Sept. 27, 2013
By Denise Skwarcan Irish Eyes
Unlike a lot of kids who like things their older brothers and sisters do, Ryan Grooms wanted absolutely nothing to do with cheering for his older brother’s choice of college football teams.
“He was a diehard Notre Dame fan,” Ryan recalls about Jason. “I was two years younger, and I just wanted to go against him.”
So maybe it’s a little ironic that Grooms’ eventually career path was cultivated by Jason. And now, as Notre Dame’s head football equipment manager, the younger Grooms’ also loves the Irish.
“My older brother, who is actually the director of football operations at Ohio University now, was volunteering with their football team at the time and found out through the equipment manager that there was an open position,” says Grooms who worked with the Bobcats for two years before stints at Marshall University, the Air Force Academy and the University of Minnesota. “Then I got a great phone call from Notre Dame on a Friday afternoon, and the rest is history.”
Now in his fourth season with the Irish, Grooms is responsible for all the athletic equipment for the football team, and oversees an assistant equipment manager and 50 student managers. While he’s down on the field for every game, both home and away, Grooms has little opportunity to enjoy the game as a fan.
“It’s enjoyable overall that I’m there on the sideline, and I get to run out with the team at Notre Dame Stadium,” notes the Frankfort, Ohio native. “Hopefully we don’t have to do anything but we’re there to make sure nothing happens. And if it does, like a busted out cleat or a broken chinstrap, we need to get the player back on the field as soon as possible. It’s constantly watching the game very intently, but not for the same reason the coaches are.”
About halfway through Grooms’ second season in South Bend – on Oct. 22, 2011 to be exact – the Irish debuted a new helmet that more closely resembled the Golden Dome. In the process, it eliminated the long-standing tradition of painting the helmets every week, but Grooms likes the new results.
“It was one of those mixed feelings,” Grooms says. “(Painting the helmets) was a unique process, but we changed them for so many positive reasons. We’re getting a better look because it does look identical to the Dome, whereas before we were getting a helmet that varied from week to week. When it was colder, the helmet wasn’t curing properly. So cosmetically it’s better, and it’s better for the players because there’s not a constant changing of the helmet where the guts are being pulled in and out.
“Plus, it’s the only helmet in college football that has a texture to it. The old helmet had texture because, after a season, it had 12 layers of paint on it. That was one of the requirements and, of course, the 24k gold because that’s what everybody knows about the Notre Dame helmet. So we did it for all the right reasons, and we’re pretty happy with it.”
For 12 games every year (and hopefully 13 including a bowl game), Grooms and his staff pack a 53-foot truck full of every possible piece of equipment necessary for the team to take the field and survive any `uh-oh’ moments that might occur. So far, those moments have been minor, and probably because of Grooms’ thorough preparedness.
“My motto is if you pack everything then you can’t forget anything,” Grooms says. “There’s no need to skimp. We took every single white jersey that we own to Michigan and Purdue and all the other road games. You’re not saving yourself a whole lot of work by forgetting something. And I don’t mean we’re taking office chairs or anything like that. But when it comes to equipment…”
Attending to every detail requires Grooms to spend a significant amount of his time during the season at work. But the lost time at home also has given Grooms one of his biggest joys.
“The best part of my job is bringing my two-and-a-half year-old son up here as much as I can, and he runs around the locker room and high-fives the players,” Grooms says. “He has no idea what he’s doing and he may never grasp that concept, but it’s very unique to me that I’m able to have him up here. (Head football) coach (Brian) Kelly is very open to family members because we’re not at home very much, and he’s such a great family man himself.
“I also have another son who was six weeks old (on Sept. 8), but he’s not running around yet. But these boys are brainwashed right now. I missed out on my childhood not being a Notre Dame fan…these boys aren’t going to.”