The Unsung Heroes of College Football

It takes a village to run a college football program.

Players. Coaches. Graduate Assistants. Directors. The list goes on.

But buried deep in the back pages of the weekly program, you’ll find the groups that, although essential to the success of the team, are often forgotten by college football fans around the country.

The managers, the sports medicine staff, the office staff, the equipment staff, and, last but certainly not least, the video staff.

“The video guys are the unsung heroes of our sport,” said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. “They are our eyes in the sky all week long. And they are as much a part of this football team as the people that the TV audience will see on the sideline.”

Video staff team photo taken inside Kinnick Stadium.

Here at Iowa, we’re a small group of ten students and an intern with Bob Rahfeldt, the Video Director, and Chris Ruth, the Assistant Video Director, to teach and guide us.

Getting the job

Rewind seven months back to March 8th. It was late in the day and I was finishing up some homework for one of my classes when my phone vibrated, letting me know I had a Twitter notification. My high school’s head football coach, Matt Miers, had shared a tweet with me from an account called Hawkeye FB Video.

They were looking to fill open student videographer positions, and Coach Miers had a feeling I would be interested. I had filmed football games for my high school’s team my junior and senior years of high school.

I ended up sending him a direct message, letting him know I was very interested. His response was quick. He told me to work on my cover letter and resume, and that he would look over them before I sent them in. He also let me know that he would write a recommendation for me, as he was a manager for Iowa football at the same time Bob Rahfeldt (the current Video Director) was a student on the video staff.

“A lot of jobs are gained by who you know,” he told me. That’s something I’ve been told a lot the past several months.

Everything after that happened fast. Or, at least, it felt that way.

A couple weeks after sending in my materials, I was setting up an interview. And a week after that, I was on my way to the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City.

I was more nervous than I had ever been before. All I could think about was the fact that this was the start of my future, whether I got the job or not. In a few short months, I’d be heading off to college.

My parents were really supportive, and Coach Miers had given me a lot of advice for the interview: “Talk about your passion for football, how much you enjoyed videotaping our games, being involved in football, etc. Talk about your commitment, how responsible you are. Be enthusiastic and excited.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could do it — put a smile on my face and essentially sell myself — because I’m not a talkative person and it was my first real job interview. I usually have to warm up to a person before I put myself out there like that.

But as I entered the football facility, surrounded by trophies and the history of Iowa’s football team, I realized that there was one specific thing that always got me talking no matter how well I knew a person.

Football.

And that’s why I was there.

After that, my smile came easy. And so did talking about myself and my passion for football and working in the sports industry. When I finished the interview and left the video office, I couldn’t remember why I was so nervous in the first place.

Five days later, I accepted a volunteer position with the video staff, which required me to report for fall football camp around August 1st (I’d stay in the team hotel until moving into my dorm), work a couple practices a week during the season, and work all home games. And then I’d have the chance to move into a paid position next spring.

Filming practices

Now that the season has started, video students are scheduled to arrive around an hour before practice starts. Because of my class schedule, I am only able to attend practices on Tuesdays and some Fridays. During fall camp, however, I went to every practice.

Shooting practice from the perch on a foggy Tuesday morning.

As soon as all of the video students that are scheduled to work arrive, we gather the items we need (a camera, a back-up battery in case we lose power at our locations, a tripod, a walkie-talkie, and SD cards) and head out to the practice fields.

Every practice we receive an updated practice rundown sheet (also used by the coaches and players) that tells us the layout of practice and where we’re filming from.

We utilize four scissor lifts (three on the offensive field and one on the defensive field), a ground camera, a pole camera, and a perch located inside the indoor practice facility. The person filming from the perch films on the defensive field, and that’s usually where I am every Tuesday morning.

Scissor lifts give us the ability to change heights. The higher up we are, the better the coaches can see the patterns of a play. The lower we are, and the coaches can see the players’ point of view. Unfortunately, as we go higher, the lift becomes less stable and wind can be a problem. In 2010, Declan Sullivan, a football video student at Notre Dame, died when his scissor lift “collapsed in winds exceeding 50 mph.” He was only 20 years old.

We have strict rules here. If the winds exceed 20 mph, we come down. As much as we all love football, it’s not worth putting our lives on the line.

“Drop bag” used during practices.

Practice is split up in periods, such as ‘punt’ and ‘scouts.’ After certain periods, we remove the SD card from the camera, put a new SD card in, and place the old one in the “drop bag.” Usually there’s a Powerade bottle or water bottle in the bag that weighs it down so it drops easier. Once the SD card case is in the “drop bag,” we lower it to ground level so the runner can grab it and take it up to the video office where the film is imported by the Video Director, Bob Rahfeldt, and the intern, Clint Tucker. It’s an efficient system that allows coaches to view the film as soon as practice ends.

While I feel as though I have done a good job at practices so far, I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes since I arrived at fall camp almost two months ago. Towards the beginning of camp, I didn’t set my tripod up high enough and the bars on the scissor lift prevented the camera from pointing down all the way, and I wasn’t able to get everything in the frame. More recently, my SD card case fell out of the “drop bag” on the way down.

The zipper on the bag was broken, so I couldn’t zip it up, and the Powerade bottle rolled out of the bag and the SD card case followed it. I was in a rush to get back to the camera to film, so I must have picked the bag up the wrong way. I felt my heart drop when it happened. Thankfully, the runner found it on the stairs.

Every time I have made a mistake, I’ve learned from it and haven’t let the same mistake happen again.

Working during games

Games are a lot different than practices. For example, we have to show up four hours prior to kickoff. That means if Iowa is playing an 11 o’clock game, we have to be at the football facility at seven o’clock in the morning dressed in our game day attire. But it’s not bad when you have a game to look forward to.

View from the south end zone.

Once everyone arrives, we load up all the equipment on the golf cart and head over to Kinnick Stadium to set up. We only take three cameras because we only film at three locations during games (sideline in the press box, north end zone, and south end zone).

When everything is set up, we head back to the football facility and eat a pre-game meal, which, I believe, is usually provided by Hy-Vee.

View from the sideline press box.

After we’re all done eating, we watch the weekly hit film made for each game, which is always really good. However, one video that never fails to give me chills is the “This Is Iowa” video, made by the Assistant Video Director, Chris Ruth, who is incredibly good at his job.

Around two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, we go to the south end of Kinnick Stadium and wait for the team buses to arrive for the Hawk Walk. Once they pull up, we grab the laptops from below one of the buses, enter Kinnick Stadium with the players and coaches, and then walk right back out to the football facility.

Sideline view at halftime of the Penn State game.

Once the computers are set up back in the video office, we’re free to do whatever for about an hour. Usually around an hour and 15 minutes before the game starts, we all meet back up on the field at Kinnick Stadium and hang out until kickoff.

We watch the players warm up, we watch videos as they’re played on the video board (including the hit film and This Is Iowa video), we watch the players swarm the field, and we listen as the band plays the Star-Spangled Banner.

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital during the Penn State game.

My favorite part of every home game, however, is after the first quarter when we all stop what we’re doing and wave at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. It’s one thing to watch it happening, and it’s another to actually be there, seeing the children holding up signs and waving back. The best new tradition in college sports, by far.

After each quarter, we have one runner go to the south end zone and one runner go to the north end zone. Each runner’s job is to get the SD card from their assigned end zone and take it up to the press box to be imported. Since we have so many people on the video staff, we have four assigned runners at home games and we switch off each half. When we’re not running cards or filming, we get to stand on the sideline and enjoy the game.

Spirit game against Penn State.

It gets really loud inside Kinnick Stadium, especially on third down. The fans go crazy and try to disrupt the opponent’s offense. Like I said before, it takes a village. And the fans are part of this village, too.

How to get involved

I’m just a freshman. I don’t have a ton of experience getting involved in the sports industry yet, so I don’t have a lot to say on this topic.

But what I can say is that you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Even when you’re nervous or scared.

Outside Kinnick Stadium.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hesitate when applying for the student videographer job with the football team. It was new and unfamiliar, and there was already a lot of change going on in my life. Looking back now, I’m glad I pushed past the hesitation because I know I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try.

Coach Miers words have really stuck with me. At the end of the day, it’s not always what you know, but who you know.

I’ve also joined KRUI Sports and the Sport and Recreation Management Club, where I hold the Sports Information Chair position. Through these three experiences, I have the opportunity to network and break into the sports industry.

But this is only just the beginning for me. There are still so many opportunities ahead, and I plan on taking advantage of every single one of them.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to keep an eye out for my next post about moving from a small town to a big campus, and what I thought college would be like vs. how it actually is (thus far).

If you’d like to see more of my everyday life as an Iowa student, feel free to follow me on social media! Go Hawks!

Instagram · Snapchat · Twitter
@kam_smithy

Finding a Routine

I’ve come to the conclusion that going home three weekends in a row was a very, very bad idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed seeing my family and pretending as though I had never left for college. It was fun being able to eat food I didn’t pay for and pick on my siblings. It was fun seeing my high school’s football team (which I used to be a manager for) beat one of its biggest rivals for the first time in years. It was fun watching college football on Saturdays with my parents like we always had. It was fun going to a Labor Day weekend cookout with my stepdad’s side of the family and seeing my aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins. It was fun watching my brother play his first football game and actually win. It was fun giving real hugs instead of virtual ones.

It was all fun.

But, like I said, I was just pretending.

Now as my first weekend of staying in Hillcrest since classes started approaches, I’m finally starting to realize how different it’s going to be from here on. I won’t have the opportunity to go home again for a few weeks because Iowa plays at home this weekend against North Texas and next weekend against Penn State.

But that’s okay for a few reasons:
1) I love my job. Filming Hawkeye football is a thrill and, even though I haven’t been able to film an actual game yet, standing on the sideline and running cards is just as exciting (even when taking into consideration the fact that I’m really out of shape).
2) I need to be more independent. I’m an adult now, right? Time to start acting like it.
3) I need to develop a routine.

I’m a person who loves routines. I love planning everything down to the hour, and sometimes even the minute. But since I’ve gone home every weekend, I haven’t developed a very solid routine yet. I haven’t figured out a sleep schedule, I haven’t figured out when the best time to do my laundry is, and I haven’t come up with a study plan. I have a giant to-do list full of about 20 things I need to get done.

Pay my U-bill. Pay interest on my student loans. Apply for another job. Start researching for a presentation.

And it’s driving me crazy that I don’t have it all planned out. Maybe my college routine can be to not have much of a routine at all and just take everything day-by-day.

But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how these next few weeks go and take it from there.

 

See you next time, Hawks!

 

And so it begins…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after one week of classes, it’s that procrastination is still my number one enemy. For example, I told myself I would submit my first blog post on Friday, the 25th.

And what day is it now? Monday, the 28th. And I’m rushing to finish writing it right before my second class starts.

While the first week of college was lacking in homework (yay for syllabus week), it was still incredibly hectic and productivity was a necessity. I had a million and one things I wanted, and needed, to do, but failed to even start. This was also a problem for me in high school, but the only difference is that I have a lot more going on now than I did back then.

On Monday, I had my first class (Contemporary Issues in Sports) at 9:30 am, and I didn’t have my second class (Inequality in American Sport) until 2:30 pm. This gap between classes provided me with the opportunity to at least do something productive, so I opted for doing my laundry in the residence hall for the first time. Getting my clothes in the washer was easy enough, but of course, with my luck, it all went downhill from there. When it came time to dry my clothes, I somehow managed to shove all of them into the bottom dryer, but ended up pressing the start button for the top dryer. I’m still not sure how I managed to make that mistake, but I ended up having to pay again. To top it off, when I came back to get my clothes after they finished drying, they were all still damp. For some crazy reason, I thought it was a good idea to put seven towels and a week’s worth of clothes in all at once.

Tuesday was when things started to get more hectic. While I didn’t have class until 12:30 pm, I had to be at football practice at seven in the morning. Being a videographer for the football team is fun, but I am in no way a morning person. After going to both of my Tuesday classes (Media History and Culture and Introduction to the Politics of Race) that afternoon, I hung out in my dorm room for a while. At five pm, we had our mandatory floor meeting where we introduced ourselves and talked about all of the things we had already gone over at orientation. At 9:15 pm, I had a KRUI sports department meeting where we discussed shows and show times. And at around 12 pm, I finally went to bed.

Wednesday was my busiest day in terms of classes. At 9:30 am, I had Contemporary Issues in Sports and right after that, at 10:30 am, I had the discussion for that class. And then, just like on Monday, I didn’t have my next (and last) class until 2:30 pm. I think I did a pretty good job at spacing out my classes and limiting the amount I have in one day in order to ease myself into college. On Wednesday night, I had an informational meeting for the Sport and Rec Management program. We found out about the different networking opportunities, met a lot of the staff, and had the chance to win a skip-the-line pass for the Chicago field trip (spoiler: I didn’t win). The trip would have consisted of a bus ride to Chicago to network and go to the Cubs vs. Braves game, but sadly I had prior commitments that prevented me from registering.

On Thursday, I only had two classes (Media History and Culture and Introduction to the Politics of Race). At 3:30 pm, I was supposed to have a meeting with my advisor at the Pomerantz Career Center, so I headed over there after my last class. When I got there, I found out that they had to cancel all of the meetings with my advisor because he hadn’t been there all week. They said they sent me an e-mail, but I never got it. Nevertheless, I headed back to my dorm room and relaxed for a while. At around five pm, I headed over to the Old Cap Mall for a Pizza Party with some of the other student bloggers. It was really cool to meet everyone and I can’t wait for the next one! That night, I had to go to bed early because I needed to be at the football facility for practice at six in the morning. Just as I was falling asleep, the fire alarm went off and everyone had to evacuate the building, which was just my luck.

On Friday morning, I walked to the football facility for practice. I got out of there around nine am, and then I had my discussion class for Inequality in American Sport at 10:30 am. After that, I had my discussion class for Media History and Culture at 1:30 pm. Once I was finished with classes, I went back to my dorm and started packing my bag.

Yes, I was already making a trip home. While I had yet to feel really homesick, I did miss my parents and siblings, and couldn’t wait to see them again.

My first week of college was full of a lot of changes, new experiences, and a few bumps in the road. I might have seen a cockroach in the girls’ bathroom once or twice (or maybe three times) and I might have gotten lost in Van Allen, but I wasn’t going to let any of that ruin my first week.

I would apologize for the super long, tell-instead-of-show post (believe me, they will not all be like this), but I think it “fits the bill” because it was definitely a super long week.

But I do have a feeling the weeks are only going to get longer.

 

See you next time, Hawks!