By Garrett Freund and Jack Driggers
Thousands of dirty socks, hundreds of scuffed uniforms and sweaty towels washed by the boat-load every day of every week in the equipment rooms of the Nebraska Huskers. When thinking of a normal college football Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, the program’s history of five national championships or the three different Heisman trophy winners might come to mind. But without the student managers — who are responsible for taking care of equipment problems, setting up the field and helping coaches and players during practices — not everything in the athletic department would get done.
And this year, as the Huskers football team return to action, the athletic department has to function without the majority of its student managers.
COVID-19 affected higher education in different ways across campuses. Many universities decided to slash budgets to save money. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln was no exception, and the student managers were one of the university employee groups that partially lost their funding.
Zane Goldfish, one the many student managers out of a job because of budget cuts, said becoming a student manager at Nebraska was in his bloodline.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to do it because my dad actually did it when he went to UNL,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how I would go about getting that — I didn’t think I was ever going to be a manager, honestly. But, one of my first few weeks here at UNL, the manager’s Twitter account tweeted that they’re looking to hire, which I don’t think they’d ever done before.”
After seeing the post, Goldfish, a junior who worked as a student manager during the 2019 football season, said he wishes he could qualify for the same tutoring that the football players get.
“We’re not spending as many hours in the stadium as they are, but sometimes it’s like at least 25 hours a week during the fall season — that’s pretty big responsibility and pretty big time commitment. So, sometimes it’s hard to get between having a social life, academics and working; it’s kind of hard to balance all three.”
Due to budget cuts, the only managers still working with the football team are seniors, which left Goldfish on the outside looking in. He’s also on the National Guard and is being sent to Texas for a border mission next September, meaning he will not be in Lincoln for next year’s football season. When he steps back on campus, he hopes he can be rehired by the athletic department to make sure he didn’t work his last snap for the football team.
Senior Baylie Fadool has been a student manager with the football team since she arrived on campus in 2016 under then coach Mike Riley. She is also one of two women serving as student managers with the football team.
“In the beginning, I was like, ‘I don’t know how this is gonna be at first.’ I literally am one of the only girls amongst a ton of, you know, players and coaches and everything,” she said. “And at first, it was interesting, but I’ve always been so grateful to be with a staff that has really made me feel welcome and appreciated.”
Fadool also said valued she feels by the coaching staff and players.
“Everyone knows my name. And I am always told, like, ‘Thank you for this,’ and ‘You’re doing a great job,’ and that’s so helpful to just know that, even though we are kind of like the bottom of the totem pole and everything, to still be recognized and noticed is definitely something I appreciate.”
The student football managers are not the only ones without a job as both men and women’s basketball, along with volleyball suffered staff losses. It’s hard to imagine how these programs can succeed without the essential everyday work of student managers washing dirty laundry, organizing travel equipment and making sure practice equipment is in place.
“They have just told me they’re super busy,” said Grant Miller, a former equipment manager for Nebraska Athletics who was let go because of COVID. “Usually, they would be doing all the computer work like ordering more gear and making sure all the sizes are right on everything. And we would be doing all the laundry and handing out some of the gear. But now that we’re not there, they got to do both of it.”
Jay Terry, assistant athletic director and equipment operations for Nebraska football, said without student managers, even with the limited numbers due to the COVID-19 restrictions, he wouldn’t have enough time in the day to get things done.
“They provide me with hands, so we’re able to do projects much quicker. Just things where you need hands to get things done. In the past years, I’ve had 15 to 20 working, (and) right now I have six, Terry said.
These managers, Terry said, work hard without looking for recognition.
“Because that’s not what you’re going to get,” he said.