Putting The Shine On Ole Miss Football

OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM The Ole Miss locker room at Davis Wade Stadium
The Ole Miss locker room at Davis Wade Stadium

Dec. 12, 2013

By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com

OXFORD, Miss. -- The Ole Miss football equipment truck arrived at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville around 11 a.m., about seven and a half hours prior to kickoff.

When the coaches and players arrived at their lockers shortly before 5 p.m., everything was already laid out, from the white jerseys, white pants and blue tights for players, to the polos, pants and jackets for coaches and staff.

The process for the equipment staff, led by head equipment manager Ken Crain and assistant director of equipment operations John Ross, began more than a year earlier with ordering the current line of gear and apparel, headlined by the Rebels' uniform modifications released during the 2013 BancorpSouth Grove Bowl.

"The summer of 2012 they brought it up and discussed it, and Nike made samples and brought it to us to approve, so (Athletics Director) Ross (Bjork) and Coach (Hugh) Freeze were on the same page and discussed what they wanted to do," Ross said of the new football uniforms. "Even then, that was summer of 2012, so we didn't get it until this year."

Ordering uniforms, Ross said, sometimes takes up to two years. For the rest of the gear and apparel, he said it's usually about nine months out when they have to order. For football, they did their first order for next year at the end of October for delivery in June and July when players report for offseason workouts.

"Nike is banking on that the things that we wear, the fans will wear, so they're wanting to build off that," Ross said. "They want us to promote their product to put it in stores. Coach Freeze is big into the short-sleeve jackets. We call them hot jackets. He loves those, so Nike has made more of those available to us, and in different colors.

"In the summer of 2014, they will come in and have the line artwork and samples of all the different products. It's similar for a lot of schools, and you see a lot of the same Nike item, just different colors at the different Nike schools."

Whether it's the white jersey and white pants uniform combination, or one of the other new combinations, or one of the older combinations, it's a joint decision, similar to the design of the new uniforms and decisions on other Nike products.

"It's a combination of coaches and players getting together and deciding what to wear," Crain said. "For road games, we have to know a couple of days before, but for home games, we wait until Thursday or Friday."

Along with the uniforms, the most visible part of Ole Miss equipment is the 18-wheel equipment truck, which has undergone three different schemes, most recently one before last year's BBVA Compass Bowl.

For road games, the equipment truck is a mobile equipment room and training room and leaves ahead of the players, coaches and staff, so the equipment and training staff can set up their respective areas in opposing stadiums.

The week of the Mississippi State game, Crain, Ross and the student managers loaded the truck after the team's practice on Wednesday, checking off trunks and bags of equipment, as well as travel bags for the players.

"We usually load the truck the day or two before an away game," said Ken Harpe Davis, one of the student managers. "We have our big 18-wheeler truck that we load all the trunks with extra jerseys, pants, shoulder pads, helmets and all that kind of stuff. We load it up. All the trainers will put their stuff in there as well. We have all the balls. Everything you can possibility think of that we might need for a game; we load it up in there. We pack it up and get ready to go on the road."

"If we want to play big-time football, we need to look like a big-time program when we get there with our equipment," said Donny Smith, who drives the truck. "When we come into these places, people are as excited about this truck as anything else. They're waving, clapping and taking pictures."

After the truck arrived at Davis Wade Stadium, Crain cleaned the locker room and put name stickers on the lockers for the players and coaches between 11 and 11:30 a.m.

The student managers arrived at noon, and they unloaded the truck and set up the locker room with two pairs of shoes, knee braces, helmets, pads, jerseys, tights, girdles and socks for players and assorted polos, pants, jackets and shoes for coaches and staff.

They finished the first round of setup around 1:30 p.m. and returned to the locker room around 2:30 p.m. to shine the helmets with Pro Prep Helmet Cleaner, which some of the managers likened to the polish on NASCAR race cars.

"The day before the game, we get their shoulder pads and we put tape on it, which helps the jersey stick to it, so it's harder for people to hold onto them, and put their jerseys on their pads," said Jonas Boyles, another student manager, whose primary responsibility is cloth goods. "On game day, we clean up the locker room, put out their game jerseys and game loops, put out all their cleats, gloves and helmet and make sure everyone has everything they wear for the game."

The student managers then put the finishing touches on the locker room and setting up the field, from the balls, to the kicking nets, to the heaters, as they anticipate the arrival of the team.

During the game, they have various responsibilities, some as ball runners, and others assisting with duties such as holding up personnel and play cards on the sidelines. And then after the game, as coaches and players clean out their lockers and prepare to leave, they help break down the locker room, pick up clothing and other gear and reload the equipment truck to travel back to Oxford.

"When you first get here as a freshman, you roam around and help as much as you can, and fortunately for me, I played running back in high school, and the running backs manager my freshman year was a senior, so when he graduated, I took over his responsibilities in the spring, and I have been with Coach Nix since then," said Max Curtis, a student manager, whose primary responsibility is coaches' gear.

"Pretty much every student manager who graduates, they go off and are successful in something," said Crain of student managers.

Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller

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