Behind the Scenes of Cougar Football: Part 4

When the football careers end for many athletes after high school, during their transition into college they yearn to remain connected to the game they grew up loving, somehow. For Jay Takach, becoming a student manager appeased this need for belonging in the game he participated in since he was a child, as he explains,

“I was getting ready to go into undergrad at Michigan State and started looking for a job that would keep me close to football, since I played in high school and wanted to stick around in the sport. I talked to a secretary in the football offices about becoming a student manager and kept that job for three and a half years.” After receiving his bachelor’s (in Marketing) from Michigan State in 2000, he became an assistant equipment manager at Wisconsin for a year before moving on to Virginia Tech – where he was also an assistant equipment manager for three years. At Tech, Takach would receive his Masters in health and physical education. In 2005 he was hired as the Director of Equipment room Operations before being promoted to his current position (Assistant Athletic Director for Equipment Operations) in 2007. He has one full time assistant (Victor Ignatiev), one intern, and 12 to 14 student assistants for football. Jay did not want me listing any of the student assistants slated to work football this season. That’s unfortunate because as a former student assistant myself (for Cougar Video from 1996-99), I would have given anything to have seen my name in an article touting the athletic department. These kids don’t join the athletic department’s support staff for the notoriety and they most certainly don’t seek it out for the money, so a little appreciation (via articles like this) goes a long way, in my opinion. Of course I can understand his concern for his staff’s privacy issues, but I digress as we’ll get back to the equipment staff’s daily duties.

Daily Schedule

As soon as the game ends on a Saturday night (for a home game), the equipment staff clears the field of all football equipment, getting everything back into their equipment truck then unloading it all back at the Athletics Alumni Center. This process usually takes about an hour and a half. While this is taking place, some of the staff remains in the locker room at the Rob to help players out of their uniforms, basically cleaning up the locker room (after the players leave). When everybody gets back to the AAC, they get the players gear back into their respective lockers while starting cycles for the laundry. For a home game the staff will wash somewhere around 1,000 towels. If they play on the road the following week, the staff starts transferring items from their small equipment truck to their 53 foot trailer. Any item that wasn’t used during the game (extra towels, faceguards, etc) gets automatically transferred, along with any item that needs to be replaced – such as a pair of replacement gloves that were used during the game.

Sunday – The staff starts restocking items early in the morning – loading gloves, wrist bands, towels, eye black – basically any little thing that’s needed for a game. “We’ll use Sunday and Monday to go over everything and make sure that everything is loaded. For a road game we’ll start loading the trailer and for a home game we’ll wait until later in the week before we start loading the little truck,” says the native Houstonian.

Monday – Monday’s are usually shorter and lighter practices and not in pads, but the equipment staff still needs to be prepared, having all of the necessary equipment out on the field that is needed in order for the team to practice. The daily practice set-up will be looked at later in this article.

Tuesday – The staff will start getting the uniforms ready (white for a home game), repairing torn uniforms as necessary and back in place being ready to be packed.

Wednesday – This is the day the staff, “is really getting in the groove of getting ready to go as everything is almost packed in large trunks. We’ll find out who is on the ‘dress squad’ and pack their game uniforms into the trunks as well,” says Takach.

Thursday – During Thursday’s practice the team is not in shoulder pads, so they are placed aside and the staff starts putting double-sided tape on them. This keeps their jersey’s down and keeps the players from getting held too much, according to Takach who also mentions, “we’ll then get them (shoulder pads) into the players bags while at the same time taking the time to repair facemasks on all of the game helmets and polishing decals. While the team is at practice we’ll have a set of guys stay in here (locker room) and start to load shoulder pads and helmets into the players bags and set them in their lockers (if the team is playing at home). For a road game we’ll start packing their travel bags. We’ll make sure they have the necessary items each individual player needs, items such as knee braces and that sort of thing – knee pads and thigh pads as well, basically anything that they are going to need during a game. We’ll know that certain guys will need extra pairs of certain items, such as game cleats. Specific guys have different needs that we’ll monitor as a staff. For a road game we’ll place the travel bags on the trailer and for a home game we’ll place them in the equipment room and wait to load them on the smaller truck on Friday morning. If we’re playing on the road the trailer usually leaves Thursday night (more on this in a bit).”

Friday – According to Takach, Friday mornings are usually “the most relaxed day (home or road) as the truck is already gone (if the team is playing on the road), and we’ll do any last minute things here as the team goes through their walk-through. Later in the afternoon we’ll get on the bus with the team to board the plane. For a home game the truck will usually come by around 11:30 and we’ll load it up, get it to the stadium to get it to the locker room. We’ll then get their shoulder pads up in their locker and get everything ready to go except for their jerseys which we’ll put out Saturday. For a road game we’ll get off the plane and meet the truck at the stadium and do the same thing.”

For the longer road trips, such as this year’s game at the Rose Bowl versus UCLA on September the 15th, the trailer will leave Wednesday night with two drivers. Since the team has both practice and game gear, the equipment staff isn’t affected - schedule wise. “We send them out early because with the rules and regulations of interstate trucking the drivers have to rest a certain amount of time on the road,” according to Takach.

Daily Practice Setup

Practice is basically going to be the same as it was under the Sumlin regime, though the first few weeks of fall camp will be a little rocky, as Takach notes, “The first few weeks in August are probably the most challenging time. We take out so much stuff because we don’t know what the coaches want or request, so we’ll find out what they need and they’ll send out a long list. During the first week of practice we’ll have everything on their list out there set up at their particular stations. After a few weeks our managers (the student assistants whom are each assigned a different coach in which they are responsible for), will eventually figure out what that coach really needs. They’ll see what drills are written down according to the scripts so they’ll only take out the exact equipment they need. After the first few weeks it gets much easier to set up.” The staff is responsible for taking care and maintaining all of the equipment – pop ups, step overs, hand shields, nets, sleds, and rope ladders. To properly maintain a practice, Takach’s staff needs at least 12 student managers on the field, and they try for 14. So many student managers are needed mainly because of scheduling, “the problem is,” according to Takach, “that just like the student athletes, the older they (managers) get the more their class schedules run into the practice schedule, so 12 to 14 managers are usually what it takes to run it (practice).” All student managers are bi-weekly employees whom usually receive a set amount per semester.

On an interesting side note for football, the equipment operations staff will usually run three heavy duty washing machines (each with a 50 pound capacity) daily, from August through December. Each day, according to Takach, the staff will run each machine anywhere from 12 to 18 times, washing nearly 1,000 pounds of laundry on a daily average. And I thought I washed a lot of clothes/towels as a father of three!

In my last article on Sports Performance I wasn’t able to write everything I had intended, (due to space limitations) so I’ll take the time to finish that here. Mike ‘Doc’ O’Shea (head trainer) is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet, so if you see him ever see him walking around take a minute to say hello and I’m sure he’ll oblige you. Doc on how he received his nickname, “a lot of trainers are called ‘Doc’ in high school as the kids started it as a term of respect. This is what I was told a long time ago anyway (he said laughing). They think that much of you to call you that, rather than call you coach or Mr. so and so, or by your first name.”

‘Doc’ on his favorite UH football memory, “well I know my least favorite memory (he said laughing once again), last year versus Southern Miss. That one really hurt. My favorites are winning those two Conference USA championships (in 1996 and 2006). Also winning our first bowl game since the 80’s (beating Air Force 34 – 28 on December 31, 2008 in the Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth, which was the teams’ first Bowl victory since a 35-0 thrashing of Navy on December 14, 1980 in the Garden State Bowl in beautiful East Rutherford, New Jersey). Also when we beat Southern Miss in 1996 (56-49 in OT) and then again in 2006 (34-20 for their second and last CUSA championship).” In talking with Mike and learning just how genuinely nice of a man he truly is, one can’t help but appreciating his loyalty to the university, just as Jay (Takach) had told me when he said “I do this job because I love sports and I love this university.”

Also, while mentioning Doc’s lovely wife Annette, I failed to mention his son and daughter, both UH graduates. Chad O’Shea is currently entering his fourth season as the wide receivers coach with the New England Patriots after starting his career off here at UH in 1996 as a graduate assistant. Just as his father is, I remember Chad as a nice person who would always take the time to say hello, as he broke down video for the coaches cut-ups. O’Shea’s daughter, Julie, also has a Masters from UH and is currently a special education instructor in Ft. Bend County. Mike on his son, “He learned a lot here to start out his career which is what one should do – keep learning and move on up if you can.”

In next week’s “Behind the Scenes,” we’ll take a look at Chris Pezman and his role as the Director of Football Operations.

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