MCGILL: Equipment Staff Always Prepared on Road Trips
The Word on the Herd -- Sept. 30, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The clouds gathered, skies darkened and rain started to fall. It is Thursday evening, a little more than 48 hours before the Marshall University football team is set to play at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the first road trip of the 2016 season.
The MU equipment staff is zipping around the Shewey Building. The Thundering Herd’s final practice ended around 6 p.m., so now the equipment crew can start loading its 48-foot long, 18-wheel truck. After weeks of dry weather, of course this would be the moment when inclement weather invaded Huntington.
“It’s an ever-changing landscape,” said Brian Gallagher, the assistant equipment manager who is in charge of football. “You never know what’s going to pop up.”
That might as well be the motto for the equipment staff, which is under the direction of 37-year-old Zac Littleton, a Hannan High School and Marshall grad who has worked with the program since 2004. This is a group charged with preparing for anything and everything that might surface during a football road trip.
“You have to prepare for rain, sleet, snow or hot,” Littleton said. “You’ve got to take port-a-coolers, you have to have rain jackets, you have to take the heavier coats. You have to take anything that could possibly happen on the road on top of your kicking nets, all the gear, the apparel, the uniforms, the gear for the coaches and the staff and the managers and the trainers.”
Gallagher and his staff started preparing for the first road trip months ago. But the process of loading the truck can’t begin until the final practice before the game.
“It pretty much takes the whole week,” Littleton said.
The forecast is a high of 75 for Saturday in Pittsburgh, but the equipment staff will ignore that and expect everything from blazing heat to a blizzard.
“You wouldn’t even think about packing mock turtlenecks this weekend because it has been 90 degrees,” Littleton said. “But if it’s 50 degrees at halftime there’s going to be guys who come in and want a shirt because it’s cold.
“We pack in preparation for the worst-case scenarios.”
Littleton specifically recalled a trip to Rice University, which is located in Houston, Texas. Temperatures were in the mid-70s the week leading up to the game, so preparing for a blast of arctic air seemed unnecessary.
“At kickoff it was freezing,” Littleton said. “We had to leave in the middle of the game and go to Wal-Mart to buy heaters because we didn’t pack them.
“You have to think of every possible scenario, no matter what the forecast says. If it says it’s going to be 80 degrees, we’re still going to pack jackets.”
The process of loading the truck is a thorough one. One by one, trunks packed with equipment are pushed down the hallway on the field level of the Shewey Building to the elevator, sent up a floor to street level, and then sent outside to be loaded.
On Thursday evening, Gallagher stood inside the truck with a clipboard and a checklist.
“Obviously you don’t want to forget anything major,” Gallagher said. “If you forget the starting quarterback’s helmet, you’re in trouble.
“But we have lists upon lists upon lists that we check to make sure we have everything.”
The trip to Pittsburgh is one of the least stressful for the equipment staff. In the event an item is left behind, a quick call can be made to athletic department staff members who depart after the truck leaves. For subsequent trips to Denton, Texas, or Hattiesburg, Mississippi, there won’t be that safety net.
“You’re pretty much out of luck,” Littleton said.
The Herd’s equipment staff departed for Pittsburgh early Friday morning. After Sunday afternoon’s practice in Huntington, they’ll begin preparations for the first long road trip – a 1,037-mile journey to the University of North Texas.
“We work ridiculous hours,” Littleton said. “Once basketball and baseball season start, it’s nothing to work 100 hours in a week. I know that sounds crazy.”
Kickoff for the game against Pitt is set for 7:30 p.m., which means midnight will be on the horizon as the game winds down. The staff will hurriedly pack the trunks and load the truck again, then make the all-night drive back to Huntington.
Sleep will have to wait. The staff will be staring at six hours of laundry to prepare for Sunday’s weight lifting sessions and afternoon practice.
“It makes for long days,” Gallagher said.
But rewarding ones. Littleton relishes the relationships he fosters with student-athletes and coaches. He is an avid sports fan, so his seat is always the best in the house.
Mostly, though, he values anonymity.
“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t have a clue what we do or how much actually goes into this,” Littleton said. “Nobody knows until we mess up.
“The first time we don’t bring a kicking net or we forget Doc’s pants, it is going to be huge.”