Walking through the Graham High School equipment room, it's clear that something big is coming.
The room has a faint smell of sweat, and over 100 pairs of Nike cleats meet the visitor at the top of the concrete stairway. A table with blue practice jerseys stands next to the shoes across from a pile of gray shoulder pads. The pads have been picked over the last few weeks, but a large pile still remains, waiting for someone to claim them.
Around the corner, behind a set of tall, wooden cabinets, another pile of pads sits on the floor while some hang from a wooden rod.
Above the pads, a straight, blue line with nails spaced about a foot apart leads to a corner, seven rows high, littered with clean, white Riddell helmets.
“It's a little bit cluttered, and then we'll give it all out,” outside linebacker coach Jim Walton said. “If you come up here three weeks from now, this place will just be empty.”
Over the past two weeks, football players have been coming upstairs to the equipment room to get sized for helmets and shoulder pads. By the time practice starts at 7 a.m. on Monday, about 150 athletes will have walked through the room.
Walton, who has worked on the Steers coaching staff for 13 years, has been tabbed the head man when it comes to keeping track of, maintaining and handing out the equipment that will be used during the season.
Of course, he doesn't do this alone.
Each coach passes out equipment, washes it and makes any needed repairs during the season. Athletic trainer Tom Lewis also helps catch potential problems with the equipment.
But, finding the equipment falls to head coach Kenny Davidson. With concussions and overall player safety becoming a bigger issue every season, Davidson does whatever he can to find “the best helmets money can buy.”
“We order the top of the line,” he said. “We don't cut corners on helmets.”
Helmets are required to be re-certified every two years. Davidson, however, has the helmets sent in after every single season to make sure they meet safety standards. Any helmet that was used during the season, even for one or two games, will be sent in for re-certification.
The helmets, which have taken an extra beating the past few seasons due to the Steers' playoff runs, last about 10 years, even with the constant re-certification.
The Steers switched helmet brands a few years ago, but they still have some old Shutt helmets.
“Because it's a $200 item, we're not gonna throw it away,” Walton said while holding a Schutt helmet. “We keep it right here. We might have a particular young man that, for whatever reason, his head fits this better.”
Read the entire story in this weekend's Graham Leader.