The Illinois football team didn't travel to the Chicago area for a spring scrimmage this year, but they practiced at St. Rita, Lemont and Oak Park-River Forest the past three years. It was a temporary reprieve for Head Football Equipment Manager Trent Chesnut to stay home all spring, but he doesn't mind extra work.
"Yeah, it was a little bit easier the Saturday before the Spring Game. But it's kind of a neat deal, and I bet we go back to doing it. This year, with all the coaching changes, the focus was on getting those guys up to speed."
Chesnut and his crew must treat a spring scrimmage off campus the same as an away game in the fall. That requires a great deal of preparation.
"It's a lot of work. We take the same 53 foot trailer that Tim Osterbur provides for us. Obviously, it's not as full as it would be on a real road game. On a real road game, that 53 foot trailer is packed front to back, top to bottom.
"Thursday is packing day. We'll start right after lunch, start getting all the stuff we can. As soon as practice is over, we have all the player pack their bags, and we double check them.
"That's about the last stuff that goes on, 70 player bags and a dozen or so coaches bags. We usually shut the doors about 7:00-7:30 that night."
Osterbur drives the truck, and Chesnut and his assistants aren't far behind. They don't fly with the team on long trips.
"If it's a long trip, Tim will leave Thursday night. If not, he will leave Friday morning. We have a van that John Birdsell drives. We pack the students up in it.
"Sometimes if it's a long trip we will take a bus. For Penn State and Minnesota, we will take a charter bus with all the student managers, student trainers and video kids."
Fall practices are held predominately in Camp Rantoul, a tradition started during Coach Ron Turner's tenure. Coaches love the chance to get off campus and think only about football. Some players enjoy it also. But the equipment people have extra burdens at that time.
"For Camp Rantoul, you work during the summer getting stuff stored away, the stuff you're gonna take and get the boxes marked. So when it's time to move, everything's pretty much boxed up and ready to go."
Strength and Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez must have his weight training equipment there for the players in between practice sessions. So the amount of material that must be moved is enormous.
"We take literally this whole equipment room. Everything you can imagine, in addition to the weight room and all the training supplies. It's quite a project getting up there. You're so glad to be coming back, it's not as bad."
The equipment people stay with the players in Rantoul, but daily trips back to Champaign are still required.
"We still do the laundry. The laundry is here, so we're taking laundry back and forth twice a day. Kyle (Croy) and John Birdsell take care of the laundry runs. They split it up. It's been working out well."
Rain has not forced practice to be moved back to campus in the last few years, but Chesnut and his staff must be prepared for a move on short notice. It is a labor of love, but it is also a great challenge. And it appears the Illini will continue to use Camp Rantoul for the foreseeable future.
"Coach Zook loves it up there. He says it's as good as any NFL training camp he's ever seen. It is because everything's right there."
Of course, it is Chesnut's job to make sure all the equipment is there. In part 7 of this 8-part report, Chesnut talks about how he prepares the field for daily practices and what he and his staff are required to do during and after practice.