausing for one exception. But if the coach asks me for water, I ll get him water.
The 32-year-old Mr. Rogers came to UT a few years ago after serving on the equipment manager staff at Clemson University. He works out of the Larimer Building in the shadow of the Glass Bowl in a room that looks like an athletic store that exploded with University of Toledo merchandise.
There are shoes piled all over the place, helmets stacked here and there, shirts, shoulder pads, and loads of laundry, and it s bustling with college students wearing UT gear. Mr. Rogers and his staff of students work only for the football team and it s a full-time job. Even during the off-season, he s buying new clothes and uniforms, overseeing spring practices, and sprucing up for recruiting visits, while doing the overall maintenance that keeps the program running.
It s more complicated than it might seem. For example, consider helmets. There are 102 helmets and each player has to be fitted properly to ensure comfort and, more important, safety. Mr. Rogers grabbed some off a rack and laid them out on a table to show the variety available to him.
The thing about helmets is that they re constantly changing, he said. Right now I have five different [types].
Linebacker Tyson Patrick came in to get his helmet fixed and immediately started getting some ribbing from Mr. Rogers, who asked what the problem was.
When I lift my head, it hurts and when I get hit, it s shaky, he told Mr. Rogers, who seemed to know there was more to it than just comfort. After some good-natured teasing all the while finding the player a new helmet, fitting it, and pumping some air into it Mr. Patrick admitted that style mattered to him.
I ve been getting made fun of, he said sheepishly. They call it the Halo helmet, referring to the video game.
Mallory Hensley, a fifth-year student from Marion, Ohio, majoring in environmental biology, said the equipment manager staff develops a unique camaraderie with the team.
When the Rockets lose, they lose. And if they knock off one of the big football programs in their backyard?
When they beat Michigan we were on the sidelines screaming our heads off, she said as she scrubbed helmets.
Mr. Rogers said the competition extends beyond the athletes to the opposing equipment managers.
I want to make sure that my stuff looks better than the other guys ; that s what I want, he said. Players compete on the field to win the ball game and I compete against the equipment manager across the field so that my stuff looks better than his.
While he takes his job seriously, he knows his role is to stay tucked away behind the scenes. After all, no one goes to a college football game to watch the equipment manager do his thing.
We re like a watch and there are a lot of moving parts to that watch. I m just that one little cog that if something tweaks, that watch might stop running, he said. My job s important, but I don t expect to be recognized.