We keep finding the uniqueness of Equipment Managers and when we talked with Cornell Assistant Equipment Manager Nick Bruner, his was revealed immediately.
Nick was a member of his high school bowling team at Fairport High School in Rochester, New York.
Not to say football wasn’t a part of his life: he played both the Offensive and Defensive lines, and because his family held Buffalo Bills season tickets, attended his first NFL game when he was three-years-old.
Lacrosse Equipment Manager
“My dad coached football, so I’ve always been around the game,” he said. Nick played in the first ever Fairport High night game after the team won a playoff game in the last minute. Afterwards, he looked for a way to stay involved in sports and ended up becoming an equipment manager for his high school lacrosse team.
“I just wanted to do something in the Spring,” he said. “I knew a bunch of guys from football who were playing lacrosse and I knew the coach, so I ran books on game day and helped out doing other things.”
During the waning days of his senior year, he mentioned to a substitute teacher that he planned to attend Ithaca College. The sub had contacts, made a call, and got Nick a job in the equipment room.
“I needed an easy way to meet people,” Nick recalls. “It was the first football season since seventh grade I wasn’t playing.”
“I was always a kind of nerd about helmets and design, but it was at Ithaca that I began to develop a deeper interest in equipment,” he said. “I started doing it for another reason—something to do, works study.
“Then it grows on you.”
Nick, a Sports Management major, worked as an Equipment Manager for four years.
“I loved it. It was awesome,” he said. “Ithaca football is very tradition rich. I love that the guys loved the program. Half the coaching staff played football there and it was cool to be a part of that.”
“Of course, a lot of the guys on the team were not the same caliber as a D1 athlete. They were normal dudes that played DIII football. I had classes with them—ate lunch with them.”
Both his freshman and sophomore years, the Bombers won the Empire 8 Conference.
“Throughout the years I learned the ins and outs of the equipment room. I like working on the helmets.”
We asked Nick why he likes being an Equipment Manager.
“This job, it’s hard. But if you were here right now you’d see the big smile on my face,” he said, pausing. “I love it. I love being around the team. Look, there is no greater feeling than putting all the work in throughout the week and getting the team ready for Saturday and then getting the win. It’s very fulfilling. You can’t control how the team performs, but you can control a lot—some of the preparation for the game, the field, the practice, the uniforms.”
Cornell versus Syracuse
He pauses again, then reflects on a very recent experience, this one as a Cornell Assistant Equipment Manager.
“Two days ago, the lacrosse team. We were there. We were all one Cornell. We beat Syracuse.”
Nick landed the Cornell job just across town from Ithaca College. “They are basically a mile and a half from each other. It’s cool.”
He worked parts of several summers as an intern for the Buffalo Bills, then all eight home games in 2015—at the same time serving the Bombers on the gridiron on Saturdays. “Yes, there were some very late Saturday bus rides home to Ithaca, then I’d get my work done and head to Buffalo for the Bills game.”
Lucky Red Vest
In 2016, Nick worked as an Equipment Manage for all the Bill’s home games again. He remembers one game when Head Coach Rex Ryan demanded a lucky red vest five minutes before kickoff. The vest was quite a ways away from the stadium. Nick began running. From the sound of it, it was uphill to the closet were the vest awaited him, then uphill back to the stadium. He used the red vest as his security pass to get back into the game.
“I was an intern for the Bills for three and a half years and served three different head coaches,” Nick recalls.
He worked the USA International Bowl in Texas for two weeks in January of 2017, a few weeks after graduating Ithaca. Then, it was back to the Bills for another internship. When Cornell posted the job in November 2017, Nick jumped at the chance.
“This was a special opportunity for me. I knew the area. Ithaca is my second home—my home away from home.”
Cornell Big Red Sprint Football
He got the job and began working as a full-time Assistant Equipment Manager a few months ago. That means he helps with varsity football, baseball, lacrosse, and something called sprint football.
Nick explains that sprint football is a full contact football sport for men 178 pounds or less.
“There are just ten schools in the country that play it—mostly on the East Coast.” He mentions that Army and Navy play sprint football.
“Spring can get a little crazy with spring football, sprint football, lacrosse, and baseball all at the same time.”
Keith “Radar” McCarthy, the Head Equipment Manage for Baseball, Football, and Lacrosse at Cornell, wrote us to say Nick was an asset to the Big Red.
“Nick joined my staff about 5 or 6 months ago and has been a great asset to me team. He in young and full of energy. He works very hard and goes beyond what the job requires,” Radar wrote. “In his short time here, he has already earned the respect of our athletes and coaches.
“It’s been great. I love going to work,” Nick says. “It’s been cool to be somewhere I know.”
Though the football team uses two helmets, the lacrosse team used three this year. STX introduced a new helmet toward the end of the season and Cornell was one of the schools to sport them.
“That has been a cool learning experience. Our logo is a bear coming through our C. It took seven stickers to get each of those lacrosse helmets ready.”
It’s the life of an Equipment Manager. For Nick, a soon-to-be AEMA Certified Equipment Manager, a life he relishes.
“The certification brings expertise to the field,” he said. “Once you are certified, and keep up your CEUs, you are saying you have a certain level of experience. My Dad is a teacher, so I understand certification—it brings legitimacy to what you do professionally.
“Plus, for me, I look at big picture. I’m 22 and getting certified can only help me in the future.”
Nick is a candidate for Helmet Tracker's AEMA Certification Exam Scholarship. Helmet Tracker reimburses one Equipment Manager the cost of the exam and the study book–if they pass. Some equipment managers pay for the exam and book and they get reimbursed directly. If a winner is sponsored by a college or employer, will reimburse the institution.
A year ago, University of Nevada’s Michael Dryer won the scholarship. However, Damien Garnett, Assistant Athletic Director of Equipment at Nevada, asked Helmet Tracker to pass it on as the Wolfpack had paid for Michael’s exam. We did, and Eddie Hardin, now the Assistant to the Director of Equipment Operations at Tennessee State University, received the reimbursement.
““I am grateful,” Eddie told us at the time. “It means a lot going from an intern to my first real job—having bills to pay!”
Nick hopes to one day return to the NFL, but he knows it will take sacrifice and some fortune to get there, and then to stay.
“I’m enjoying being at Cornell and can see staying here for quite a while. The NFL is on my radar, and I’ve always said that by the time I’m 35 I want to be the head guy somewhere.”
“For now, working with the college level guys—it’s fun and they are here to get a good education and play the sport they’ve loved their whole life.”
We asked Nick if he still finds his way into a bowling center to knock the pins down. Nope. When he gets time off, he looks for concerts, shows, and movies to attend—or he gets outside and hikes.