On the Road Again...with the Cats
Making its own style of music, the crew is finishing out this football year on the road to Columbia, Mo.; on the road again to Boulder, Colo.; and now on the road again to Denton, Texas. And wherever postseason takes the Wildcats later this month, Hall will be on the road again. Oh, Hall, KSU's equipment manager for football, has seen all of the mentioned locales before, but over the years the soon-to-be 37-year-old says, "I've been to the LA Coliseum, I've been to Tokyo, and I've seen stadiums with the greatest traditions in college football all because of this job. I couldn't ask for anything more." Couldn't ask for anything more than looking after the 100-plus Wildcat football gladiators ... washing their socks, laying out their football clothing like a mother would, and generally having a three-plus hour game day before, and another after, the three hours of real football cheered by one and all. Their only cheers include the humming and tumbling of washers and dryers, and even an "Ozone" cleansing machine. Nope, not a glamorous life at all, but as Hall says, "I love it."
TRAVELING WITH THE WILDCATSOn each road trip, the routine is the same for equipment manager Hall, assistant equipment manager Al Cerbe, and the staff of eight student workers. The mission statement is simple: "It's like the NASCAR circuit. We show up in our 53-foot truck, unload, do the laps, load the truck back up, and head for the next place. We show up to an empty garage, run 150 people through it for a four-hour event, and then one hour after the game we're heading out leaving that same garage cleaner than we found it." For certain, Hall's equipment staff is as focused on details as head coach Bill Snyder. "Like coach (Bill) Snyder, we pay attention to every detail," said Hall. "We pick up towels, pick up tape ... we even clean the grease boards. The room is spotless when we walk out." K-State's 53-foot semi is a 2008 International donated by Ken Kerchen from Dodge City. It currently has a spiffy new silver paint job with the purple Powercat on the cab, and bowl logos and team accomplishments - athletically and academically -on the trailer. "It's a truck that should make every K-Stater proud," said Hall. "Our truck is like a rolling bulletin board going down the highway. Whether we're going to Boulder or LA, K-State is being advertised as we roll along and it represents the school very well." That truck is normally at least three-fourths filled with 8,000 to 9,000 pounds of equipment. For bowl games, blocking sleds and dummies are added, and at times even some weight-lifting equipment. "In the old days we winged it with a 15- to 20-foot Ryder truck, but those were also the days when if a player ripped a jersey, there was no backup," said Hall. "We'd have to take the shirt off some other kid's back. What we've done is gone from Double-A to the Major Leagues." Basically, every player travels to the game with two uniforms in hand. As Hall says, "With certain players, we don't want them to have to miss a play. We have a game helmet, but also another that is chin-strapped up ready to go. If a kid blows out a shoe, we have another pair of his shoes on the sideline laced up and ready to go. "We do probably make it complicated, but there's a certain look that I want for my team, and we want to be absolutely prepared for anything that could happen," said Hall. Like a mailman, he adds, "We're ready whether it rains, snows, sleets or hails." Loaded for travel are game uniforms and pads, practice gear for Friday's walk-through, rain gear, Matt Thomason's training needs, Scott Eilert's video needs, each player's personal bag ... and the list goes on and on. "With all the new air regulations even for charters, if we don't have bags to check at the airport, it goes much more smoothly," said Hall, who was the equipment manager at Louisville for eight years prior to returning to K-State in 2009, plus has enjoyed internships with the Redskins and Chargers in the NFL. Captained by semi-driver John Brown, who doubles as an on-campus custodian, the truck takes out on Thursdays with Cerbe and two student members of the equipment staff. When the team charter arrives on Friday, the visitor's locker room has already been set up for the walk-through, and then Friday night when the team goes back to the hotel, the room is redesigned for game day with each player's gear displayed at his locker.
UNSUNG HEROESHall has been on the K-State staff since being a K-State student in the mid- to late-1990s when he learned the craft from Jim "Shorty" Kleinau. He wears no wedding ring - "Now, my wife has a problem with that." - and no watch because, as he says, "You work until the job is done no matter what time it is. I come from a northeast Kansas (Wathena) farm background. You work until the job is done and then get ready for the next day. The time of day doesn't matter." There is one clock in the equipment room, but that's only to keep track of the time for practices. While one set of workers travels with the team, the rest of the equipment student workers remain in Manhattan and await the return of the truck late Saturday night, if not Sunday morning, to unload, begin the washing process and set up K-State's home locker room for practice the next day. That's also when every piece of equipment is run through an "Ozone" machine that serves as a disinfectant for every item of the uniform, including pads and helmets. Hall says his staff is hired greatly on the basis of "... common sense and work ethic. If they're willing to work, we can teach them everything there is to know about the job. But they have to be responsible, accountable and willing to work hard."