Aug. 20, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When the New Orleans Saints prepared to move their 2014 training camp more than 900 miles from their Metarie, La., complex to The Greenbrier, the NFL team needed help.
Rich Worner knew that. Actually, Worner - Marshall's veteran head equipment manager - knew more than that.
Dating back to a three-year stint as the equipment chief at Tulane, Worner had connections with the NFL team. He knew Saints equipment manager Dan "Chief" Simmons well. Hey, their teams once shared a Superdome.
"I've known him since 1999 when I started working at Tulane," Worner said of Simmons. "I don't remember who called who first, but we touched base on them coming to White Sulphur Springs. He wanted to know how far it was from here to there, whatnot.
"I told Chief, `Hey, if you need anything we'll be glad to help you out.' He said, `Actually, what we need are a couple of kids to work. You got anybody who's good to work camp?'
"I told him, `Absolutely, we've got a couple. And we'll bring a staff over to help you move in, unload semis, whatever you need.'"
And that's how Marshall junior football student managers Keenan Meredith and Heath Brown landed a month of employment from an NFL team. They returned to Huntington last weekend to work with the Herd, after doing pretty much whatever the Saints needed at their new summer home in Greenbrier County.
"Rich called me early one morning and said, `You want to work for the Saints?'" said Meredith, an MU physical therapy major from Kenova. "It took me a second, but I think it was more that I was just waking up.
"I thought about it and thought there's no way I can turn that down, working with the NFL. It definitely was a big opportunity, a great opportunity for both of us."
Brown, a sports management major from Richlands, Va., was a high school classmate of Thundering Herd running back Devon Johnson.
"We did a lot of things," Brown said. "One great thing we learned is just how many hours it takes just in one day to prepare as an equipment manager for a professional football team. We averaged 14 hours a day, more at times, a long day.
"But no matter what job you work at, whether you're cleaning floors or whatever, you want to work at the highest level. And the NFL is the highest level of football, so ... "
Before the Saints opened camp, Meredith and Brown - both in their third year as Herd football managers - joined Worner and MU assistant equipment manager Zach Littleton on a crew to help the Saints equipment staff prepare for the team's arrival. Worner also took along two of the student manager newcomers, Caleb Meade and Taylor Maynard.
The Saints' gear and more arrived at The Greenbrier in mid-July in four 53-foot trucks, a 34-foot trailer, four 26-foot box trucks, and a 16-foot pack truck. The club rented weights through a Columbus, Ohio, company.
Brown and Meredith stayed when Worner and Co. returned home. The two lived in a hotel in Lewisburg and were paid a salary by the NFL club, as well as a meal per diem when they didn't eat with the team. Their summer work was a continuation of NFL experience by Herd managers in the past that has included toiling for the Cardinals, Browns, Jets and Jaguars.
For Meredith and Brown, their work day started at 6 a.m. and often ran to 9 p.m. Both considered it a significant learning and networking experience.
"What surprised me the most was just how kind of fast and smoothly everything went," Meredith said. "They're used to a very small staff and when we were there, it was added help. When we got there, things were still getting pieced together in the (facilities) building and everything, and all of a sudden, everything was just done, players showed up and stuff was in their lockers, ready to go.
"It was a smooth operation and everybody knew where to be at the right time, when they were needed. There were really never any problems."
Brown said the Saints "have four (full-time) guys to do what Rich does here at Marshall, handling invoices, shoes, field setup, fitting players. It enables them to do things much quicker, because everyone knows their job and their role."
Worner has 15 student managers at Marshall. He said he does whatever he can to help any of them who want to work in his field get the kind of experience Meredith and Brown had with the NFL club.
"The first week in the equipment room, we're doing our daily chores, and (All-Pro tight end) Jimmy Graham walks in and we started having regular conversation, very natural," Brown said. "That was one of the neatest things.
"NFL players are very professional, very mature, and they wouldn't hesitate having a regular conversation with you, ask about you, where you're from, how your day is. That was pretty awesome."
Meredith had a similar take.
"Just to see these guys every day and realize they're every-day people, just doing their jobs," he said. "They're all pros, all very mature. They know you're there for them, and you're going to help them. It was a great experience to get to meet these guys, get to know some of them and build a relationship."
Asked what they'd learned from Worner and Littleton in their two years of experience with Herd football that helped in White Sulphur Springs, Brown and Meredith dug to the roots of a manager's experience.
"It's probably just hard work, mind your P's and Q's," Meredith said. "Always hustle, run around, make sure you're always busy."
Brown added that there "is always a job to be done when you're an equipment manager, no matter what time of day, there's always something to be fixed, something that can be improved. I learned from (Worner), no matter what, there's always something to be done, no reason to be sitting around."
"Yeah, it's head on a swivel at all times," Meredith added with a grin. "Be ready to help."
The two long ago came to understand that most people who aren't around the game have no idea what equipment managers - especially those at the student level - need to do.
"They say like, `Water Boy,'" Brown said. "Well, no. Without us, there'd be no helmets, no shoulder pads and if there were, they wouldn't be fitted properly or safely. People just don't understand how important our job is.
"If we mess up something, it could injure a player; it's a very serious job, a lot of hours. You've got to be committed and you've got to love this job and work hard."
And it should be no surprise that when the Saints come marching back to The Greenbrier's cooler climes than the "Big Easy" offers next summer, Meredith and Brown hope to be there, toting bags of Roger Goodell autographed-embossed footballs, setting up blocking sleds, filling lockers with pads.
"I feel like we got a head start on just about anything," Brown said when asked if he and Meredith felt they got their foot in the door on an NFL future. "I mean, anytime you submit an application anywhere and they see you worked at the highest level of football, the NFL.
"It's like, `Hey, this guy knows about hard work and he can handle himself ... that's what I feel like. I believe we'll go back next year - I hope so -- and I do believe it's a great start, whatever you do. If it's equipment managing, it's a huge start. If it's anything else, I still think it's huge."
Meredith said working with an NFL club had "been a dream of mine for a long, long time.
"I'm going into physical therapy and it's a different path, but then it is good to put on a resume," he said, "and I met their head physical therapist and trainers, and it helps me get a foot in the door with those people as well.
"So, if I want to do that down the road, I can maybe have a contact with them or somebody they know. All of this helps. It was a great experience for us."