Equipment manager takes unique path to MU football team

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 9:53 p.m. CDT; updated 11:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Robert McGugan runs to pick up a kicking tee during Saturday's game against Colorado.

COLUMBIA — Robert McGugan never thought joining the Missouri diving team would lead him to the sidelines at Faurot Field, but injuries have a way of changing things. In his first season as an equipment manager for the Missouri football team, McGugan said he never imagined he would be where he is now.

McGugan, who had been a diver in high school in Barrington, Ill., had been looking for a way to get involved as an incoming freshman at MU in 2008.

“I simply got on and e-mailed the head coach of the swimming and diving team, and just said that I wanted to be involved,” McGugan said.

Before he knew it, he was a manager for the swim team.

“I got a lot of experience working with the divers and even helping them with their dives. I also sometimes helped coach them. I did get to travel to a few meets, and it was awesome,” McGugan said. "Just a great overall experience."

So great that it inspired McGugan to want to compete with the team as a sophomore. Jeff Wolfert, a standout kicker with the Missouri football team, had rejoined the 2008-2009 diving team to help beat Big 12 rival Texas A&M for the first time. McGugan worked with his coaches and joined the 2009-2010 team in a similar role.

“It was like yeah, 'Let's see if we can get you a list (of dives), and do what Jeff did,' and then it evolved. I was really a team member, not just a filler to score points,” McGugan said. “I wanted to be a part of the team, not just to score points, but be a member scoring in every meet.”

McGugan said he trained over the summer before his sophomore year and dove in the Tigers' season-opening Show-Me Showdown. But on Nov. 14, 2009, in the first dual of that season, McGugan partially dislocated his right shoulder on a dive. The resulting bone contusion benched him for six months.

“It sucked. I didn’t like having to sit out of practice and be on the side of the pool watching … even though I did that for a year straight before I joined the team,” McGugan said.

However, McGugan also said the injury created new opportunities, especially after getting help from MU athletic trainer Casey Hairston.

“Having a personality like Robert’s, where he recognizes that he is part of the team and understands that the team comes first, is a major reason in which I recommended Robert to become part of the Mizzou football equipment staff,” Hairston said.

McGugan, now a junior, started working on the football equipment staff this past summer. He would get up around 5 a.m. every day and work until 7 p.m.

“You are always moving, helping, making sure everything is right,” McGugan said. “But it's cool being able to experience something I never would have imagined.”

He said so far the San Diego State game has been his favorite, and working with the team has been a special experience.

"It's a new feel, being right in the action,” McGugan said. “During the game was fun, but also a lot of pressure. It's about a perfection."

“Robert is just a team-first guy," Hairston said. "As a student equipment manager with football, there are many hours behind the scenes that never get recognized."

Football takes up the majority of McGugan’s time, but he still tries to work with the swimming and diving team when he can. He worked the computer and took down scores at this season's Show-Me Showdown during the football team's bye week.

“I still try to help out when I can, but football will conflict in the future," McGugan said. "But after the season if there are meets at home, I'll help all I can.”

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