Behind the scenes with Oregon equipment, seeing what it takes to be a manager
When Justin Hollins’ shoulder was bothering him during last year’s game against Nebraska, there was one man on the sideline who knew just what to say to the linebacker. It wasn’t then-head coach Mark Helfrich or one of Hollins’ teammates; it was Oregon equipment manager Austin Cruz.
“I just had to look at him and say, ‘Justin, you’re on national T.V. You’re on ESPN. Scouts are watching. Your family is here. They drove all the way from Dallas.’ I said, ‘Go out there and do what you do best.’”
Cruz and Hollins were roommates for two and a half years. As a student manager, Cruz was assigned to the linebackers group, where he and Hollins grew close. Today, three years after first meeting, they refer to each other as “brothers.”
“It’s wonderful, you know,” Hollins said. “It’s like having a brother out there on the field. He and I got really close; that was my roommate. It’s a blessing to have a good friend like that out there with me.”
This type of relationship is common between the athletes and the equipment managers on the team. They spend so much time together — it’s inevitable.
Student managers, although often overlooked, work up to 60 hours per week and are a vital part of making the football program operate on such a high level. Their schedules are just as chaotic as the athletes’, if not worse. They attend every football practice but usually arrive hours before for preparation. Their day begins around 6 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. after classes.
But among the early mornings and long nights are relationships, job benefits and a family that is built through it all.
The Man Behind It All
Kenny Farr is in his eighth season as the football equipment administrator for Oregon. Although his job has many facets, in short, he “handles all the day to day operations for the entire team and staff from an equipment standpoint.”
Farr got his start as a student Oregon equipment manager in 1997 — a role he served in until graduating in 2002. He made his return in 2008 when Oregon reestablished the baseball program and served as baseball equipment manager for the 2009-10 season. In 2010, Chip Kelly brought him over to football where he’s been ever since.
“When I got here and got a student manager job, I would have worked for free,” Farr said. “…I enjoy the aspect of contributing. Even if it’s just a small percentage of how the team performs on the field, you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”
With coaching changes, a growing program and the national attention the Oregon football team has garnered over the years, the equipment team has had to adjust accordingly. For instance, this is the first year that they expanded the student manager position from 10 students to 11.
“It was a lot different [when I was in college],” Farr said. “Obviously we had a lot less equipment. There were a lot fewer managers. The demands of the job were a little bit less, I would say, because we just didn’t have the amount of equipment that we have now.”
The “game loops” that the managers have to prepare for each active player contain a girdle, a Nike dri-fit, tights, pants, socks and gloves; and that is only one minor component that goes into the equipment preparation.
As Farr puts it: “Football is just a different kind [of] beast.”
Perks of the Job
Oregon is nicknamed ‘Nike University.’ As a group of people who deal with all of the Nike gear that the football team gets, the equipment managers know that all too well. But the managers aren’t left out when it comes to the illustrious gear.
“We don’t get as much as the players or the coaches, but I don’t remember the last time I bought an Oregon shirt or a pair of Oregon shorts,” Cruz said. “… It’s like Christmas year-round.”
Just like student athletes, the managers get access to the Jaqua Center, the student athlete academic center with free tutors. They also eat meals with the teams and get priority registration for classes. On top of that, they are awarded merit-based scholarships.
“I’m able to pretty much pay for all of my school through this job, so I’ll have no debt when I graduate,” senior Graham Millie said.
Another benefit of being an equipment manager is the front-row seat that they get each game day.
The five student managers who are chosen as the ball boys interact with the game on another level. They get to run up and down the field, ultimately controlling the tempo of the game. During the Kelly era known for speed, Kelly would harp on Farr to make sure that his ball boys were ready for a fast-paced 60 minutes of play.
Another perk that comes with the job is the networking. Whether the equipment managers are trying to pursue a job in equipment, athletics or something unrelated, the position connects them to many people.
Senior C.J. Hargis doesn’t know whether he wants to go into coaching or pursue a job as an equipment manager at the next level. This past summer, he was offered a position as co-head equipment manager at Baylor University, but had to turn it down to continue school.
“The hands you shake are incomparable to anything you could do outside of this world. … It’s a lot about who you know and the relationships you make now,” Hargis said. “You can’t put it into words about how much that means to your future career. If I wanted to get into coaching football, I can’t think of a better place to be in the world.”
Quarterback competition? What about equipment manager competition?
With so many benefits of being an equipment manager, it is no surprise that a lot of incoming students are interested in the job.
Because of this, Farr conducts what he calls a “tryout process.” When students express interest, he interviews them, calls references and has them come in a few days a week for a few hours at a time to see how they do.
From an outside view, the job of an equipment manager may look all fun and games. But in reality, it’s filled with long, hard hours without much recognition. He wants to make sure that the students are completely committed and ready to put in the work.
“What these guys have to do is very difficult,” Farr said. “Some guys come in and they want to be student equipment managers because they’ll see something be put on social media or they’ll see these guys doing stuff on the sideline on game day and think, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I’d like to do that.’ But they don’t see that these kids have been here six or seven hours before the game and they’ll be here another three or four hours after the game.”
The equipment managers report on July 24, a week before the athletes show up and more than two months before school starts. The football equipment managers are essentially sacrificing half of their summer and dedicating the majority of their time during the school year to their equipment duties.
More Than A Team
Although the football equipment managers have many perks to their job, there is one thing that they all treasure most: each other.
“Between the 13 of us, it’s a team,” Farr said. “We spend so much time together, we’re like a family.
“One of the biggest perks is our little family that we have — that we’ve been able to create and build,” Hargis said. “Shoot, I’ve been with these guys more than my own family for the last three or four years. These guys are my family. … We get awesome shoes, awesome gear … but it’s all about those relationships that last longer than a pair of shoes.”
Follow Kylee O’Connor on Twitter @kyleethemightee