New look for USC?

With all the equipment chores facing him to get ready for a new football season, picking an alternate helmet is just one of many for Todd Hewitt.

The look isn't really going to change, Todd Hewitt says softly.

"You wouldn't take the Yankees out of pinstripes," USC's director of equipment operations says. Well, USC isn't about to stray far from the basic, and classic, look Trojans football fans have come to expect in recent decades.

"We'll always have black shoes, white shoelaces, gold pants, cardinal or white jerseys and cardinal helmets," Hewitt says.

But that doesn't mean there might not be tweaks here and there, maybe for a game, maybe for a special alternate helmet. Maybe.

"A second helmet," Hewitt calls the possibility, nodding toward the shinier cardinal model on his desk. "Coach [Steve Sarkisian] hasn't approved it yet." But it could happen.

It's clear Sark would like to do something, as he did at Washington, to come up with an alternate look, at least for a game or two, but one that still fits into the classic model of the program.

They're also experimenting with the facemask, discarding a more garish two-toned design and the bright gold chrome for an upgraded chrome version of the standard gray masks that have been given a gold-flecked treatment in recent years.

But this all takes some work. The new all-black "RelentlesSC" Friday workout gear went through 16 design options with Sark making the call from the final three and within a week, USC's players were wearing them, individualized for each with his number on them.

So even with no decision yet, USC could still have the helmets and facemasks in and ready to go for the fall. They just have to make the call, Hewitt says as he looks at a helmet the exact same cardinal color, just with a brighter metallic look."

But there's more than just color here. The helmets that cost an average $250 each (USC uses both Riddell and Schutt and there are several models of each with facemasks adding as much as another $100) have worked well for USC.

"We've done a pretty good job with our helmets," Hewitt says. "We lost only one last year in a game . . . Max Tuerk had one pulled off with a hand to the face in the Stanford game and that was it."

A lot of that is getting the fit right, Hewitt says, something he learned from his 44 years with the Rams (starting as an 11-year-old assistant to his dad, Don) before returning two years ago to USC after a season at Cal.

"We may do a couple of things," Hewitt says of the look this season, like different socks (black and white) for home and away as they did a couple of years ago. But no messing with the basically all-black shoes and white socks. No more red-and-gold Ronald McDonald look.

"No question it's a different world today," Hewitt says. "If we were a couple of kids, we'd probably be texting one another not talking here." And that means change as a result of the way young people have access to so many instantaneous images every moment of their lives.

"When we take recruits to the Coliseum, the coaches don't want just five or six lockers set up but the whole locker room with all the gear a USC player might wear or use as a player here," Hewitt says. "They want them to see their shoes and everything else."

And there's a lot of it. Which USC can document, as per Compliance [Department] wishes. All the gear issued to players is bar-coded and Hewitt can get a printout for each of them -- what gear they got and what it's worth. He shows you one with a $1,442.00 tab last year. Most of it can't be recycled and players wearing it around "promotes USC," Hewitt says, so it's left with them.

But unlike some recent examples in other places, USC knows where it all is, who has it and what it's worth. "We're getting calls from other schools about the program," Hewitt says.

And as much time as football require, Hewitt estimates 70 percent of his job is football-related, the other 30 percent goes to the rest of the sports that don't require as much equipment or uniforms like golf, for example. But there are moments.

"Two years ago, I got a call at 4 a.m. in Hawai'i before our game there from our women's volleyball coach about a jersey they needed. I told her I'd take care of it and by noon, we had it for them."

Uniforms aren't the sole focus here. USC's vault of more than 1,000 new almost all-black Nike shoes in seven or eight models is just as big a deal. And it's more about matching up the right shoe for the right player than for color as they fit them for orthotics, ankle braces, tape and all the special needs for players like Justin Davis, Cody Temple and Nico Falah.

Sometimes it's just remeasuring a player like Tre Madden, who has been wearing size 13's since high school but actually measured out at a size 12 on one foot, 11 1/2 on the other.

All in all, it's a load of work, getting the 115 sets of new practice gear, new workout gear, new travel gear, new pants and jerseys, possibly new helmets and new cleats that end up in walls and walls full of gear in what look almost like bank vaults. There are more than 2,000 gloves in one, a bank of 22 differently colored laundry loops boxes in another.

Which gets us to what may be the single-most ongoing reponsibility for Hewitt's department of 10 employees with assistance from dozens of managers, 12 in football alone for the season, 25 in spring -- and that's laundry.

How much laundry, you ask. Two years ago when the USC athletic department was forced out of Heritage Hall for its reconstruction, it looked like the laundry operations would have to be done off-site and not by the displaced equipment folks. The three bids that came in ranged from $470,000 to $485,000. And that had USC scrambling to come up with a place to continue doing their own laundry, which they did.

"We spend $25,000 to $27,000 a year just for the chemicals to do the laundry," Hewitt says of what it takes to keep the five industrial size washers and seven dryers in Heritage and two more each in Galen going from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day in season.

One other responsibility Hewitt is getting ahead of right now is planning the equipment travel to the away games. Only for Boston College, where the distance requires a larger charter, will USC take all the team equipment on the plane. A two-man team will take off Thursday for the other games, including the journey to Pullman, Wash.

"There's no easy way to get to Pullman," Hewitt says. But they have it down to a science. They'll alternate the drivers, get in overnight, have security for the truck and then set up the visitor's locker room Friday before the team arrives. They have it down for one simple reason.

"Every one of our games is a road game," Hewitt says of the need to transport everything to the Coliseum early on game days. It's just something they do, arriving before 7 a.m. for a 12:30 kickoff.

Why not do it Friday, Hewitt is asked. Simple, he says. Too much temptation and "too many people with keys."


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