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!

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@kam_smithy

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