By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — VirginiaSports.com regularly checks in with members of the UVa athletics department who, unlike student-athletes and coaches, generally operate outside of the public eye.
Today’s guest is Kyle Riley. UVa’s football team plays its first road game of the season Saturday, at Southern Mississippi, and that means an especially eventful week for Riley.
Title: Football equipment manager
Hometown: New Bern, N.C.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communications from East Carolina University, 2005. Served as a manager in baseball and then football at ECU.
UVa tenure: After a three-month stint as equipment manager in the athletic department at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, an experience he compared to working at a small Division III college, Riley was hired in October 2005 as an assistant in the University Hall equipment room. He moved to the football operation in January 2006 and spent that fall as an assistant equipment manager. Served an interim football equipment manager during the 2007 season, after which he got the permanent job. “I really didn’t think I’d be where I’m at this quick,” Riley says. “It just kind of fell into place. I got real lucky with the way things worked out.”
On the job: Riley can usually be found in the equipment room at the McCue Center. It adjoins the locker room, and its shelves and cabinets and cubbyholes are stocked with helmets, shoulder pads, jerseys, sweats, pants, cleats, socks, jockstraps, balls, gloves, caps, rain gear, etc.
Group effort: He works closely with Matt Althoff, UVa’s director of equipment room operations, as well as assistant equipment manager Brad Gaskill and 10 student managers. “We really wouldn’t be able to operate without the students,” Riley said. The equipment crew is responsible for ordering, fitting, distributing, repairing, cleaning and maintaining the gear used by football players and coaches, the athletic-training staff and the strength-and-conditioning staff. The equipment managers also stock and maintain the locker room and sideline area at Scott Stadium. They are integral parts of practice, too. Each position coach has a student equipment manager who assists with drills. During games, the equipment staff oversees the communication system that connects coaches on the sideline by headset with those in the press box.
On the clock: Riley, who is single, works 12 to 14 hours most days during the season. In the spring, he says, he’s able to cut back to closer to 40 hours a week. This time of year, he works at least part of every day.
On the road: The ‘Hoos play at Southern Mississippi on Saturday. A truck — packed with player bags, trunks and misting fans, among other things — will transport the team’s equipment to Southern Miss’ stadium. It’s about a 15-hour drive to Hattiesburg, Miss., and Riley and two volunteer drivers will leave Charlottesville after practice Thursday night. Althoff, Gaskill and about 10 student managers will travel on the team plane to Hattiesburg. The equipment truck is due back at UVa on Sunday.
Keeping it clean: In the equipment room are three industrial-strength washing machines — two for 100-pound loads and one that can handle 85 pounds. There are also three dryers. In a typical day during the season, Riley says, his staff will do 12 to 15 loads of laundry.
Jack of all trades: Riley is mechanically inclined, and that’s a requirement in his job. So are good organizational skills and the ability to multi-task. He had no formal training but says it’s “kind of one of those jobs you learn as you go.” What he likes most about the gig, Riley says, is “that you come to work and it’s not the same thing every day. There’s always new challenges to overcome.” The down side? “For six months, you’re in a high-stress environment, and that takes a toll,” he says.
There’s no place like home: Riley and his staff are responsible for ensuring that many, many items arrive safely at whichever stadium the Cavaliers are playing. “At least at home you have the luxury of coming back to this equipment room if you forget something,” he says outside the McCue Center. “If you’re on the road and you forget something, it’s forgot.”