Jack Duffy had a solid high school football career as a defensive back for Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, Illinois from 2012-2016. He is also one of my cousins. If you enjoy watching film, you can view his here. He had some offers from DII and DIII schools to continue playing, but instead opted to attend the University of Illinois as a student. This is a path many take after their high school playing days. However, for Jack, his football story does not end there.
After his senior season, Jack was presented with an opportunity to continue to be involved in football while in college, that of a football student manager. It is this experience that is the point of this post, as we take an insider look at what a student manager does.
How does one become a student manager? Like many things in life, it helps to know people.
“It all ending up coming about due to a connection. My high school football coach, Jake Jaworski, introduced me to the position about midway through my senior year of high school.” Jack began to explain. “He had graduated from U of I about 15 years ago and had this job throughout his 4 years at University of Illinois, and still happened to be in touch with his boss. He gave me a reference and I came down and met with the head equipment manager (Trent Chesnut) to talk about a position, and everything progressed from there.”
Talking to many former athletes, many don’t miss the early mornings, the late nights, the hot days, or the grueling practices (some might and hats off to those who do) day after day. However, when asked what they do miss, many of the common answers are the games, the thrill of being able to compete, and of course the teammates. The camaraderie and being a part of team striving for something bigger than themselves, and going to battle with a group of guys day after day.
Although the same exact words weren’t used by Duffy, it’s easy to see many of the same sentiments are there when he describes his desire to continue to be around the game.
“I had just finished my last season of football, so the opportunity definitely intrigued me.” He explains. “The biggest thing I think is that I’m still able to be around football. That was something that was pretty cool to me. I loved playing throughout high school and this was about as close as I could get to playing in college. Continuing to be around the game and being around team are huge reasons why I wanted to take the job.”
Jack was an unpaid volunteer in his first year over the fall season and spring ball, which is fitting for a freshman, paying their dues before getting a shot at a paid opportunity, which he did and officially started this August with the beginning of fall camp. As to what exactly he will be doing as a student manger, Jack goes into his first college fall camp with a mix of familiar and unknown awaiting him. Here’s what he had to say about his spring ball experiences:
“On spring practice days, we would arrive about thirty or forty-five minutes before players showed up. This was to gather and set up equipment that we would need for practice that day.” Duffy states, displaying insight and understanding to the importance of his role. “After players were done with their stretching and warm ups, I would help with drills. Some we did every day, and others would vary, which was nice so it wasn’t just the same thing every day. I could be doing anything really. From shagging footballs, throwing footballs in the actual drill, holding a pad and acting as an offensive or defensive player, or just observing and grabbing something if the coach needed it at any given time.”
He’s also eagerly looking forward to starting up for fall camp, although waking up at 4am and . “I am not entirely sure every specific thing I will be doing in the fall, but I’m sure it’ll be very similar to a spring practice day, at least as far as practices. I do know I will be given a specific positional responsibility to stick with through the year, but I’m not sure what position I will be working with yet.”
From the information Jack shared, it’s clear that the student manager plays a pretty integral role in team practices. Fans who watch practice highlights that get posted from time to time may catch a glimpse of student managers in the roles described above. They may be throwing balls in drills, catching the balls to give back to the QBs, hitting running backs with pads as they run through a line, and countless other things. It may not be the most glamorous job, but it would be hard to argue that the job wasn’t important.
If things keep going well for Jack, he could have a significant role on game day sometime before he graduates.
“Again, I’m not sure on my game day role yet, but there are many different things I could end up doing. On game days, student managers can be doing anything from being a ballboy, to having a headset and holding up calls for the offense or defense. As we get closer to the season I’ll be given a responsibility, but during our spring game I helped raise the field goal net with another peer.”
Jack and the other student managers won’t see snaps on the field this fall. They won’t score any touchdowns or make any tackles. However, they will still get up for practices, as well as play a role in the drills. They will still have to prepare, be focused, and excel at the little things. They will play a role in getting the team ready each week for the game and be expected to grow and improve as the season goes on. Their playing days may be over, but their connection to football is still going.
Photo Credits: University of Illinois Athletics
A special thanks to my cousin Jack Duffy for taking the time to speak with us, as well as the University of Illinois football program for allowing the interview to take place. Good luck to their program this season.