The most intimidating experience University of Dayton football freshmen have had since arriving for training camp came on Monday, but it wasn’t with a coach. It was when they picked up their gear from equipment manager Tony Caruso.
Tony is beginning his 31st year as the keeper of the jocks, socks, helmets and shoulder pads at UD. A former Flyer baseball pitcher, he’s bigger than most non-linemen, and with his Al Hrabosky goatee and matching glare, he creates a menacing figure for young men away from home for the first time.
Special requests by former high school prima donnas are not granted, but they all get properly fitted for their gear, and once they become upper classmen, they have no greater ally in the locker room than Tony. He is the first person a player meets when he comes to UD, and is often the first an alum visits when returning to campus.
His job description is a broad one and also includes providing peanuts and bubble gum for the coaches on the sidelines and an occasional cold beer for the radio broadcaster on the road. He repairs helmets and shoulder pads during the course of the game and does mountains of laundry.
Whatever situation pops up, Tony can handle it. In 1997 Welcome Stadium was being resurfaced, so the Flyers had to practice at Kettering Field near downtown Dayton. It was Tony’s job to lay out a football field in the outfield grass of the softball diamonds. At the end of the first day of practice, the team ran “the beast” — across the width of the field and back. Not a single player made it in the allotted time.
Coming off an undefeated season in 1996, Coach Mike Kelly accused them of being soft, and had them run again and again. Many got sick and nobody was happy on the bus trip back to campus. That night Kelly gave Caruso a call and asked, “How wide is a football field?” Tony wasn’t sure, so he looked it up. Turns out he had made it 10 yards too wide.
With 20 extra yards to run, no wonder the team had been “slow.” The field was re-lined and the Flyers went on to a 10-1 season in 1997.
Larry Hansgen is the radio voice of the UD Flyers.
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