The Team Behind the Team for UNR Football

Emily Richards reports on equipment managers for Nevada football, who spend countless hours year-round working in the shadows of a Division 1 football team. Their tasks tend to be physically demanding, often disgusting, and they sometimes go unnoticed by even the coaching staff.

The Nevada equipment managers were all smiles on the sidelines of the 2021 home opener against Idaho State, despite their difficult work. The author is in middle of back row. Picture by Farrell Shine.

Behind the Scenes

As an equipment manager for the University of Nevada, Reno football team there is no such thing as football season, we’re working year-round. The year begins with winter lifts and spring football practices, where we do laundry and help run drills to keep players in shape for the season.

Eight-hour days start in June, to issue out all the gear players and support staff will need for the upcoming season. Sorting multiple sizes of shirts, shorts, sweats, sweatshirts, cleats, workout shoes (the list continues) for 120 players is intricate work that takes up to weeks at a time. Arianna Leija started the job in the spring of 2021 and emphasized the never-ending laundry that persists all season and offseason.

“We do laundry if there is any, which there always is,” Leija said.

Fall Camp in August signals the beginning of the season and for the next five months, our days begin as early as 5:30 a.m., seven days a week to set up practice and prep for games. After meticulously setting up all the stations for each position coach with the correct equipment, each manager works with their assigned coaches to help drills run efficiently and smoothly. Leija finds practice to be a time to really form connections with her coworkers.

“The things that make it fun are meeting new people and forming bonds with them at work,” Leija said.

She works with the defense alongside senior Nick Marimberga, who also started equipment management in the spring of 2021. They both value being able to rely on each other during intense practices where, yes, we get yelled at.

”I’ve been cussed out by a coach,” Marimberga recalled as he explained his first few weeks on the job.

Putting the ball on the wrong yard line can result in some heated words from coaches that can leave us feeling discouraged. I experienced this same reaction from the head coach when I marked a play as 1&10 when it was meant to be 3&1. Why would we want to come back to work after being cussed out in front of 120 plus players and staff for making one mistake during a two-hour practice? The people.

“Everyone was very encouraging on the team and on the staff,” Marimberga said.

A video of the fun and not-so-fun moments on the equipment staff. Just a small sneak peek into how we make our job enjoyable. Video by Emily Richards.

The Family Behind the Team

During the season, on equipment, we spend over 50 hours a week working to ensure practices run smoothly, uniforms are ready for the game, and players have the correct helmet and shoulder pads to keep them safe. Game day is every Friday or Saturday, with the exception of two bye weeks, from September to November.

“Some days I spend more time with them in the equipment room than I do at my own house,” Leija said.

When we first started, all three of us were told by the head student manager, Gabbie, that these people would become our family because they know the exact, specific experiences we’re having and the reason we’re working.

“We’re all here for something bigger than ourselves,” Marimberga said.

This past season for almost every game I stood behind the head coach and defensive signaler and held a towel up when they relayed signals to the quarterback and defense.

This got me the name “Towel Girl” because a lot of coaches did not know my name and this is what I was known for. It is important to understand that coaches have enormous tasks of recruiting and running an entire team so it is not personal if they do not know your name. Although the coach that called me this is no longer coaching at Nevada, every once in a while one of my coworkers will get my attention by calling me Towel Girl and we’ll have a good laugh about it.

When working a job in sports it is essential to be there for the team and the success of the program as a whole, not for individual gain. The trainers, support staff, coaches, equipment managers, and everyone else on the team have to be locked in with each other in order to work harmoniously. Equipment is a smaller family within a family, known as the EQ.

“There’s a few [staff members] I would consider my greatest friends,” Marimberga said.

There is nothing like getting hyped on the sideline with your best friends or having others understand the pain of putting decals on 100 helmets within a week. They also know exactly what you’re going through when you open a bin of game jerseys that have sat in the semi-truck all weekend and the overwhelming smell of old sweat makes you gag.

The equipment staff at the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on December 27, 2021. All smiles again despite not always getting much respect from other parts of the team.

Sacrifices

Not having holidays off is a sacrifice some equipment managers also make when accepting the position. Leija traveled to Detroit, MI, December 22–27th to assist the team at the Quick Lane Bowl.

“No one else is crazy enough to do that,” Leija said about spending the holidays away from home.

The trip was filled with matching Christmas pajamas, an EQ Christmas party, and nights riding scooters around the city. Leija regards this trip as one of her favorite memories because of the quality time and laughs she shared with her coworkers.

While everyone looks forward to traveling, sometimes the EQ family brings joy into the mundane, sometimes gross weekly tasks that need to be done.

“Some of my favorite parts of the job were after game day coming in and doing cleats with my staff members and just talking and watching football,” Marimberga said.

Scrubbing turf marks, grass stains, and even blood off of 70 plus pairs of white cleats can be tedious and often turns your hands black. Doing it in a group settled around the TV in the equipment room with Sunday football on makes quite the Sunday afternoon.

Setting up pylons for the last home game of the 2021 season. From left to right: Dakota Harmon, Arianna Leija, Emily Richards, and Nick Marimberga. Photo by Sabrina Tosh with permission to use.

Game Days

One of the big payoffs of the job is of course game days. Although these shifts can last up to 12 hours or two–three days if we’re traveling, the noise of the crowd and the eruption of the sideline after a touchdown is indescribable.

“Game days are 100% just so much fun, the best part of the job,” Marimberga said. “Sometimes it didn’t feel like I was working.”

Equipment is working on game prep days before the game to ensure the helmets and cleats are clean, jersey holes are repaired, even packing the semi-truck if the team is traveling. We are often some of the last people to leave the facility after cleaning up the field and starting all the laundry.

The infamous “pee tent” is a main source of argument among managers because it is as gross as it sounds. A black tent on the sideline houses a Home Depot bucket with a black trash bag inside where players can use the restroom during the game without having to leave the sidelines. After the game, we always clean up the pylons, take down the kicking nets and push the sideline trunks inside first, hoping to be busy when it’s time to take down the pee tent. If it is too full to tie the bag shut when taking it out of the bucket, beware of the splash when throwing it away.

This past season Leija was thrown into the role of signaling plays for defense during practices, which carried over to games. With a headset on, she listened to what signals the defensive coordinator wanted to use and then relayed this to the defense while they were on the field.

“My favorite game was Air Force, even though we lost that game,” Leija said. “It was my first game where I went live signaling so it really felt cool to be the person defense was looking to help them with their plays.”

Without signals, the defense would be unable to work together and effectively, and we all know that defense wins games. A student manager typically does not get a position as important as this, but because Leija put the countless hours in at practice she was able to step in.

Most, if not all members on the equipment staff aspire to work in sports whether that be through the medical field with nutrition and physical therapy, or through business with management. Experience cannot be bought, it is earned through cold, early morning practices at Mackay Stadium and hot afternoons sorting gear in the equipment room.

Reporting by Emily Richards for the Reynolds Sandbox

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