By Jeff Shearer
Dana Marquez jokes that the Innovation in Safety Award he'll receive Friday could be the Maxwell Football Club's version of the Academy Award for Sound Mixing.
"I have a funny feeling this is going to be like the Oscars, where it says, `This award was presented earlier in the evening,'" he says.
After all, when you're sharing the stage with stars like Cam Newton, who will receive the 57th Bert Bell Professional Player of the Year Award, someone has to go first.
Marquez, Auburn's equipment manager since 2006, is the award's first recipient.
The award recognizes the NFL or NCAA FBS equipment manager or athletic trainer who has done the most to advance player safety.
In the six weeks since learning about the Maxwell Award, Marquez's calendar has been filled with upcoming speaking engagements at high school conventions.
"That's really been the most impressive thing," he says. "Being recognized to go out and speak to the public in regards to really what Auburn is doing to be proactive in the helmet fitting, shoulder pad, and the safety of our student-athletes. That's been the biggest difference, the amount of attention that's been put on it from what we do here at Auburn."
Maxwell is recognizing Marquez for several safety contributions and innovations, including the CarbonTek shoulder pad he invented.
"I commend the Maxwell Football Club for doing this," Marquez says. "I think the equipment people around the country -- and there's not a lot of us -- we're a very tightknit community. So much focus has been put on the sports medicine, athletic trainer, neurosurgeon, doctors, that I think our profession has kind of gotten left in the background a lot.
"It's a collective partnership," he says. "Here at Auburn, we have a great communication line with our team physician, our athletic training staff. We work together as a team. It's not one or the other. And I think that has to start coming back or go into the fold now. I think this award may help that."
Marquez wants equipment managers to be part of the decision-making process regarding safety.
"That's exactly what I hope it does. Bring better attention to what we do for a living. And how much time and effort the AEMA (Athletic Equipment Managers Association) has spent certifying equipment managers around the country, and continuing their education on new manufacturing guidelines. And I think this is just going to help our industry a lot."
The 79th Maxwell Football Club's National Awards Gala will be held Friday in Atlantic City, NJ. Newton will be only the seventh winner of the club's college and professional player of the year awards.
Marquez has his tux ready to go. New dresses for Dana's wife, Liz, and their daughter, Jordan. Now, just like those golden statue winners in Hollywood, he's hoping to get through his "Thank you" list before the orchestra starts giving him a wrap cue.
"I'm really looking forward to meeting the people who are going to be there," he says. "My wife and my daughter are excited. It's just going to be a great opportunity. I was talking to Coach Malzahn. It brings a positive light to Auburn. And not just to the football program, but to the equipment department here at Auburn, and to Jay Jacobs, our Athletic Director, for giving us every tool possible to be successful. I'm really proud in that facet of it."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer