A day before kickoff, Paul "Pooch" Pucciarelli helps unload 75 player bags in Sam Boyd Stadium's locker room. Piece by piece, his crew sets out everything that each player needs -- from socks to jocks and wristbands to ankle braces. The jerseys are hung facing out. Pads and cleats go on the floor in front of the benches; helmets on a shelf above.
There's a lot of fuss for the seemingly ho-hum task of getting gear in the right place. Can't the players just unpack their bags themselves?
No, says Pooch. He's gotta put his stamp on it.
"A lot of schools just put each player's bag in front of their respective locker on game day," says Pucciarelli, equipment manager for all Rebel sports. "But I want our players to feel important on game days. Being a college athlete is a big deal, so I like to take the extra few minutes to set everything out."
This is quite the task for football since Sam Boyd Stadium is off campus. Uniforms and equipment must be packed in individual player bags, and then in trunks that are shuttled from campus to the stadium. Every game is a road game for Pucciarelli and his staff of three full-time workers, nine student workers, and a volunteer. Most universities have on-campus stadiums, so the gear stays when the game is over.
At least the weather in town generally cooperates, Pucciarelli says. For true road games, the team loads an 18-wheeler with all the regular equipment as well as inclement weather gear and an array of cleats. "Because the weather can be so unpredictable in a lot of places we play, we hope for the best and pack for the worst," Pucciarelli says.
While he admits there isn't a right or wrong way to set up a locker room, Pucciarelli likes to place uniforms and gear in lockers before games for all sports. He has been doing it since 1972, when he was a student worker at Citrus Junior College in California. Then, uniforms were baggy with big sleeves. Today, the same jerseys are tight and have short sleeves while helmets and shoulder pads are lighter and more protective.
Loads of Laundry
For all the time football requires, it is only one of 16 sports that Pucciarelli deals with at UNLV. And his job goes well beyond stocking the locker rooms to include overseeing all equipment purchases. The most hectic time of the year is September. Football, volleyball, soccer, and cross country are in full swing. Plus, the tennis, softball, and baseball teams need things from Pooch.
Part of the maintenance is to make sure the players' practice gear and game uniforms are cleaned and, more important, sanitized. Pucciarelli can't stand the thought of student-athletes getting staph and other infections.
That means washing and drying laundry for more than 400 student athletes daily in addition to all the coaches' clothes and a mountain of towels. UNLV's industrial-sized washing machines are computerized to measure out the appropriate amounts of detergent and sanitizer.
Each machine handles 125 pounds of laundry. That is equal to the practice gear (jerseys, shorts, compression shorts, padded girdle, and socks) of 55 players or 100 pairs of pants at a time.
When the Oct. 2 game against rival UNR was over, it was 11:30 p.m. by the time the trunks were packed and loaded onto the truck. Back on campus, the helmets and shoulder pads were sprayed with disinfectant and put back in lockers. Once the laundry is done, jerseys are inspected for tears and set aside for a seamstress. It was 2:30 a.m. when the lights were turned out.
While the laundry can often lead to long nights and busy weekends, Pucciarelli wouldn't have it any other way. "For me, this isn't just a job but a way of life."