The Commodores have suited up for seven tough games this season, but their black and gold helmets always seem to shine under the stadium lights. This week's contest is no different as the Vanderbilt equipment staff has already ensured the excellent condition of the helmets for Saturday's game against the Duke Blue Devils.
Chris Singleton, assistant equipment manager, and Gary Veach, equipment assistant, along with six student managers, spend about 1 ½ hours after every Thursday practice before home games, Wednesdays before road games, cleaning, polishing and repairing the players' helmets who'll dress that weekend.
Singleton maintains the conditioning of the offensive line's head protectors, while Veach does the defensive line, and then the managers take the remaining positions. The front lines, however, acquire the most beating from game to game.
"On average, I'll usually have 12 guys dress on O-line, and I'll have to change four to five black and white helmet stripes every week," said Singleton. "Linebackers are usually tough too. The student who's been here the longest will do the linebackers, because there's a lot of work on those too."
Garrett Walker, a student manager from Trevecca Nazarene University, will testify to the condition of the LB helmets. The second-year VU manager noted that John Stokes has already needed a facemask replaced, and will need another one soon.
"You can definitely tell when you play the more physical teams," Walker said. "Like Mississippi State, that game there were just hits left and right. So, you could tell the difference after that one."
Helmet repair isn't confined to the equipment room in McGugin center either. Singleton and Veach are called on to make quick replacements and adjustments during the games. Walker remembered a Chris Marve tackle during the Ole Miss tilt where the redshirt freshman LB hit an opponent so hard his chinstrap broke.
"We sit in a room on Thursday night and have all the time we need to make sure it's done right, but those guys [Singleton and Veach] have to get that guy back in the game," Walker remarked about game-time fixes.
When they have the time on Thursdays, the repair team will also replace any damaged star logos and apply the helmet anchors. Head Coach Bobby Johnson and his staff award the black anchor decals to the players in recognition of individual achievements.
After safety Ryan Hamilton's performance against Ole Miss, where he compiled three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, six tackles and a fumble recovery, the equipment crew applied 14 anchors to the safety's noggin guard.
So, when you're beaming with pride at the homecoming game Saturday as the black and gold V-star helmets glint in the late October sun, keep in mind the hard-working heroes behind the scenes.