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Watering football down to the basics

His friends call him "Bobby Boucher."

Rich Abadie, the University's head football equipment manager who hails from Louisiana, manages a dozen Wahoo "waterboys." But don't call them that to their face. At the University, they're known as "equipment staff."

The equipment staff "takes care of the team so they can focus on what they're doing, and not what they're wearing," Abadie said.

As equipment manager, Abadie is in charge of the operation of the equipment staff. On the sidelines, the equipment staff performs a good portion of the legwork. During practices and games, each member of the 12-person staff is assigned to certain players and coaches. They offer assistance to the coaches and take care of the players' equipment. They also travel with the team to all the games, sometimes missing class.

"I really enjoy what I do and I believe it's definitely an aspect that helps the team," Abadie said.

Although the staff this year is all male, "watergirls" are not uncommon; women have served in the past. Twelve staffers ranging from first to fourth years hold paid jobs, and one is a volunteer. First-year staff members receive a 25-percent scholarship that is applied to tuition and fees, and for each successive year on the staff, the amount is increased by 25 percent. Some clothes from Reebok also accompany the scholarship compensation for the staff, also called team managers.

One obvious responsibility of the equipment staff is the "waterboy" function, although at most other schools, trainers distribute water to players.

According to fourth-year College student Cameron Trant and third-year College student Dave Hess, who have been on staff since they were first years, first-year students usually get to carry out "fluid replacement technician" duties.

All staff members, however, perform several responsibilities. They transport 20 five-gallon jugs of Shenandoah Spring water onto the field using water caddies -- handcarts with the cooler attached. Players and coaches seldom use the entire water supply. For some games, only eight jugs have been used, in others, as many as 15 have been emptied.

In addition to water, the equipment staff caddies in Powerade for games. Powdered Powerade is mixed with the Shenandoah Spring water to make the beverage, which the staff proudly serves from the orange coolers.

According to first-year equipment staff member John Custis, about 40 gallons are consumed per game. But Powerade consumption combined with long hours hasn't made Custis regret his decision to join the staff.

"I'm having a great time," he said. "It's a time management situation."

The University sends letters to football coaches in Virginia about the staff positions, and some students hear about the jobs through word of mouth.

Custis said he decided to join the staff after he received a letter from a coach at home and contacted the football staff. The rest fell into place.

Not wanting to push Powerade forever, Custis plans to work with the staff each of his four years at the University and move up in the informal ranks, where some more experienced staff get to work with the team more as head managers. Trant said there have been two head managers for the past few years.

But being on the equipment staff hasn't led to the poor treatment depicted in some scenes of the Adam Sandler movie "Waterboy." Custis, Trant and Hess all agree that they are treated well by the team.

"Coaches and players are great," Custis said.

So great that they want to be professional staff equippers? Not exactly. Hess and Custis said they probably won't pursue in a career related to football, although Trant said he wanted a career that dealt with the game.

Talk of careers may seem premature, but staff members already commit long hours to their job. They arrive at games early and leave long after the last touchdown. All staff members come to each practice, which take place every day except Sunday. Even though the team doesn't have Sunday practice, half of the equipment staff comes in each week to do clean up work after a game or to make sure players' uniforms are cleaned and ready for the next use.

"It's a big time commitment, but it's worth it," Hess said.

The significance of the equipment staff's task is recognized and appreciated by both coaches and players.

"They're really highly dedicated kids," said Defensive Coordinator Rick Lantz, now in his ninth coaching season at the University. Equipment staff "is an extremely important part of our operation. They truly like football."

"They make a great contribution," Lantz said.

Tight Ends Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Danny Wilmer agreed.

"These guys do everything. They are pretty dedicated people who do a tremendous job and work hard," Wilmer said. "I'll do anything to help those kids ... They're vital to the operation of a football program."

Both Lantz and Wilmer said equipment staff members often go out of their way to offer them water, which they readily accept.

Players also said the contributions of the equipment staff, while lesser known, are vital to the success of the team.

"They're kind of the heroes behind the scenes," said fifth-year holder and quarterback Will Thompson. "They get the job done."

Thompson said the staff doesn't receive enough credit for all their work.

"Whenever I'm winded and feel a little bit dehydrated, they're there with some high-quality H20," he said. "It's real important -- without the waterboy, we'd have to get our own water."

And without that, he added, "Virginia wouldn't be the team it is today"