As he goes up and down on a hydraulic lift mounted to the back of a box truck, it’s clear that Todd Compher is part warehouse manager, stock boy and traffic cop.
Compher, an assistant athletics equipment manager, and his staff of about 12 graduate assistants and student employees for the University of Akron football team have filled their week preparing for the game tonight against the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
There’s Powerade and water to load and football players to keep moving. Thursday’s exercise in travel, however, doesn’t begin with him. He and his staff just get to do the heavy lifting.
In the beginning
To the average bystander, Ben Murphy is just another 6-foot-3 guy who looks like he once played football, but as Zips coach Terry Bowden’s director of football operations, he’s the one responsible for planning and completing travel arrangements.
This weekend’s excursion to Knoxville, which includes a chartered flight, hit the planning stages just before spring football.
Murphy, a Florida native who worked with Bowden and his staff at the University of North Alabama, put the finishing touches on the trip last month.
He arrives at work at 6 a.m. daily and is sometimes there until 10 p.m. Leaving by 5 p.m., quitting time for most of the working world, remains a luxury during football season. It’s something to which he’s accustomed, but there are differences between working for North Alabama and UA.
“It’s just not the same scale,” Murphy said. “There’s a lot more to it here. There’s a lot more money you’re working with here than in Division II. There is more you can do. There, it was buses everywhere except for one trip, which was out of the ordinary.”
This is his second trip involving a flight as opposed to a bus. He’s responsible for not only the plane, but also making hotel and dining arrangements, along with securing meeting-room space and ground transportation for not only 70 players, but also the coaching staff, members of the administration and even the occasional booster.
After that, his job is to ensure everything runs like clockwork and smooth any bumps like a recent change in loading and boarding protocol related to a trip two weeks ago to Miami International Airport for a game against Florida International.
But he’s not doing the grunt work; that’s up to Compher and his crew.
The heavy lifting
Murphy moves people, but Compher has to move what many of those people — the team and coaching staff — need to do their jobs.
“It’s all a little bit each day,” said Compher, who has worked with the athletics department since the spring of 2002. “We work around the coach’s needs and practice times and our availability because we work with other sports, as well.”
He and his staff begin loading the truck before practice ends Thursday. A peek inside reveals 60 cases of assorted liquids — most of it Powerade — some for meetings, some for a walk-through Friday and much of it for the 7:30 game tonight.
Two young men, Terrence Stratton, a graduate assistant, and Mac Golemo, a student employee, wait patiently for the parade to begin.
Assorted trunks and the like adorn the inside, but there’s still plenty of space to work. Compher, who is used to working 12- to 14-hour days, has set deadlines for when the truck will leave. It will be driven by volunteers who’ve assumed the task for years. Ideally, he’d like to be on the road by 2:30 p.m., but no later than 4.
Playing traffic cop
Soon the march begins as other members of his staff start assembling cargo piece by piece. Cases filled with assorted equipment joins a cart filled with the aluminum folding chairs that are common in VFW halls or party centers.
Stratton and Golemo arrange and rearrange in the belly of the beast. Compher straps things down to avoid shifting.
Bags of water bottles. An IV stand. Two Cool Zone fans for the sidelines. Then the individual athletic bags begin to arrive, sometimes via a student, but more often than not, courtesy of one of the student assistant’s efforts. This is where the traffic cop turns into the enforcer.
No detail goes neglected, including players’ individual bags. When Compher sees one of them missing cleats, he promptly suggests that the player correct it. When he knows how many and whose bags are missing, courtesy of Stratton’s inventory, he completes a locker room sweep.
The hard part is completed.
The truck motors around the field house, where game equipment — pads, helmets, etc. — is loaded with ease. Loaded by 2 p.m., the truck leaves for Knoxville, where Compher and those who travel with him will repeat the process with slight changes for the return trip home.
The last step
More than 150 players, coaching staff and boosters boarded a flight Friday morning from Akron-Canton Airport. They arrived about an hour later as they prepared to play in front of a crowd of around 100,000 tonight in Neyland Stadium, nearly 500 miles from home.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.