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An inside look at the sheer scope and size of WSU’s football equipment program

PULLMAN – Operating Washington State’s football equipment program is no walk in the park. Director Milton Neal along with Josh Pietz and Nate Weber, plus 12 student managers work tirelessly around the clock in order to keep the daily functions of the football team humming along. Cougfan.com sat down with Neal to get an idea of its sheer scope and size.

The Coug Equipment twitter account, established in 2013, has been highly active this offseason. But Neal and Pietz go back much further. They’ve been managing Cougar equipment together for nearly 23 years. That experience and familiarity has helped immeasurably when faced with any challenges over the years, Neal said.  Both were there for WSU’s Rose Bowl appearances in 1998 and 2003, as well as the ’97 Apple Cup.

“The greatest day ever… all-time greatest game ever since I’ve been here,” Neal said of the ’97 Apple Cup that earned the Cougs their first Rose Bowl trip in 67 years.

WITH FALL CAMP kicking off on Aug. 6,  the equipment preparation leading up to fall ball, and during camp itself, is an immense undertaking. The equipment team will be at both Lewis-Clark State College and Sacajawea Junior High, and driving back and forth to Pullman every night to do laundry. It’s a big challenge, but one that the entire equipment staff takes on and fully embraces, Neal said.

To give you an idea of how much gear is handled, inventory on hand last month reflected around $1 million in equipment. A small piece to that puzzle is seen in the 1,200-1,800 pairs of shoes they manage each year. That includes football cleats for players and coaches, training shoes, lifting shoes – the list goes on. Each piece of equipment is delivered and then issued in massive quantities.

So how do Neal, Pietz and crew handle that kind of inventory?  A key tool is the software program they use from ACS Athletics,  designed specifically for athletic equipment inventory. Neal said he and his staff use iPads and scanners when receiving or issuing any equipment. It keeps track of everything they have and also assigns each item to an individualized account for the coach or player.

“We try to keep it fresh, and we are on the cutting edge with new technology,” said Neal. “We want to be able to be flexible when things change with players and coaches... We’ve been doing this for a long time and a lot of things have changed since we’ve been here, but we like to change with it.” 

THE EQUIPMENT STAFF also handles all of the laundry for the entire team, coaches and staff.   And laundry is a big deal.

“Laundry is an extremely important part of what we do. One of the reasons it’s so important is because in about four seconds you can make a $30,000 mistake. There is a lot of training involved so that we don’t make those mistakes. We want to make sure that everyone is getting good results, and that the laundry smells good and is clean every day,” said Neal.

They use five washers and four dryers that can handle a collective 465 pounds. With that capacity, they can wash and dry everything in just one round. The players may have morning and afternoon workouts during the summer months, but the equipment staff does laundry three times a day.

DURING THE SEASON, game day is a very long day for the equipment staff – but it’s also when the equipment staff needs to shine brightest.  They’re the first ones in the building and the last to leave. For a home game, Neal said they’re usually working for about 2 ½ hours after the game ends. But if there was rain, you can add another 1 ½ hours on top of that because they don’t leave until every piece of equipment is completely dry.

Afterwards, the equipment staff works to make the building look like nothing ever occurred. They don’t leave until the place is put back together and everything is put away.

For road games, before they leave, the equipment staff gets in around 7:30 am and doesn’t leave the building until around 9:30 at night, making sure everything is packed correctly and organized. Meanwhile, they are still handling their normal practice routine while loading up the Cougar football equipment truck.

Going on the road means Neal and his staff pack the house. They load up 19,000 pounds of equipment. When the truck takes off from Pullman, it drives straight to its destination without stopping. Last year for Rutgers, two drivers left on Tuesday before the game and drove 55 hours straight to meet up with the team in Piscataway on Thursday.

“Our goal on the road is to pretty much make it feel like home as much as possible,” Neal said. “A lot of the stuff we bring is for ‘just in case’ situations. We will usually only use about 30 percent of the equipment on the truck, but we bring everything so that we are prepared for any situation.”

THE WHITE JERSEYS the Cougs wear merit special mention, because getting them icy white requires a lot of effort. Natural grass games equal long Sundays for the staff, and a lot of that time goes into getting those stains out. Neal says that it’s a lot of work and a challenge, but they enjoy doing it and making those jerseys look fresh the next week.

Another interesting process is how the game day jersey combinations are selected.  As CF.C reported last December, WSU AD Bill Moos makes the call, in consultation with Neal and Pietz, in order to come up with combinations they think the players will like. The announcement is then made on Twitter, usually on Thursdays. Other surprises are kept by the equipment staff until game day for the players, such as when numbers were put on the helmets before the Colorado game last year.

“That’s why we do most of these things, is to surprise the players and bring the best out of them. We want to fire them up and get them to play that much better and that much faster,” said Neal.

NOTABLE NOTES:
--Neal’s favorite day game helmet?  Crimson. The crimson helmets are painted with metallic flakes that make the helmet look shiny and bright in the sun.

--Neal said his favorite home uniform combo is the traditional gray helmet with crimson jersey and gray pants.

RELATED STORY: Fall camp kicks off in Lewiston on Aug. 6


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