ODU equipment manager planning for football squad's needs

May 22, 2008
By ODU Athletics

May 22, 2008

Jerry Fife would circle July 16 on his calendar, but it would be a waste of ink. And he doesn't like to waste anything.

Old Dominion University's equipment manager has a budget of nearly $250,000 and orders to get the Monarchs' football program up and running. After nearly seven decades without football, ODU is starting up a Division I-AA program this fall and will begin play in 2009. About 75 players will stroll into ODU's shiny new practice facility Aug. 13, each one in need of gear.

For a self-described equipment "geek" like Fife, it's a dream opportunity.

And July 16 - a date embedded in his gray matter - it begins in earnest.

"Nike will roll into town on the 16th," Fife said. "They'll be dropping off shoes, shirts, shorts and socks.

"Oh, and footballs."

When he says "roll into town," he means it. Fife expects Nike to deliver an 18-wheeler's worth of goods that day. The next day, Riddell will deliver three pallets stacked with helmets and pads. After that, blocking sleds, blocking dummies and trapshoots should begin arriving.

Along the way, Fife will also get his hands on an embroidery machine for names and emblems, a heat transfer machine for putting numbers on jerseys and a vinyl cutter for nameplates. He doesn't want to have to "job out" anything. If he can fix it, mend it or make it himself, he wants to save the time and extra money involved in someone else doing it.

"You're going to laugh when I say this, but he's a leader in research, development, safety and sanitation in his profession," coach Bobby Wilder said. "And, with the connections he has, he's already saved thousands of dollars in this upstart. He's got companies in bidding wars for our business."

Fife, who was at William and Mary the past six years, knows a lot about Hampton Roads, including things Wilder didn't know - particularly weather conditions and how the region can be a steambath of humidity in the summer. Fife is not only prepared for it, but he's also making sure ODU is as well.

To fight the spread of germs, Fife helped develop a locker stall for ODU that will have four built-in fans to cool and dry helmets and pads. The fans are on a timer system; once practice ends and the players depart, the fans will blow. Anyone who has ever stood up to the wall of stench that greets you inside a football team's locker room will tell you the value of that little invention.

Fife also has talked the athletic department into purchasing a reverse-osmosis water-treatment system for its new practice facility.

"The water in Norfolk isn't the best," he said. "We need it to be the best it can be to extend the life and color of our jerseys."

As Fife explains the ins and outs of his job, an oversized gym bag rests nearby.

"It's called the Shock Doctor," he said. "It has this fan that plugs in and you put 12 footballs in it and it dries them. If we practice in the rain one morning during two-a-days, by the afternoon we'll have dry footballs to work with. The company that makes this gave it to me and asked me to try it out."

For now, Fife's days are filled with databases and spreadsheets. Order this, order that. How many hip girdles do we need? What about shower sandal s? And workout shorts and T-shirts?

The hands-on of fixing equipment, sizing players and making sure everything is in working order is still months away. But, as with his time at William and Mary, there always will be this primary goal, " To make it through a season without having a player miss a play because of equipment," he said. "Last year, nobody missed a play for me."

Wilder just shakes his head at the efficiency of his new addition.

"Jerry's already got 10 student managers lined up and has talked with them about short-term and long-term goals," Wilder said.

That's not all he has lined up. When ODU plays its first game against Chowan on Sept. 5,

2009, all of the equipment must be transported from the practice facility to Foreman Field, about a five-block trip. As Fife says, "In that respect, every game is a road game for us."

Not to worry. Fife already has a deal with a local company to outfit one of its trucks with ODU side decals and transport equipment on game days. In the offseason, the van will return to its company's normal rotation, but the decals will remain and serve as advertising for the program, complete with schedule and ticket information.

Still, that's not the van Fife's waiting for. The van with the Nike gear must arrive first. Then the fun begins.

"The luxury is that we don't play this year," Fife said. "I have a year to work out all the kinks in the system."

Rich Radford, (757) 446-2463, rich.radford@pilotonline.com

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