Aug 24, 2013
Equipment manager Dana Marquez puts new decals on helmets (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Former Auburn safety Zac Etheridge called Auburn equipment manager Dana Marquez on Friday. He wanted to catch up and chat with a friend.
There is a reason Etheridge, 2½ years after his last game as an Auburn safety, stays in touch. Marquez played a significant part in Etheridge's comeback from a terrifying neck injury midway through the 2009 season. It was widely assumed that the injury, so close to being catastrophic, had ended Etheridge's career. Instead, he played 14 games in 2010 and helped Auburn win a national championship.
As Etheridge's condition steadily improved, he asked Marquez to accompany him, his parents, Auburn trainers and team doctor Mike Goodlett to see his doctor.
Etheridge's doctor asked Marquez if he could design equipment that would make it possible for Etheridge to play the game safely. And Marquez went to work.
"We spent a good six months just working with him," Marquez says. "I got into the auto industry, the motorcycle industry, everything. I was told I had to have a brace because he couldn't put his head forward. I did everything I possibly could to build a shoulder pad. The rest is history. He won a national championship and even got to play in the NFL a little bit."
The days of an equipment managers' main job being to pass out pads, jerseys and helmets are long gone, and Marquez is on the cutting edge.
Auburn's equipment manager since 2006, he is among the foremost experts on how equipment can help reduce the chance of concussions. He was one of a handful of equipment managers invited in May to a conference with helmet manufacturers in Phoenix. He was the only equipment manager asked to be on the Southeastern Conference concussion committee.
"You have to fit the helmet by manufacturer's guidelines to actually help prevent any of those concussion issues," Marquez says. "A lot of what I did was sit there and explain this is how we fit a helmet, why we fit a helmet, why it's important to fit it by manufacturer's guidelines.
"You hear this helmet reduces concussions by 60 percent, has this technology or that technology. If it doesn't fit, none of that works. It goes out the window."
Marquez was at the University of California when Auburn called in 2006. He was hesitant. He'd never been in the state of Alabama, and Auburn's equipment operation was considered in the business to be near the bottom in big-time college athletics.
But he and his wife visited and were impressed with the campus, the town and the people. He took the job overseeing Auburn's equipment operation.
"You are expecting SEC, expecting big-time and all that," Marquez says. "You get here, and it's not even close. We were archaic. We had everything in boxes. Nothing was ever counted. It was like, `Wow, this is insane.'"
In 2009, after Gene Chizik was named head coach, Marquez took direct responsibility for football, as well as overseeing the entire equipment operation. He is proud of what it has become, and he says athletics director Jay Jacobs wanted nothing less.
"One thing Jay sort of put me in charge of was we needed accountability of the equipment room," Marquez says. "We brought an inventory system in that cost the university a lot of money, but it's been very successful from an accountability standpoint, budgeting standpoint.
"Most administrations across the country look at the equipment manager as the laundry guy. I don't think that's what Jay was looking for. I think we've shown we're not that way."
Marquez got into the equipment business almost by accident. He was a student at Colorado State when he asked quarterback Kevin Verdugo, a close friend, how he could get involved with the football program. Verdugo suggested he go see equipment manager Pete Brickhofer.
"He said `come on.'" Marquez says. "Unlike Auburn, where I have 19-21 students, there were only four of us - two on offense and two on defense. I loved it. It clicked right away. It kind of worked out where I got to meet a lot of the NFL scouts and different things.
"By the time I was getting ready to finish up school, I'd gotten to be good friends with the guys at Denver. Next thing you know, I have an internship with the Broncos. My career kind of went from there."
At Auburn, Marquez and his staff of six full-time assistants have built a model program. One of his duties is working with Under Armour on equipment and apparel. He says there are opportunities that wouldn't be there with others.
"It's been unique for our athletes," Marquez says. "I think our athletes have a ton of say. Cam Newton had a ton of say when he was here. The shoe he wore in the championship game was a year in the making. I had him sitting in my office telling me what he wanted and how he wanted it built, going into a lot of dialogue with Under Armour.
"Now it's here. We are wearing the Cam Newton shoe. Part of my deal is to have an open-door policy for athletes - `I like this, I don't like that' and to educate them on what their equipment can do for them."
Always at the top of the priority list, Marquez says, are safety concerns.
"The average player in the NFL is 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds and runs a 4.6 40," Marquez says. "You put two people running together from 10 yards apart, it's basically a 75-mile per hour car wreck."
Marquez was known as a "fixer," before he moved to Auburn, seldom staying long in one place. But he says he, his wife Liz and daughter Jordan are content.
"I don't want to move," Marquez says. "My in-laws moved down here a couple of years ago. We just moved my mother-in-law into our house. My daughter is a junior in high school. We really like the community. My wife teaches at Carey Woods (Elementary School). I'll be here as long as they want me."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: