WOODSTOCK — Aaron Taff has found his career.
Taff spent two months doing an internship as an equipment manager for the Los Angeles Chargers and hopes to continue in the field for the rest of his career.
“I definitely had to pinch myself a few times,” Taff said. “It didn’t really feel real. Watching these guys on TV in years past, guys like (the Chargers’) Tyrod Taylor and Keenan Allen, and I was right there (watching them). It’s definitely a ton of work. It was 14-hour days, but it was worth it. It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, working alongside some of the best athletes in the world.”
The 2016 Central High School graduate was studying sports management at Division III Suny-Cortland and decided to take a position as head student manager for the football team. After doing that for three years he knew it was what he wanted to do.
“I just like that I’m on my feet, I’m around the team,” Taff said. “I really felt like I was part of the team. I get to travel with the team. I’m at every practice, kind of running around the field. It’s a fun job to have. It definitely has its perks.”
Taff said when he was at Suny-Cortland the defensive coordinator was in charge, so he didn’t really have a lot of time to show him things. Taff said he got the hang of it after a while and started to really like it.
“I definitely had my hands full the first season,” Taff said. “Just trying to learn everything and then on top of that was school work and everything. But you know the first couple weeks of the season I kind of got into a rhythm.”
Taff said that the student football manager at Suny-Cortland before him had an equipment manager internship with the Chicago Bears, so he decided to see if he could get one with an NFL team as well. He said he sent his resume out to all 32 NFL teams and the Chargers was one of the teams to reach out to him.
Taff said his internship was just for the preseason and he arrived at the Chargers’ training camp in Costa Mesa, California in the middle of July and left the first week of September.
Taff said he was one of three interns and there were four full-time equipment managers.
He said his jobs there varied from day-to-day and during practices he would mostly work with the running backs.
“I would go to the practice field, myself and another intern would go set up all the pads on the field for that,” Taff said. “Practice would start and I was assigned to just stand next to the running backs coach the whole practice. So I’d help during individual periods just holding pads, whatever he needed. Then during practice it was anything from spotting balls during team period, just always having your ears open, and if a coach needs something you got to be on your feet ready to go and get it.”
Taff said that before practices they would hand out any new equipment, jerseys, shoes that the players would ask for.
Taff said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic they had even more work to do after practice.
“After practice with COVID we had to clean, disinfect helmets, shoulder pads, every single day,” he said. “So that was the first step and then hanging them back up in players’ lockers. We had to fix anything, like if a chin strap was broken, fixing that. If a player wanted their visors taken off or put on the helmet. Then any small jobs to just prepare for the season, like getting the sideline trunks ready, coaches gear, anything like that.”
The Chargers are going through a bit of a rebranding, including moving into a new stadium and changing their scheme colors. Taff said that in their spare time they were moving out all the old stuff from the apparel cabinets and putting in the new apparel.
Taff said that he had to get up at 5:30 a.m. and answer questions from Human Resources due to the COVID protocols.
“Every morning we got an email from the HR department with like an assessment,” Taff said. “We had to fill out with like have you traveled outside the country in the last 30 days? Have you had any of these illnesses?”
He said he had to take a COVID test at 6 a.m. every morning as well as a temperature check. Taff said his days usually didn’t end until around 8 p.m. He said he also had to wear a mask at all times, which wasn’t easy when they were outside at practice in the heat.
Each preseason the HBO television network goes behind the scenes of training camp to film a show called “Hard Knocks.” This season they selected the L.A. Chargers for the series.
Taff said having HBO there gave them a few extra duties, but it was still a good experience. He said the equipment managers would have to go around and make sure the players all had on the right gear with all of the new logos and colors. He said some players are particular about what they wear and the equipment managers would have to convince them to switch to the new apparel.
“The front office didn’t really want that being on ‘Hard Knocks,’ Taff said. “They really wanted to push the new logo and new lettering and everything. But it was really cool. (HBO) worked around us. They wanted to make sure that they weren’t in our way. If we were on the practice field, they would get out of the way if they saw us running. They were just kind of in the background. Even the first day they were there they were like if we’re in your way just let us know. We just want to stay hidden. But it was really cool to have them there. Even watching ‘Hard Knocks’ and seeing myself in the background was cool.”
Taff said obviously one of the biggest perks of the job was being able to be around the NFL players, and he said they were all nice and it was a great experience.
“I mean (Chargers’ offensive lineman) Trai Turner and even (Chargers’ defensive lineman) Joey Bosa, when they’re not practicing or in a meeting or in film they just fool around,” Taff said. “They’re extremely friendly guys. It’s not really what you expect. I ended up walking off the field with Joey Bosa or whoever and you find yourself talking about what TV shows you like. Watching them on TV you’re just like, ‘oh they don’t really do anything, they just play football and that’s it.’ But you know they all have lives and they definitely goof around. Like I’m just walking around the field with a ball in my arms and they’re trying to swat it out and stuff. They’re just there to have fun and it kind of helped me loosen up, too. It doesn’t have to be all serious, all the time. They’re doing what they love and it’s clear that they’re having fun.”
Taff said that he also took some time on one of his days off to head into Los Angeles, a 45-minute drive from the Chargers’ training camp, and do some sightseeing.
“The (Chargers’ SoFi) stadium is in Englewood in (the L.A.) area. I went up there for the day,” he said. “It’s different. It’s kind of tough with COVID, but I still tried to do some of the touristy things like the Hollywood sign, made sure I saw the Rose Bowl Stadium. Obviously it’s different. It’s beautiful. It never rains, the sun’s out every day. And just the scenery, you’re driving to the beach and there’s mountains and it’s the coast and its unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Taff said he learned a lot from his experience with the Chargers that he can take with him moving forward.
“Just be ready for anything, especially with COVID this year,” he said. “There was so many curve balls thrown our way. The head manager for the Chargers, I didn’t even see him because he was in meetings all day working with the NFL and just in meetings all day. Like this is what needs to go down. And you could only have a certain number of players in the locker room. So he was talking to the other equipment guys for all the other teams. They were planning like, ‘hey what’s the setup going to be like this year?’ And ‘this is what your setup is going to be like at SoFi Stadium.’ It was crazy.”
Taff is back home in Woodstock until January, when he will leave for his new job as head football equipment manager for Valparaiso University, which is located in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Taff said Valparaiso did not play football in the fall but is hopeful to play some sort of schedule in the spring.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity to work for a Division I football team,” he said. “I know it’s a little bit of a smaller Division I school, but none the less it’s still a tremendous opportunity. Working for a Division III school as the head student manager and then I got an internship in the NFL. So it’s going to be a really great opportunity for me to be in charge of the equipment and see everything that goes into that, kind of learn from that and see what this opportunity can lead me to next.”
Taff said that while he’s happy to be at Valparaiso, he would really like to get back in the NFL at some point.
“I want to go back in the NFL, I want to work a full season,” he said. “I saw what goes into training camp and it kind of sucked leaving. Because I was like, I just put all this work in and I don’t even really get to be part of the product of playing games every week. So I definitely want to see what goes into it. It was kind of tough with no preseason games. I didn’t get to see what game day is like. So that’s what I really want to see is just kind of the plan that goes into it. And then I just want to see what after the season looks like with clean-up and players getting traded and stuff like that.”
Taff said he wasn’t a Chargers’ fan before, but now he definitely watches them more closely.
“Working for them for two months and knowing the players on a more personal level, I definitely try to watch their games or at least keep track of the score,” he said. “And it’s really weird watching the game and like, ‘oh there’s (Chargers’ starting quarterback) Justin Herbert and I was just having a conversation with him a couple weeks ago.’ So it’s really cool.”