Greg Trapp was sitting passenger-side in the cab of a Kenworth T680 long-haul truck when his phone rang Tuesday just west of Winslow, Ariz.
His day began about 265 miles ago in Albuquerque, N.M., and was set to end 674 miles westward in Barstow, Calif. He and Mark Sheppard, who was behind the wheel, were comfortably past the halfway point of a trip that began two days prior.
The truck and trailer they were in pulled out of the Woltosz Football Performance Center on Sunday afternoon in Auburn, hauling 29,000 pounds of football equipment. The pair was going cross-country, and they were somewhere in the midst of more than 2,500 miles of highways and about 36 hours of drive time Tuesday. They’d reach their destination — Auburn football’s team hotel in San Mateo, Calif. — the next day, well-ahead of schedule for the Tigers’ game against Cal at 9:30 p.m. Central on Saturday.
Trapp and Sheppard are no strangers to this. The truck they’re driving was purchased by Trapp’s company, Single Source Logistics, in 2018 and has only logged about 34,000 miles. That's because it's exclusively used for hauling Auburn’s equipment, which the pair have been doing full-time for the past eight years.
There's been trips as far away as State College, Penn., Arlington, Texas, and as near as Atlanta and Nashville. The pair has been to 11 SEC towns. But this trip is hands down the furthest they’ve driven, and it highlights a truth of every Auburn road game.
“This trip, we've had circled for at least two years trying to make sure we had everything we needed,” Trapp said. “(We’ve) discussed every possibility that we could come up with in our minds [of what] we might have to have to make this trip.”
Auburn’s players and coaches have been preparing all week for this trip in search of a win, but there’s a cast of people behind the scenes who have been preparing for several weeks, if not years, to seamlessly get a football team across the country. That might be most present with Trapp and Sheppard.
The two drove nearly 500 miles Sunday, stopping off west of Little Rock, Ark., before traversing the entirety of Texas to get from Little Rock to Albuquerque on Monday. But before they ever hit the road, they’d been pre-planning for a year-plus. There was also a great deal of hands-on work that happened in the months beforehand, most notably a two-week-long truck and trailer inspection that saw it outfitted with everything it and a pair of drivers could need for such a haul.
“A lot goes into it when you start crossing 300-, 400-mile stretches out here with nothing,” Trapp said.
One of many items on the truck was a spare tire, but there’s also battery-operated power tools and a hydraulic jack and extra truck parts, sensors and belts should anything go awry miles from civilization. For the truck’s exterior, there’s 300 feet of water hose to keep it and its trailer — bounded in chrome and team branding — looking spotless.
“We put a lot into how this thing looks,” Trapp said. “It'll look like show-car condition by game time.”
And, of course, there’s a refrigerator full of groceries and drinks in the cabin. That's on top of a pair of twin beds and TV to help whoever isn’t behind the wheel get 10 hours of rest between drives, in compliance with federal regulations.
“To have guys like that — that take a lot of pride not just in getting the freight there, but also a lot of pride in working for Auburn and making sure everything is not just done but done at a high standard,” Tyler Renard, Auburn’s director of football equipment operations, said. “Those two guys really, really take a lot of pride in doing their job and doing it very, very well.”
The pre-planning for this week’s trip has been equal for Renard, who’s worked on it in some capacity since he arrived in Auburn in April 2022. That includes working with both Trapp and Sheppard, with whom he and assistant equipment manager Hunter Smithwick coordinate logistics.
It’s definitely been a different trip for Trapp and Sheppard. They often leave as early as Thursday or as late as Friday for a standard SEC road game. But what's made it different for Renard and his staff of two full-timers and 15 student-managers?
“Well, the reason it's different is because it's so far, right?” Renard said. “So, you have to have a little more foresight. Like, last week when we're playing UMass, and even in the summer getting ready for the first game. At the same time, we're also getting ready for Cal.”
Much of getting ready for the equipment staff is packing ahead. And for a game in Northern California, where temperatures are expected to be between 60 and 70 degrees at kickoff, that means packing cold-weather gear like jackets, long-sleeve team apparel and hand-warmers — things Renard has never packed for a Week 2 game in a 12-year career.
What can’t get packed early and loaded onto a truck, however, are helmets, pads and cleats. Those items, enough for a travel-roster’s worth, will be weighed and ultimately flown out with the team. That’s just one of the many parts where Jeremy Roberts, Auburn’s senior associate AD for operations comes into play.
Roberts has been with the athletics department for three decades and has worked in operations since 2006. He's the one who has to add the weight of pads and helmets to Auburn's flight manifest, but the bulk of the work he’s done for this weekend’s contest began Memorial Day weekend of 2022.
That’s when he and Auburn’s director of football operations, Mikel Riggs, flew out to the Bay Area to take a firsthand look at what would eventually be booked as Auburn’s team hotel. They also did something similar with California Memorial Stadium and local airports, seeing those spots to coordinate any specifics well in advance.
It’s an assured assessment of Auburn’s travel plans, and it’s common practice for Roberts, who does so for first-time trips. But a lot of what Roberts and Renard do for new encounters begins with relationships they’ve built.
For example, a relationship within Stanford’s athletics department helped Roberts find the team hotel. Renard’s connections within the NFL helped him coordinate the logistics of flying football equipment cross-country.
In Roberts' eyes, it’s the connections that are at the root of making these trips successful.
“It's just communication, and relationships and treating people the right way,” Roberts said. “We're all trying to do the same thing, which is be successful for the team or company that we're representing, right? So [when Auburn stays at] the Marriott at Grand National (in Opelika), obviously they're on our side because we're going out there seven times a year.
“We want the Marriott in Birmingham or the Sonesta in Nashville, or wherever we're going: We want them to be Auburn people for that time we’re there, because everything that they're doing for us is to help us win and be successful.”