Behind every sports team, there is a legion of coaches and staffers that makes sure everything goes according to plan. Senior football managers Justin Cullen, Nathan Feldpausch and Claire Kueny are Notre Dame’s 12th men both on and off-season. Cullen oversees the essentials to all football games — equipment. “I’m the head student in charge of the equipment room and the locker room on both a day-to-day basis and on game day,” he said. Cullen’s job involves coordinating the laundry service with St. Michaels, issuing apparel and gear to the players and fixing any equipment malfunctions that occur during practice. Cullen said his role behind the scenes on game day often goes unnoticed. “What people don’t know is when the team goes out for practice, we set up white boards where different positions meet with their position coaches before the game,” he said. “We do this at halftime too.” Away games make his job a little more challenging, he said. “For away games, after halftime we immediately start moving stuff to our semi because the buses and the semi pull out within an hour of the end of the game,” he said. “That process usually takes through the end of the third quarter and sometimes the beginning the fourth quarter.” While Cullen oversees the equipment, Feldpausch is in charge of administration. Feldpausch works under Chad Klunder, director of football operations. His main job is to monitor the players’ whereabouts, he said. “I actually get issued a work phone that has the player contacts and figure out where they are when they aren’t on time,” he said. “I always jump a little bit when I hear the [work] phone. [I think,] ‘Uh, oh what do I have to do now?’” His most unique job is watching over Irish coach Brian Kelly’s bag, he said. “I got Coach Kelly’s bag [and] I have to keep it with me at all times,” Feldpausch said. “I carry it on the plane with me and make sure it does not leave my sight.” Kueny oversees personnel involved in making the football game days run smoothly. “I’m the personnel manager, so I’m the person responsible for organizing, scheduling and training all the sophomore and junior managers,” she said. During practice, Kueny makes sure the junior and sophomore managers set up the field properly and know what drills are being performed. She is also responsible for setting up the field before the game and helps run the pre-game warm ups. While the program is fairly fluid now, it is in the midst of changes, she said. Next year, the number of football managers will decrease. Only those who express a deep interest in the football program will work with Irish football, while the other managers will specialize in the Olympic sports, Kueny said. “We’ll have a football pool for people who really want to do football and an Olympic sports pool, so people really go towards their interest,” she said. Cullen said the managers support the team both on and off-season, but their hard work comes to fruition 12 Saturdays a year. “We work for about eight months of the year, [but] when you really think about it, it comes down to 12 football games,” he said.
It was sitting there in my garage on the far back shelves—in a dusty place where ancient gear and electronics, and a troubling number of mice, go to die. I stumbled upon it when I was rummaging for an old, trusty The Clapper to hand down to my seven-year-old son. I’m referring to my long-distance backpack. I bought it in Fairfax, Va., in 1995, back in the era when my wife and I were young, living in sin, and making preparations for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike for the following year.Since then, the pack has outlived its purpose. I’m a harried dad of two young kids now, and when I’m not yelling at them or driving them to and from soccer practice—or doing both at the same time—I don’t have the energy to lug several days’ worth of supplies on my already chronically aching back. Don’t get me wrong, I still love sleeping under the stars, serenaded by cricket chirps. I just want to do it on an inflatable queen-sized mattress after shutting down the electric generator and putting away the popcorn popper. That’s right, I’ve gone to the dark side. I’m now a car camper.Before all you long-distance backpacking purists start spouting off about the “true outdoor experience,” I have to warn you: there’s a sporting chance that when you settle down and have little ones, you’ll become one of us—and like it. We car campers turn the campgrounds of the Blue Ridge into our own little rustic islands of good-living party time. Yes, it’s true that the amount of gear we bring isn’t measured in cubic inches. Nor do we generally crap in the woods, thank you very much. And our idea of cutting edge performance apparel is an official NFL gameday jersey. But wait until that first time when you cook over an open fire (started by gasoline, if you really go old-school). You won’t be able to stop the words “Good times!” from spewing from your mouth like beer from a shook-up can of Budweiser.This is not to say that letting the old backpack collect dust in the garage has been easy. It served as my trusty companion as I hiked literally thousands of miles on the trails, alternately being soaked in near-monsoons, coated with ice, and baked in the summer sun. It sprinted with me from a bear in the Smokies, and was once raided by a Snickers-hunting skunk in Shenandoah National Park. The transition to car camping wasn’t quick, either. It occurred gradually, after my daughter was born nine years ago.At first, as a new dad, I still got to escape once in a while to go backpacking with the guys. The wife and I also got to escape into the backcountry a couple of times, asking family to do the babysitting. But over time, the backpacking trips dwindled, and then stopped altogether.Our first attempt at spending a night in the tent with the kids occurred in the backyard, when our daughter was three and our son was two. It went so well that we soon started packing up the car and heading to a local campground for a night. And then two nights. And then, vacation time permitting, sometimes three or four. We initially used all of our lightweight backpacking equipment—the micro-sized headlamps, the titanium sporks, the coffin-sized tent. The wife would still prefer to do it this way, frankly.But I couldn’t help jealously eyeing the nearby campsites, pulling out their shiny hatchets to chop firewood–even though they could buy an armful of logs from the nearby camp store for a couple of bucks—and lovingly adjusting their satellite dishes to just the proper angle facing the brilliant night sky. Naturally, I wanted to be just like them. I began by buying a Coleman camp stove. With a griddle, of course. The kind with legs so it can stand alone—also ideal for tailgating, by the way. The next purchase, over the course of many months of saving and planning, was a pop-up canopy to place over the campsite picnic table—with the optional bug netting accessory to drape around it, so I could leave a bowl of potato salad out all day without fear of flies diving into it.The wife grudgingly got into the spirit by picking up a couple of telescoping forks for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, and shortly after, a gas lamp that was so blinding it made our car’s halogen headlights seem like dull embers. Her biggest concession was giving the go-ahead for an inflatable mattress. I got one that was “raised and flocked” according to the box. I’m not sure what raising and flocking is, but I like it.I feel like the point of no return for my transformation into a car-only camper came with the purchase of the 80-quart cooler, named something awe-inspiring like the Cooltastic Chillmaster Extreme. It’s big enough to hold 106 beer cans (with ice) so you can rehydrate yourself all morning, afternoon, and night, and not run out. It even sports two studded off-road wheels that look like they were pried from an ATV. I took it with us this last Memorial Day weekend when we reserved a group campsite in the Smokies with a few other families. Their jealousy brought me great joy.I still have a way to go before completing my car camping equipment arsenal, though. My family still only sleeps in a cozy four-person tent, though I’m eyeing a condo-sized one that has a separate room for the kids. And though I was kidding earlier about the electric generator, I could envision myself someday sitting in one of those camp chairs (with the footrest, of course), my camouflage jacket blending me into the surrounding woods like a chameleon, as I watch college football on satellite TV while enjoying fresh air of the great outdoors. Dare to dream. Sometime, years down the line when the kids are older and bigger, I’m sure we’ll buy some new backpacks, and return somewhat to our minimalist camping and distance-hiking ways. But not today. Please pass the gasoline.