Auburn, Marquez Promote Innovation in Athlete Protection

July 10, 2014

By Chelsea Zillner

Auburn athletes are some of the most well-equipped, protected athletes in the country and they look pretty good too. Largely in part to Dana Marquez, Auburn’s Director of Equipment that oversees all aspects of the equipment and apparel for Auburn’s 21 varsity teams. What those student-athletes may not know is that they are being taken care of by one of the nation’s most respected equipment managers, one that has been instrumental in the production of the latest innovations in athlete safety.

But Marquez didn’t get his start on the equipment side. He attended Colorado State where he studied sports sciences and management, and spent several years as a marketing director for various hockey organizations before becoming the football equipment manager at Oregon State and the University of California. In 2005, he served as a promotion manager for Shutt Sports Group, who specialized in protective football equipment.

“I bounced around a lot. I wanted to learn all aspects of equipment management and athletics. I learned the promotional side of athletics, marketing, budgeting and consulting,” Marquez said. “When I got back into the equipment management I had a better understanding, which led to more efficient organization systems.”

When Marquez came to The Plains, he was adamant about one thing:  he wanted to come to oversee a department, not just football. The equipment staff went from three employees to nine under Marquez and he emphasized accountability and progress to the program. In nine years Auburn has developed into one of the best equipment departments in the country. Marquez oversees all aspects including budgets, shipping and receiving and athletics supplies. The policies and procedures handbook created by Marquez is used at nearly every SEC school.

“I have a great staff,” Marquez said. “They do a great job of being accountable for everything. We’ve done a great job of hiring people who want to do their job. It’s never perfect, but we have a system that works and other schools see that.”

Marquez and his staff are the true unsung heroes of this whole operation. Commonly working 18-hour days, seven days a week, year round with little to no vacation, there is no such thing as a normal day. Meeting the needs of 21 different teams day in and day out is a serious undertaking. Marquez credits his success from thinking month to month rather than day to day.

What makes Marquez stand out from other people in his same position is his desire to improve the safety of student athletes. Five years ago Auburn equestrian coach Greg Williams approached Marquez asking to make something that would decrease the pressure put on a horse while the horse was being exercised.

“I spent a year, maybe two, going to different manufacturers who all told me they didn’t have a market for what I was looking to make since it wasn’t related to football,” Marquez said. “Most people don’t classify equestrian as a sport until you look at the horse.”

Marquez took it upon himself to learn the equine anatomy and figure out where the pain was coming from. He figured out that if you look at a saddle on a horse from behind and a football player with shoulder pad’s side view, it looks identical. Marquez wanted to figure out a way to design a shoulder pad for a horse. He figured out that impact dispersal was his answer to an equine shoulder pad. The auto industry proved to offer a solution.

“The best place to study impact control was in the auto industry. Race cars are hitting walls at high speeds and these drivers are walking away from it. The barrier on the wall is taking the impact and dispersing the energy rather than the car.”

After talking to auto engineers, Marquez found a company who was looking to diversify their portfolio. It took two years to get the oblate spheroid technology and figure out how to shape the shoulder pad in order to disperse the impact. After piecing this giant puzzle together the next step was to figure out how to manufacture the pad. Russell Athletics and Marquez teamed up and got a patent for the pads. Russell decided they didn’t want to use the pad for equine purposes, but for football shoulder pads.

The Carbontek shoulder pads were launched in 2013. Auburn and Cincinnati football programs tested the pads during the 2013 season. Three Auburn football players started the season with the Carbontek pads and by the BCS National Championship, 21 players were sporting them. Player injuries were reduced during the 2013 season because the pads were able to take on so much impact.

“We changed the entire structure of the shoulder pad,” said Marquez. “It’s now two pieces, the oblate spheroid technology allows for a soft, flexible, and protective underside. On the top we repurposed carbon fiber to create a protective shell. You’ve got an airplane technology shoulder pad up top with a race car technology underneath.”

Third-party testing was just completed on the Carbontek shoulder pads which revealed the pads are 65 percent more effective than anything on the market. Carbontek is the first shoulder pad that can stay on during an X-ray and be washed. Every NFL team and 82 Division I football programs will use the pads in the upcoming season.

Marquez passion for the industry and the safety of his athletes has earned him two Equipment Manager of the Year Awards, given by the manufacturers. He was also voted one of the top-five equipment managers among universities for 2013. For the first time in nine years Marquez will enjoy a well-deserved 10-day vacation to the Florida Keys.

“I want my athletes to see that I go above and beyond for them, not just fit them with a shoulder pads and helmets, I want to make them better.”