[I am in the process of writing a very large piece of work on my four-year career as a student manager for the USC football team; a career that just wrapped up two weeks ago. In that article, I have already written over 3,000 words and am just finishing up talking about my first season. I still have three more seasons and all the memories I have made left to put on paper. It just may turn into a book. Not kidding.]
The past four years, I have lived life as a student manager for the USC football team, and the past year as the head student manager.
It has been my identity.
During my collegiate career at USC, it has been my everything. I didn’t join a fraternity. I didn’t join many clubs. I signed up to be an important staff member for one of the greatest football programs in the country.
It all started my freshman year. It was February of 2008. I was in my dorm room, eating lunch after a couple morning classes. I had just locked up an internship with the Los Angeles Galaxy, so I was not openly looking for job opportunities. While I was surfing the Internet, I obviously ventured off to Facebook. On the side of page, I saw an advertisement for openings to become a USC football student manager. Evidently, this excited me. I contacted the head manager for the upcoming season, Matt Burkhard, for an interview and to learn about the position. It involved a tryout during the 15 spring practices. They had more managers than they needed; so only the best would make the squad and be invited back to return for the fall season.
Ever since that meeting on the picnic tables outside Heritage Hall, I’ve been a devoted member of this football team.
I was part of a Rose Bowl championship team in 2008, where the managers and I helped Mark Sanchez and many other current NFL players turn in a magical season. While the season finished with a Rose Bowl ring, the friendships I developed with all managers—and even players—were remarkable. I was part of the beginning of the Matt Barkley era, where he led a game-winning drive in the final minutes at a raucous Ohio State stadium crowd. I was part of a huge coaching change, when Pete Carroll decided to bolt to the NFL and Lane Kiffin walked into town. I was part of a whole new era: the sanction period. In my last two years, we weren’t able to go to a bowl game. The moments and memories will last (more than) a lifetime.
Whenever I begin to explain the duties of a student manager—and what I’ve been doing for the past four years—to anyone, nobody has the slightest idea. We spend countless hours working behind the scenes of a major college football program. Much of the work gets unnoticed. But, you know what, that’s exactly how we want it. We are the football equivalent to an offensive line—or better yet—a long snapper. You will never hear the long snapper’s name called; unless he made a mistake. If you know we exist, it’s for the wrong reasons.
As a manager squad, we are the first ones on the practice field each day, and the last ones off it. Before players and coaches are even dressed for practice, our yellow-shirt crew unlocks the practice field doors and opens the equipment sheds. We are making five rows of three agility bags high. We are bringing out the pylons and yard markers. And we are making sure every position group and every period for the upcoming two hour-plus practices is ready to be executed at 100%. It’s a tough task, indeed. But we have always felt honored and blessed to be the special group to handle the business.
For all athletes, practice is what makes a player. It’s the time in the gym. It’s the time in the film room. And it’s the time on the practice field that really develops a player into a premier caliber athlete. It’s not much different for us managers. Day in and day out, we spend time on Howard Jones practice field. We’re leaving our sweat, blood and tears out there. We spend countless more hours out on the practice field than anything else in our job description. Think about it: the 12-plus games in a season don’t even compare to the hours and hours we spend on the practice field. Our reward is spending Saturdays on the sidelines, but that’s certainly not why we do it.
While each fall Saturday hosts college football games, and many fond memories are created on the gridiron, the real memories of my experience go back to the times where I had to sprint 100 yards to grab a chest shield for a coach. Or run into the Heritage Hall equipment room back and forth three times in a row—just to have the correct right glove for a player. Those are the memories that will stick with me forever.
Beside the actual duties we performed as student managers, there are countless life lessons and maturing I did while a staff member of this football team. First and foremost, I learned the value of time management. When I had a job that required 40-plus hours of work per week, on top of a full course load, I suddenly found myself with less time for myself. This gave me less time to do homework, study and participate in leisurely activities. Before taking this job, I procrastinated a lot more. I had the time to do it, so I took advantage of free time: hanging with friends, watching movies, etc. As a student manager, I went to class, went to practice, did homework, went to bed and woke up to do it all over again. I had less time to “fart around,” so to speak. It was great for my academic career, as I had to be more focused on my studies when I had limited time to do so.
It taught me to have the incredible work ethic I have today. Being part of a team is a special thing. Coaches always preach the beauty of practice, preparation and mental focus to be the most competitive. I take those into effect each day of my life today, including each thing I pursue. Even if I’m going to the grocery store, I try to be as efficient as I can. If I’m playing a ping-pong game with a random stranger, I am trying my absolute best to become victorious. Having that experience, I believe, will help me out in the work force after I finish with school. I will always have the “Always Compete, Win Forever” mentality that I learned from former head coach Pete Carroll. Having this work ethic will help me grow as a person every day and take me where I want to go.
Another great thing I got out of being a student manager was the friendships. I was a member of four different 12-man manager squads. Each one had its head manager and its certain personalities. We developed great chemistry spending the hours on the field, polishing helmets and setting up locker rooms. We went out on Friday nights before road games at Ohio State, Oregon, Notre Dame, etc. Just about everywhere. We had a “Chick-fil-A Friday” tradition. We constantly had fun with each other. Since departing from some of them, I’ve met up with some in Vegas. We’ve had reunion football games. I’ve lived with one for the past three years. The friendships I have made in the student manager organization have been something incredible. I will never forget the people I spent so many hours working with.
While many people at USC join the Greek community, I decided not to forge that path. As a freshman, I locked up an internship with the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team. And early in my spring semester, I began my venture with USC football. I felt I was more mature for my age. While my peers were busying themselves partying on a daily basis, I was working two jobs and balancing schoolwork on top of it. As I worked for the program more and more, it became even more part of my life. Suddenly, it admittedly became more important to me than school. I was spending way more time with the football team than I was in class and studying. This job quickly consumed my life. No wonder it’s so hard to walk away from it today. While many upperclassmen begin to acquire different internships in their fields of interest for different semesters, I elected not do that. I stuck with an incredible opportunity, and am so happy I did. It’s been years since I even interviewed for an internship. I got thrown into this position, and ran with it. I started on the bottom of the totem pole and walk away now after finding the top.
It was a journey; an incredible ride.
This is truly an experience that I will never have again. I had the opportunity to warm up with Matt Barkley and Mark Sanchez; give balls to Joe McKnight; and put on game jerseys for Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews. Looking back at that is exciting. I will also never have the opportunity again to stand two yards from the football field on the team sideline. There is not a better seat in the house than the place I have stood the past four years: seven yards past the line of scrimmage, and just two yards from the sideline. Picture perfect seats. My last few games, fortunately, I was able to realize that I will never have a chance to do this again. I took it all in.
Like I said earlier, I was part of one of the most memorable eras in USC football history.
I am part of a senior class that was recruited in the best of times, played through the worst of it and now has built Trojan football back up. I borrow a great quote from USC senior wide receiver Brandon Carswell, who said this: “We’ve been through the worst times and now we see the change that it’s getting back to where it was,” said Carswell. “It feels really good looking into the future.
My first year part of this program was a Rose Bowl championship year; it was a dream season. The next two years ended with 9 total losses, an Emerald Bowl appearance and was flooded with NCAA sanctions. This final season was the most memorable, turning a season that started out with a 2-point win over Minnesota at home and ended with a 50-0 thrashing of UCLA. After last week’s cross-town rivalry, USC may be one of the most feared in the country.
I am glad I was a main fixture of this era. This is something I will truly never forget.