It is a Saturday afternoon in mid-September, chips of gold paint are falling through the air like shiny snowflakes. Facemasks are bending upon punishing impact.
Managing the football equipment for the Fighting Irish is more than getting the helmets looking good, it is a year-round process dealing with everything from cleat sizes to contact lenses.
Head equipment manager, Ryan Grooms, makes all this happen and more. His season doesn't end after the final game, it is a full-time, year-round position that requires long days.
Grooms has been involved with equipment management since 2000, when he was a student at Ohio University. In his two years with the Bobcats, he was involved with film and video as well as equipment.
Grooms enters his second season with the Fighting Irish, having spent time with the New Orleans Saints, Air Force Academy and University of Minnesota. In his five years at Air Force, Grooms was responsible for everything from boxing to water polo.
Focus on football only is nothing new to Grooms, his years in Minnesota were spent working primarily on football. "I got into equipment management solely for football," said Grooms. "There is a lot to focus on, ordering, budgeting, the same issues that the other big schools have. The transition was easy, except here, we are in the national spotlight."
With one full-time assistant and a seasonal intern, Grooms also gets help from the student body. Three seniors and 21 juniors give him the extra hands. And for those that are wondering, yes, 75 freshman and sophomores make up the team that paints the helmets for game day.
People who are under the impression that Grooms goes on a long vacation when the season ends couldn't be further off base. Just weeks after the Irish stomped Miami in the Sun Bowl, deliveries started rolling in for the 2011 season. Facemasks, tee shirts and everything else. Grooms and his team play a part in all the fantasy camps and everything else football related.
"May is actually the slowest time of the year for me," Grooms stated. "But we still had deliveries today, the field turf is being rolled back and installed."
One of the questions on everyone's mind is the throwback jerseys. When asked about the plans to unveil the throwbacks, Grooms said, "It's still up in the air where the unveiling will be held. But there will be some type of production, maybe a web cast."
The true spirit of Notre Dame does not stop when the spotlight fades. Last year Grooms was approached about having a young man with special needs help out. Grooms not only welcomed Trevor Langford aboard, he went on to say what a valuable asset Trevor has become, not only to the equipment squad, but to the University as a whole. "It's been great to work with Trevor," said Grooms." He has been a tremendous part of everything that we do. He is a great kid with an incredible personality. We are all looking forward to working more with Trevor."
The Notre Dame family runs deep and sometimes the true fabric of the University can be found outside the spotlight. Just ask Ryan Grooms or Trevor Langford.
Ryan Grooms was kind enough to answer a few questions from our readers.
Jeremy Lobenthal: I'd like to ask about the helmets. I know that I've seen it in Rudy, but what prep goes into getting a helmet ready for the players, and what steps does it take to get them ready for our guys?
Ryan Grooms: Our helmet prep is a very intricate process. We paint the helmets every Monday. The process begins on Sunday by taking the helmet apart, facemasks come off, chinstraps and jaw pads come out as well.
On Monday, we have about 60 sophomore student managers that come in to buff the helmets down and then apply masking tape to the inside. There are three junior managers that are assigned painters.
They begin their painting process, which usually takes anywhere from 4-6 hours. On Tuesday, after the helmets dry, we begin the reassembly process. This is split up over Tuesday and Wednesday. Only the 21 junior managers put the helmets back together. On Thursday, we put the decals back on, which only the Senior Managers and my assistant are allowed to do to keep consistency.
Brad Topolewski: Who wore the biggest jersey that you've seen? Also the biggest helmet?
RG: Chris Stewart from this past season wore the biggest jersey. Chris was a big boy but has slimmed down tremendously for his NFL training. Louis Nix currently has the largest head on the team. He wears an XL, which is not uncommon, but we had to reduce the size of the padding and jaw pads to make it fit!
Jennifer Williams Collopy: How many loads of laundry do you do in a season? It might help me feel better!!
RG: On a daily basis, during the season, there are roughly 12-14 loads done a day. Rough estimate guess would be close to 2000 loads from the beginning of fall camp in August until the end of the bowl game. This includes the laundry done for the coaches as well.
Jim Sheridan is a featured columnist for Bleacher report. All quotes have been obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.