Sooners rely on deep supporting cast


You see the coach jogging out of the tunnel, his players and staff bounding out with him. You hear the band screaming out the fight song. You feel the excitement in a football Saturday.

What you don't see is all the effort that goes into making that possible. Not just the practices, and the video study, and the weight room work. There's so much more that gives the heart of college football a steady beat.

ESPN has a jones for taking its viewers and readers behind the scenes, be it College GameDay, or The Season, or SportsCenter. This fall, ESPN.com will be taking you behind the scenes at Oklahoma. With the cooperation of athletic director Joe Castiglione and coach Bob Stoops and all of the men and women who work for them, we will give you 50-yard-line seats to the logistical ballet staged every week to get the Sooners onto the field.

"Fans come to the stadium and they see what they see," assistant athletic director Kenny Mossman said, "but they don't have any idea of what goes on."

We're not just talking about the 15,000 hot dogs sold at Memorial Stadium on the typical Saturday, or the volunteers who man the popcorn machines at 3 a.m. to begin popping enough to fill 8,000 bags of popcorn, or the 242 ushers, or the 11 electricians who spend their Saturdays at Memorial Stadium just in case.

The series will take you behind the Xs and Os and show you who gets the Xs and Os ready to play.

You'll be inside the training room, the only square footage in the entire football building where the head coach does not have the final say. The evolution of medicine, and of conditioning, has changed the job of trainer from ankle-taper and confidant to an expert in biomechanics, hydration, nutrition and, well, ankle-taping. You'll find out how it works.

You'll edit digital video with the video jocks, the technician-cum-football nuts who stay up most of the night Saturday in order to deliver a complete set of offensive and defensive video breakdowns to the coaching staff when it arrives for work on Sunday morning.

You'll hang out in the equipment room, an operation that can rival anything that goes on behind the swinging doors at a Target, or at the counter in a country store. You'll ride in the 18-wheeler that travels wherever the team travels, bringing the Sooners and several hundred pounds of gear on the road across the Big 12.

By the end of the season, you will see what makes college football more than just entertainment, more than just an educational experience. It is simultaneously a big business and an emotional wellspring, because the men and women getting the Sooners ready love their team just as much as the 83,000 fans who jam Memorial Stadium.

At every athletic department in the nation, there are men and women who grease the behemoth machines that churn out what we see every fall Saturday. They are there when the new coach comes in and promises to carry "Your School Here" football to new heights, and they are there when he leaves three years later for a bigger salary. This fall, we will tell you the stories at Oklahoma. Come take a ride on the Sooner Schooner.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.