April 9, 2012 4:30 AM, EDT

Fleets Move College Football Gear for Pride’s Sake, Executives Say

C.R. England Inc.
By Eric St.John, Features Editor

This story appears in the April 9 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Although transporting college football equipment from one venue to another can be an expensive undertaking, several trucking company executives said they are willing to write off the costs because they receive something much more valuable: a sense of company and family pride in performing what amounts to community service for higher-education institutions.

C.R. England Inc., Salt Lake City, is a newcomer to this type of philanthropic work. The carrier began working on the project about a year ago, said Zach England, the company’s vice president for dedicated services.

The past football season was C.R. England’s first transporting equipment for players, communication devices for coaches, and medical supplies and apparatus for the University of Utah, which also is located in Salt Lake City.

“Many members of the England family and our employees attended the school,” Zach England, said. “From a community-service standpoint, it’s a good way to give something back to an institution that means so much to us.”

In an August press release, Chad England, chief operating officer, said, “We are very excited to provide this resource to the university, as well as to show our support to Utah athletics. As the Utes move to the Pac-12 [athletic conference] this season, their mode of transporting their equipment will match the stature of their new conference affiliation. The Utes will now have the best transportation solution of any team in the country.”

Six months later, after Utah finished the regular season with a 7-5 record and then beat Georgia Tech 30-27 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, Zach England said there is another reason the carrier supports the school.

“The other reason is the exposure it provides us,” he said. “It puts our brand out there. The truck and trailer is a beautiful piece of equipment, and people notice it. . . . People often come over to get their pictures taken with it.”

“It’s been fantastic,” said Ann Argust — Utah’s associate athletics director, marketing — of the relationship with C.R. England, adding that the carrier “is a very generous partner.”

Argust, who helped develop the brand designs for the vehicles, said, “We’re very proud of the relationship — a functional relationship — not only on the moving side but on the branding side as well. . . . We combined both the visions [of the carrier and the school] to create a merged brand.”

C.R. England supplies the university with a tractor, two trailers — one of them a 28-foot pup — and two drivers, each with more than 20 years’ experience, England said.

The drivers, who received special training for the project, “are pretty much a part of the team,” he said.

“One of the drivers told me, ‘I love my job,’ ” England added.

Kelly Sharitt, the team’s head equipment manager, said that, for regular-season away games, the C.R. England tractor-trailer usually arrives at Utah before noon on Thursday — for long trips, it arrives on Wednesday. Most of the equipment is packed before the team practices, with the rest of the gear — mostly personal stuff such as shoulder pads — loaded into the trailer after practice. The truck leaves the campus around 7 p.m., he said, and by the time the team arrives by plane on Friday, the equipment has been unloaded.

“At first, we told [the drivers] that we would load and unload the trucks,” Sharitt said, “but they went and did it anyway, and now we just leave it to them. It’s become a sense of pride for them because they feel like they are part of the team.”

The pup trailer is used for home games because not as much equipment is in-volved in the approximately half-mile trip from the athletic department to the stadium.

“It’s not convenient to shuttle the equipment any other way except for a truck and trailer,” England said, referring to the home games.

For the bowl game, however, both trailers were needed because more than football equipment had to be transported.

“We carried personal things, like strollers, to [the Hyundai Sun Bowl] because a couple of the guys [coaches and assistants] had kids,” England said.

The truck also is used during the off-season.

“From January to August, it runs in Southern California,” England said. “It benefits us to have a high-profile truck in an area that is not familiar with us and, from a [player] recruiting standpoint, we want to get the school’s name out there.”

England said that factoring in the equipment, fuel and drivers, helping Utah is “a pretty significant investment, [but] we felt it was worth it.”

And Sharitt is happy that the carrier feels that way: “The truck we had before was too small for our needs. Our new truck is very impressive. We’re in the big time now because we have this awesome truck.”

Michael Riggan, president of TanTara Transportation Corp., has been transporting football equipment for the University of Iowa since 1985. He became involved with the university when a friend — Ed Huff, who ran Hawkeye Moving and Storage — asked for his help. Huff began hauling Iowa football gear in 1983.

“He asked me to go on a trip with him to haul the equipment, and I was hooked. It was just an awesome feeling,” Riggan said.

“In 1987, I bought a tractor to use with [Huff’s] trailer, and [we shared] expenses until Ed retired around 2008,” Riggan said.

Now Riggan, who drives the “Hawk Hauler” with his son, Jeff, picks up the entire tab.

“I’ve been fortunate where I can afford to do this,” the elder Riggan said.

Riggan, whose oldest daughter earned a bachelor’s degree from Iowa, said he has always felt welcomed by the Iowa staff.

“Former [head football] coach Hayden Fry made us feel like part of the team,” said Riggan, who was, and still is, struck by a feeling of camaraderie. “We had sideline passes and, since that day, I’ve been on the sidelines of every away game that I’ve gone to.”

After Fry retired in 1998, Kirk Ferentz took over the reins of the football program.

“He, likewise, has treated us like we’re part of the staff,” Riggan said. “He’s just good people.”

“Mike is a big part of our team,” Coach Ferentz said. “The thing that has always jumped out at me is that the truck is symbolic of the way Mike treats us. . . . It’s just absolutely spectacular. I tease Mike [that] you could perform surgery on it. Mike takes great pride in keeping that thing spotless.”

The coach said the truck helps spread the university’s name and football program through the areas in which it travels.

“It’s great advertising for us,” Ferentz said. “The detail of the graphics and the artwork on the truck is splendid.”

He also said that it’s always a kick to see the truck waiting for the team.

“We’ll get off the plane, and the truck is sitting out there on the tarmac,” the coach said.

And he heaped praise on Riggan’s dedication to the university and the team.

“Mike’s truck is very representative of the type of person he is,” Ferentz said. “He’s so well-grounded, so committed, so supportive. He’s all about supporting the Hawkeyes. . . . I wish all our players were as committed as he is. We could all learn from him.”

Riggan said the movement of the football gear can be an arduous one.

“We haul everything from the jock straps to the gym shorts. We arrive on Thursday afternoon and start loading the stuff that we can while the team practices — the trainer stuff, communications equipment, video equipment. After practice, their shoulder pads, helmets [and other personal gear] go into the players’ bags, which are the last things to go on truck.

“We drive to the hotel where the team is staying and unload stuff there,” he said. “Then, we go to the stadium and help unload gear in the locker room and set up all of the lockers . . . for them,” he said, adding that this is done so the players have the gear that is needed for a practice walk-through on Friday.

“It’s almost a military operation at that point,” Riggan said. “That’s something that Hayden [a former marine] brought with him.”

Riggan also said, “At each home game, we park our truck outside the stadium and have a tailgate out of it. A lot of the old players stop by and say, ‘Hi.’ ”

Although the vehicle usually isn’t completely filled for away games, “for bowl games, we have a full load,” he said.

Iowa, which finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, lost to Oklahoma, 31-14, at the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

The hand-painted Hawk Hauler has been updated several times.

“We’re on our fourth trailer and our fifth tractor,” Riggan said. “The truck is all Hawk. It has close to 300 chicken lights — that’s an industry term. It really glows: I’m guessing a satellite could see it from space. It does look good.”

Riggan said the truck is used for carrying only football gear — with three charitable exceptions.

“We use the truck to support Freezing for Food and Toy Time,” he said, adding that the vehicle is parked at a Hy-Vee Food Stores facility to collect donated food for the Salvation Army pantry and at a Krieger Automotive center for Toy Time, another Salvation army charity. “They make sure that families in need get the food baskets and toys,” Riggan said.

The truck is also used to support a football camp for children from 7 years old through high school, he said, adding that 2011 was the program’s inaugural year.

The idea for the Davenport, Iowa, camp came from Matt Hughes, a linebacker for Iowa back in the 1990s. Riggan said that about 60 former Iowa players tutored the kids in football skills.

He also said that the Iowa alumni solicited donations from area businesses for the camp. And although there is a fee for the kids, those who couldn’t afford it were allowed to attend for free.

Riggan said the donations and fees go to football-related programs in the area — and in one special case, to help pay for a kidney transplant needed by a former Iowa player.

Longistics, Research Triangle Park, N.C., began its relationship with the North Carolina State University football team more than 15 years ago.

“The [head football] coach at the time, Mike O’Cain, and I were having dinner with a couple of friends,” said Duane Long, the logistics company’s chairman and co-founder. “During the course of the meal, he said he had a dream that he would have a truck that was painted up to display N.C. State Wolfpack football all over the country.”

Long said he replied, “We can make your dream come true.”

Since that discussion, Longistics has dedicated three tractors and two trailers to the team, Long said. While the first tractor-trailer combination — called “The Big Bad Wolf” — was hand-painted, “the new truck has a beautiful wrap on it. The truck is very impressive,” he said.

Long said each coach has been very happy with the truck.

“We’re extremely grateful for Longistics and their generosity, said Kit Hughes, N.C. State’s assistant director of athletics for football operations. “The truck is a critical component of our team operations, [carrying] our equipment for games as well as storage over the course of the year. The trailer stays with us 12 months a year, so it is pretty much part of the family.”

When asked if it is a useful recruiting tool, he said, “Absolutely. One of the benefits of it, the way that we have it’s wrapped with graphics, [makes] it essentially a large moving billboard. . . . It’s a pretty significant marketing element and helps in getting our brand out there to areas that may not hear about N.C. State on a regular basis.”

Hughes also said that the truck attracts fans — both the school’s and its opponents’.

“There are a lot of people that take pictures in front of it,” he said. “It definitely gets a lot of attention.”

Hughes added, “Sometimes, it gets negative attention from the other team’s fans, but it’s usually good-spirited, and we have people with the truck at all times” for protection.

And while N.C. State provides the drivers for the truck, they are trained and obtain U.S. Department of Transportation qualification through Longistics, said Long, who added that he attends all the team’s games.

N.C. State also finished the 2011 regular season with a 7-5 record. In the Belk Bowl at Charlotte, N.C., the Wolfpack defeated Louisville, 31-24.

“[The] drivers tell us that as they drive the highways, fans make the sign of the wolf as they pass,” Long said, referring to the hand gesture frequently seen at Wolfpack home games.

Although Long did not attend the university, other family members have been students there.

“My son and my wife [vice chairwoman and co-founder Pat] went to N.C. State,” he said, adding, “and my money.”

The association with N.C. State pleases Long as much as his family — maybe more. By way of illustration, he tells a story about one school’s attempt to use his truck as the butt of jokes from that school’s fans.

“In 1997, we went to the Carrier Dome [in Syracuse, N.Y.]. Syracuse people said, ‘Why don’t you park it out in front of the stadium?’ I believe they wanted their fans to make fun of it,” Long said.

“But we beat them, 32-31, in overtime, and after the game, fans came over to have their picture taken with the truck,” he said, adding, “and I got a game ball.”