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August 29, 2008

SCS.comThroughout the upcoming season, Michael Spencer, a student at the University of Missouri, will be working with the Tiger football team in the equipment room during the week, traveling with the equipment staff to all games, and also working in the Tiger Sports Radio Network broadcasting booth on game day. Each week, Michael will be giving readers a behind-the-scenes look into his job with the sixth-ranked Tiger football team.

As a prelude to that weekly column, was able to catch up with University of Georgia Assistant Football Equipment Manger Kevin Purvis and a number of his student staffers to see what really goes on behind the scenes at a big-time college football program. Ever wonder how the Bulldogs' football gear - shoulder pads, helmets, wrist bands, water coolers, and so on - gets from Athens to Knoxville or Gainesville or wherever the Dawgs happen to be playing when they head out on the road? It's certainly no easy job when you think about the amount of gear it takes to have a full team ready to compete on a Saturday in the SEC.

That task, and many more, are performed by the all-important but often under-appreciated members of the UGA Equipment staff. These workers are students who are juggling their school workload with what are often long hours on the practice field, in the training room, and on the road and at the stadium on weekends.

During the week, many of the student workers go to class until around 12:00 or 1:00, then must grab a quick lunch before having to report to the equipment room by around 1:30. At that point, their job is to prepare the field for practice and be sure that the players have all the equipment they need. During practice, they'll spot balls for the assistant coaches, assist with various drills, as well as deal with any equipment issues that arise.

The completion of practice does not signal the end of their day, however. After practice, the staff heads back to the equipment room to gather the players' equipment and also work on laundry, already preparing for the next day. Tanner Stines, a junior Marketing major, sums up his average day very simply: "School, practice, homework, and bed."

SCS.comJuggling the class schedule with the football workload is easier for some than others. Billy Brunson, a Georgia native and a senior Social Studies Education major, says playing football in high school helped him learn how to manage his time before he ever arrived at UGA.

For a Landscape Architecture major like Clay Dent, however, things aren't so easy. "It is very difficult," he says. "My major is not just a read and study major, so I have to do a lot of out of class work and hands-on things to complete my school requirements. Therefore, I have to split time between the two very evenly."

Jarrod Anderson, a senior majoring in Business Education, says it's something they have to get used to over time. "This can be very tough at first and can take some time and dicipline to get used to," he notes. "The hardest part is making sure you have your priorities in check. Once you get a understanding about your school and work obligations, it becomes a lot easier."

"Knowing that you have limited time to get things done usually makes for more quality work in the time you have," says Matthew Crosby, another senior majoring in Sports Business. Peter Ford, a Connecticut native, points out that the equipment staff often has access to the same tutors that the football team itself does, which allows them to get some extra help outside of class that the average student does not have.

A typical home weekend has the staff arriving about five hours prior to gametime to set up each player's locker at the Butts-Mehre Building with his pants, jersey, shoulder pads, and other essentials. Half of the crew will then head to the Sanford Stadium to get the locker room there set up, while the other half remains behind to pass out wrist bands, gloves, dri-fits, and other items to the players as they arrive. From there, it's on to the field to help with various tasks, such as catching kicks, assisting coaches with drills, and more. During the game, each staff member has a different duty, whether it be holding play cards, working as a ball boy, handling equipment issues that arise during the game, and more.

The task is a bit tougher for those students assigned to the "Friday Crew" for road trips, however. That group leaves on the Thursday night before a Saturday game with the equipment truck. Other essential members of the traveling party, such as the trainers, video assistants, and student assistant coaches, also leave with this group ahead of time. After getting things set up on Friday, the group generally has Friday evening to themselves before going back to work Saturday morning.

Those long hours and road trips aren't without reward, however. Many of those staffers interviewed cited one of three games as their favorite while at UGA: the 2005 SEC Championship Game win over LSU, the 2007 win over Florida in Jacksonville, and the famous blackout victory over Auburn last fall.

SCS.comFifth year senior Stuart Kingsley, a Sports Management major, says it's hard to top that '05 SEC title victory over the highly-favored Tigers. "LSU was highly ranked, and the national news media said that we did not have a chance," he recalls. "We were able to win by 20 points and prove them wrong. I'd have to say that is my favorite memory out of the many good ones I have had the privilege to experience."

Many of college football's so-called experts think the Bulldogs could do more than win just the SEC championship this fall. Ranked #1 in the Preseason Fab 15, expectations may have never been as high as they are in Athens heading into the 2008 campaign.

But as Raymond Fulcher, a graduate assitant with the team points out, you can never look too far ahead in the SEC. "I think that we are going to be a well rounded team that is going to fight 'til the end of every game," he says. "I think will be very good, but our schedule scares me. We just have to take one game at a time and not get caught up in the hype of being number one."

Sounding very much like head coach Mark Richt, or any other college football head coach for that matter, senior Marketing major Kevin Burton says mistake-free football will be the key to the Bulldogs' fortunes this fall. "We have great potential. We just have to be consistent and play to our potential.

"If we do that and don't make mistakes, I really don't think anyone will have a chance to beat us."

Photos courtesy of the University of Georgia Sports Information office and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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