Beyond the Jersey: Part I

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Take a walk up the field tunnel at Kenan Stadium and you will find yourself on the ground level of North Carolina's football sanctuary.

Inside Carolina is providing an in-depth look at the inner workings of UNC's football equipment room in a multi-part series that focuses on routines, styles, options and possibilities for the future.
To your immediate right is the players' locker room, while the athletic training room is across the hall on the left. Walk another 20 paces straight ahead and you will discover UNC's expansive weight room, but if you follow the hallway down to the left, you will run into the Morris Mason Equipment Room that serves both to clothe and protect every player and staff member that wears the Tar Heel logo.

Longtime head equipment manager Dominic Morelli utilizes a staff of two full-time assistants – Jason Freeman and Mark Yaekel – and 10 student managers to manage and organize an operation that compares on some levels to a retail clothing store that you might find on Franklin Street.

It would be easy to assume that the equipment staff merely provides helmets, pads and uniforms to North Carolina's football players, but that is only one part of the equation. Any clothing that individuals working for the program wear in practice or on game day are issued by Morelli and his crew.

Sizes range from the extra small shirts that several female students wear up to the 4XL gear that some linemen require. Combine that spectrum with needed extras that are commonplace thanks to football's normal wear and tear, and this job quickly becomes all-encompassing.

"It takes a big crew to put it all together," said Freeman, who is affectionately known by players and coaches as 'J-Bone.' "We're not just outfitting the players. We're outfitting the athletic training staff and all of their students, we outfit the video staff and all of their students, the weight staff and we obviously outfit all of the coaches… We're outfitting them for everything that they need, so it's a big job to keep all of this stuff organized and inventoried to make sure you've got enough on hand."

The equipment staff began working on its 2010 Nike order last fall, using current measurements as a projection for the massive needs that must be met with each passing season.

"There's only so much that people are going to change, so it gives you a basis for what to order," Freeman said. "You can look at the various sizes of your current staff and base the order on that. The same goes for shoe sizes and things like that."

While the players' wardrobe consists primarily of exercise options and uniforms, the coaching staff is issued a wide range of clothes – practice, game, cold-weather, rain, etc.

Butch Davis and his assistants wear custom-tailored slacks for each game, and Nike provides four different game shirts for each season. Two of those shirts are worn early in the season, while the other two are rotated in during the latter part of the schedule. Most schools aren't awarded that flexibility, but North Carolina's perennial dwelling near the top of the collegiate merchandising sales charts provides for some added benefits.

One thing fans may not notice from the stands or television is that the coaching staff wears a different color golf shirt than that of the team's uniforms.

"What we try to do on game day is that whatever color the team is wearing, the coaches wear the opposite color so that when the players look to the sidelines, the coaches stand out," Freeman said.

The training, video and equipment staffs wear the same color shirts as the players in an attempt to blend in, while designated signal callers may wear a unique color to separate themselves from the masses.

That's not to say that the players don't enjoy their healthy dose of apparel, however. The student-athletes utilize the equipment room's issue window and designated lockers to acquire their apparel needs for the day. Each locker is stocked daily with the player's laundry loop, consisting of shorts, girdle, Dri-Fit shirts, socks, towel and anything else he may need.

"That way they can come up at anytime and get what they need for practice, whether we're here or not," Freeman said. "There are some schools that don't have lockers, so somebody has got to be there all of the time to issue the stuff out to the players. It allows the guy to have easy access to their things."

The players have a couple of sets for both the fall and spring seasons, one Carolina blue and one navy blue. After practice, the players simply return their dirty clothes to their lockers for cleaning. While one loop is being used, the other is being laundered.

The issue window is available for odds and ends that may not typically find their way into the individual lockers, items such as eye black, gloves, skullcaps and wristbands. The players are also able to request other apparel stored in their specific cubbies kept inside the equipment room.

"If Da'Norris Searcy comes up and he wants his sweatpants, I can just come to No. 21's locker and grab his stuff," Freeman said. "The cubbies are all numbered up to 130, so that way whoever comes up, I can just grab what he needs for practice."

Organization and attention to detail is key to maintaining order in an equipment room smaller in size than the Tar Heels' weight room. Fortunately, that's one area where Morelli and his staff have excelled.

(Check back tomorrow for Part II ...)


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