DeKALB – When he's preparing for a Northern Illinois game, Mike Valentine wants to be able to stare at the wall in the locker room before the contest.
Valentine, NIU's second-year equipment manager, arrives at Huskie Stadium at least six hours before a home game, and five or six hours before the contest when the team is on the road.
Valentine is making sure everything is set up, whether it's putting the jerseys on the players' shoulder pads, or taking care of little things like wristbands or quarterback towels.
In a perfect world, everything will be good to go in advance, so Valentine can have the pleasure of staring at the wall.
"That means we're good to go," Valentine said. "My students think I'm crazy, but there's so many times where we've showed up and [the assistants] are like, 'Oh Mike, we've got to get this done and taken care of.' We've got to build ourselves more time. I'd always rather have more time than be hurrying at the end."
When the game starts, Valentine, who got his start working in the baseball clubhouse of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, is taking care of things like chin strap adjustments, bent facemasks and new shoes. While having to put on a new facemask in a quick amount of time so the player can get back on the field can be tough, to Valentine, game days are the easy part.
These days during training camp, Valentine arrives on campus around 6 or 6:30 a.m. He walks through the locker room, makes sure the laundry is passed out, fixes helmets, adds face shields and takes care of any new equipment a player may need.
He's also starting to plan for the first game, making sure things like jerseys, socks and shoes are ready to go for the season opener against Presbyterian on Aug. 28. An added wrinkle equipment managers have faced over the years is the number of uniforms teams have. Instead of having to worry about home and away gear, this year's Huskies have five uniforms – the red home, road white, alternate black, "Dark Dog", and the Cornfest uniforms that were unveiled last week.
"It has absolutely blown up. It's amazing," Valentine said. "I think back when I was at other schools like Tulane, we had green pants and white pants, a white jersey and a green jersey and a white helmet."
When practice begins, he's following NIU head coach Rod Carey around, supervising his two assistants and 12 students that help him out.
Valentine, who was the assistant equipment manager at Arizona before arriving at NIU, had just four students helping him when he arrived, but ended up getting the added help after putting word out in places like Twitter and Facebook.
"I have great students," he said. "I put all the faith and trust in them in the world."
When practice ends, it's back to the equipment room to take care of any problems players may have, doing paperwork, ordering any equipment which needs to be ordered. He's usually out of the building around 9:30 or 10 p.m.
The Huskies will host Presbyterian in less than a month, in what Valentine calls an easy day.
"When the player runs out of the tunnel, when they're out on the field, from head to toe I just make sure that they have everything that they need," Valentine said. "We, can't say I, we make sure they have everything that they need."