Current Date: Fri, 06 Dec 2013 11:15:21 -0500
When UNC football players open their lockers to find brand new equipment, it’s like Christmas morning.
At least that’s what it feels like for quarterback Bryn Renner — especially seeing the new helmets the team will sport during its next two home games.
“This is the first year we have this new equipment, and I know all the guys in the locker room really like it,” he said. “It brings a sort of energy to a team.”
Players will wear the classic blue helmets this Saturday against Idaho, with an added detail: The helmets will feature an American flag-inspired decal in honor of Military Appreciation Day.
But the big change is the custom-made white helmets that the team will debut for the white-out Virginia Tech game next Saturday.
The team hasn’t sported white helmets since the 1960s, said Jason Freeman, assistant football equipment manager.
Freeman said the changes in helmet design are being done to keep up with a national trend.
“It’s what the landscape of college football has become,” he said.
“You almost have to have more helmets, more jerseys — it’s what a lot of the kids want to see these days.”
The white helmets will be complemented by white jerseys and white pants, said Dominic Morelli, UNC football business operations and equipment manager.
“They’re going to be looking like Mr. Clean out there,” he said.
Freeman, along with the rest of the football equipment team, has been working on the lengthy process of applying the American flag decals to players’ helmets for Saturday’s game.
The white helmets for the Virginia Tech game were ordered before the summer started, costing $30,000 to make for all 120 of the players.
“It’s an expensive process to order a whole new set of helmets for everybody because you’re talking 120 guys,” he said.
But UNC isn’t the only school putting down large sums to secure festive uniforms. Many other schools are part of this trend, Freeman said, with Oregon leading the pack.
“That’s kind of a sign of the times now and Oregon kind of started all that,” Morelli said.
Fellow Atlantic Coast Conference teams Maryland, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech have also joined in.
The football equipment assistant managers keep track of these sorts of trends, and they are ultimately responsible for the daily organization of UNC football gear.
Freeman said they do up to 18 loads of laundry a day between their two 100-pound and 85-pound washers.
“When all this stuff comes in, we get close to 1,000 pairs of shoes each year, hundreds and hundreds of Nike boxers, shorts, dry fits, girdles, suits, cold weather gear,” Freeman said.
“Anything you see players or coaches wearing, we get.”
In addition, equipment staff and student managers are responsible for making sure each of the nine stickers — including the ACC stickers, American flags and player numbers — are placed on all 120 helmets before the games every week.
“We’re probably putting in 80 hours a week,” Freeman said. “It’s a lot, but everybody in the (Kenan Center) does — coaches are putting in that and then some, probably close to 100 hours a week.”
Freeman said the team relies on equipment staff to organize the countless parts of each player’s uniform that are required for all home and away games.
“Everything has to be clean and crisp,” he said. “We don’t want players to worry about anything except coming into the locker room and putting on the uniform — that’s all they have to worry about.”
And players say this effort does not go unappreciated.
Jheranie Boyd, a senior wide receiver, said equipment staff help with the players’ needs.
“A lot of guys respect them,” he said. “They do what they have to do, and they do a good job of it.”
Renner said equipment managers and trainers go above and beyond to help at all times.
“It goes without saying they’re the hardest working people in this building,” he said.
“I think they go underappreciated.”
Morelli said most people don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep a Division I football program running on the equipment side.
“It’s something you really got to enjoy to do. It’s not something you’re going to get rich doing, and it requires a lot of hours and is a lot of work,” he said.
“It’s kind of like coaching — but a little different.”
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