The “Nitty-Gritty” of ISU Football

The Iowa State football team is composed of many moving parts, some of which are praised by crowds of fans and others are delegated less-glorified tasks. Austin Breitbach is one of the pivotal members within the niche group that powers the inner workings of the football team.

Blood, sweat and tears are just some of the stains that the Iowa State football equipment staff have to deal with on a daily basis. From preparing footballs for the quarterbacks to detailing damaged helmets back to their original state, the life of a student equipment manager can seem less than glamorous. But to those within the position, there is no job they would rather do.

Who is Austin Breitbach?

Austin Breitbach is a marketing student at Iowa State. He is also one of the 13 student equipment managers of the football team. With the Cyclone’s 2022 football season ending, Breitbach just completed his second year on the job.

Breitbach has a serious passion for football and all of the behind-the-scenes that goes into the sport. He knew as early as his junior year of high school that he wanted to work in football. His passion showed itself through video games.

“Whenever I would play NCAA 14 and Madden, I would always play around with the guys’ equipment,” Breitbach said. “I’d put visors on guys and change their gloves.”

During his junior year, Breitbach reached out to the full-time equipment staff at Iowa State, telling them exactly what he’d like to contribute to the team when he eventually arrived on campus. Breitbach maintained consistent communication with the equipment managing team along his journey to Iowa State. Breitbach’s passion and directness successfully got his foot in the door.

Austin Breitbach rolls a jersey onto a set of football shoulder pads at the ISU equipment facility. Dec. 7, 2022. (Jacob Rice)

“Having that sort of passion for the field makes it a lot easier to work with,” said Assistant Director of Equipment Operations Chase Clark. “That’s what we get with him every day.”

Breitbach had several stops along the way before enrolling at Iowa State. He enlisted in the National Guard during his senior year of high school. He then went through basic training to become an infantryman.

After completing basic training, he spent a year studying at Des Moines Area Community College. The summer before enrolling at ISU, he interned with the Iowa Cubs minor league baseball team. That gave him experience in the equipment management field, which he was eager to get into.

In May of 2020, Breitbach was deployed in Qatar, where he served for 316 days. Upon his return, he started his time on campus in Ames. In the time that he was gone, he didn’t lose any of his passion for the field.

What is the role of an equipment manager?

The equipment managers do an extensive amount of work for the football team. The staff consists of three full-time managers and 13 student managers. Those 16 people are in charge of just about everything one could imagine. The equipment team orders gear for the year from Nike, distributes and organizes the material, assembles the practice and game-day equipment, prepares footballs, customizes the players’ gear to fit their needs, etc. They are the people who make everything flow smoothly.

“If you really look at it, we are in a customer service relationship,” Breitbach said. “The players are the customers, and we are providing them with a service.”

The average fan most likely doesn’t pay much attention to the staff of the team, but the players and coaches appreciate them like no other. The equipment staff is also responsible for communicating with the coaching staff, fulfilling their needs for anything they or their players need.

Austin Breitbach uses a brush machine to prepare a football for proper use. Dec. 7, 2022. (Jacob Rice)

“If we ever lose track of where Austin is before practice, no one gets worried because we all know he’s just upstairs chatting it up with the coaches,” said Dylan Tyler, a fellow student equipment manager.

In addition to building relationships with the coaching staff and players, he is also skilled at making others’ jobs easier.

“The coaches he works with specifically, when he was out for a duration of fall camp at the NFL level, they really noticed,” Clark said.

Austin’s impact on the equipment management culture

Breitbach fulfills many roles within the equipment management team. He works closely with the special teams department of the football team and is also a point of consistency in the office.

“You can tell who really is driven to do this beyond just a student job,” Clark said. “When you have those people that have that purpose behind what they do, you feel like you get more out of them.”

Breitbach’s skills from the military carry over to his everyday work through his discipline, Clark said. Breitbach is the person that the staff may go to when they need a more detail-oriented job done.

“He’s down to do a little bit of the nitty-gritty” added Clark.

Breitbach is able to find a balance between the contrasting aspects of the job, proving to be a diligent worker and a personable employee.

“I always felt I could count on him when I had questions,” Taylor said. “He makes every day at work a little better for everyone on staff.”

New York Jets

Breitbach’s most recent internship was with the New York Jets. He was one of four interns for the summer. They worked during the Jets’ summer camp and preseason games.

In preparation for his future career, Breitbach reached out to many NFL teams to inquire about internship opportunities.

“I applied to seven different teams,” Breitbach said.

Some of these NFL teams included the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens.

He received a call confirming that he was selected for the position with the Jets on St. Patrick’s Day. Breitbach noted that this was coincidental because the green-themed holiday matched the Jets’ signature Gotham Green.

Austin Breitbach commemorates his time as an intern for the New York Jets by displaying a matching helmet and name plate in the equipment room. Dec. 7, 2022. (Jacob Rice)

Breitbach’s time with the Jets at MetLife Stadium was full of 80-hour weeks, fulfilling duties similar to what he carried out in Ames but with much less assistance.

Both in Ames and at MetLife Stadium, one factor remains of the utmost importance.

“We’re here to make sure the players can perform on the field,” Breitbach said. “We try and do whatever the best option is to help them perform.”

The internship was not without challenges, including an incident that happened in Philadelphia at his first preseason game.

“We forgot the black tights. So we had to improvise on the spot,” Breitbach said.

Breitbach came away with important lessons from his time with his first NFL team. He got to compare ideas with fellow managers and ask questions to seasoned professionals in the field.

“As you do this, you learn that pretty much every equipment manager kinda does things the same way,” Breitbach said. “They just have their own little spin on it.”

Call to action

Entering the equipment management field can be filled with uncertainty, but Breitbach still offers advice to anybody interested in pursuing it as a career.

“Always reach out, even if you think they are gonna say no,” Breitbach said. “You just gotta put yourself out there. It’s all about networking.”

Breitbach and his co-workers play an important role on the team, one that is unsung but imperative.

“When I first started, you see this wall [of former student managers], and you’re like, ‘This is something I wanna do,’” Breitbach said. “You can see the people who paved the way, and you hope that you can do that too.”