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ASU travel crew handles long trip

by Mitchell Gladstone | September 18, 2021 at 2:53 a.m.

SEATTLE -- Hayden McClain took his last looks around the 18-wheeler Tuesday morning.

Whiteboards, rain gear, massage tables, Powerade, coaches headsets, laundry bins, lounge chairs. Everything but a helmet, pads and two pairs of cleats for each player had been piled in for the 2,220-mile trip west.

It's the start of a hectic stretch for McClain, who is in his first year as Arkansas State's director of football operations. Over the next three weeks, the Red Wolves will rack up more than 6,500 miles on the road, starting today with their trip to Washington and followed by games at Tulsa and Georgia Southern.

While such a run would require meticulous planning for any program, it's only ratcheted up at ASU thanks to Coach Butch Jones' penchant for structure.

"[This job] is a lot, and it's a lot when you work for a guy that's very detailed and organized," said McClain, who moved across Alumni Boulevard following three seasons as the Red Wolves' director of men's basketball operations. "[Butch] knows exactly how he wants it, and I'm just making it how he wants it, and from there, that's going to help our staff and our team not worry about certain things."

Equipment manager Pat Coleman began planning for ASU's trip as soon as he was hired just two days before the start of fall camp. Coleman has spent time working in equipment departments with four NFL teams -- Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa Bay and Washington -- but the Red Wolves' journey to Seattle is the longest possible they could make for an FBS opponent within the continental U.S.

Texas State is the only other Sun Belt team making a non-conference road trip longer than 1,000 miles this season -- the Bobcats went to Miami for a game at Florida International last Saturday and will play at Eastern Michigan next weekend, both 1,300-plus-mile drives.

By the time Tuesday rolled around, McClain and Coleman were putting the finishing touches on ASU's packing. The back door slammed shut and so begins the 32-hour venture.

The plan was for the truck to drive for stretches of 8-10 hours, allowing time for the lone driver to rest and refuel before continuing on. All of the Red Wolves' equipment arrived in Seattle late Thursday, along with ASU's advance team -- a group of three staffers and seven student workers that began unloading at the team hotel and Husky Stadium on Friday morning.

"We've just got to make sure that we have everything we possibly need, and just any and everything that you could think come up as a possible issue, pre-plan for that," Coleman said. "Because in a position like this, you have to be more proactive than reactive for sure."

All eight meals between Friday and kickoff are carefully spaced out, McClain said. The Red Wolves ate breakfast in Jonesboro before a final walk-through, then snacked on their way to Memphis before downing sandwiches on their 4 1/2-hour flight.

Smoothies awaited them upon arrival in the Pacific Northwest before a full dinner at the team hotel. They ate once more prior to bed checks and will have breakfast at 8:30 a.m. local time before heading to the stadium and fueling up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches pregame.

Once the game starts, Coleman will maybe get to watch a quarter. He'll then head inside to start prepping the locker room for halftime, and as soon as the team returns to the field, he'll start packing any gear the players aren't using and readying the laundry bins for postgame.

Coleman, along with his staff, expects to have everything reloaded onto the truck within an hour of the final whistle.

And every minute is crucial for McClain. He needs the truck to leave Seattle on time so that it can arrive back in Jonesboro by Tuesday evening. As soon as the gear is back at Centennial Bank Stadium, the ASU staff will unload, reorganize and get to packing again so the truck can get on its way to Tulsa on Thursday.

The time between contests is anxiety-filled for McClain. But once the ball is kicked, he's got a few hours to breathe.

"The most enjoyable part is getting to the games and seeing the results show," McClain said. "You have all these things that are happening and you stress, stress, stress and then you'll get to the game, and even Coach [Jones] will say it, 'What's there to stress about? You've done all your things to prepare, now let's play football.'"

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Today’s game

ARKANSAS STATE AT WASHINGTON

WHEN 3:15 p.m. Central

WHERE Husky Stadium, Seattle

RECORDS Arkansas State 1-1; Washington 0-2

TV Pac-12 Network

RADIO KFIN-FM, 107.9, in Jonesboro; KHLR-FM, 106.7, in Little Rock

COACHES Butch Jones (1-1 in first season at ASU); Jimmy Lake (3-3 in second season at Washington)

SERIES First meeting

NOTEWORTHY Washington is a 17-point favorite over ASU. … The Red Wolves last made a trip to the West Coast in 2015 when they dropped their season opener to then-No. 8 Southern California. … The Huskies began their 2021 campaign with a 13-7 home loss against FCS Montana in which Washington gave the ball away three times. … Before taking over as head coach last season, Jimmy Lake spent the last eight seasons as a defensive assistant under former Huskies coach Chris Petersen (2012-13 at Boise State, 2014-19 at Washington). … ASU enters the weekend fourth in the nation in total offense, averaging 596.5 yards per game, with 90 points over its first two games. … The Red Wolves will receive $1.75 million to play in Seattle, extending their run of high-priced buy games — ASU was paid $1.7 million when it lost 57-7 at Alabama in 2018, $1.8 million when it fell 55-0 at Georgia in 2019 and will get $1.8 million when it treks to both Ohio State in 2022 and Michigan in 2024.

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