Making a Change: A Roundtable Discussion with three PFATS Alum
By: Shone D. Gipson, M.Ed, ATC, LAT, PES, Assistant Athletic Trainer - Buffalo Bills
Shone Gipson, assistant athletic trainer for the Buffalo Bills sits down for a roundtable discussion on athletic training and football with three former NFL athletic trainers now working in the collegiate ranks.
Matt Summers, MS, ATC is the Director of Athletic Training and Head Football Athletic Trainer at the University of Arkansas. During the 2006 and 2007 football seasons he was an assistant athletic trainer for the San Diego Chargers.
Pat Jernigan, MS, ATC is the Head Football Athletic Trainer at the University of Mississippi. Jernigan spent the previous ten seasons serving as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ assistant athletic trainer.
Scott Trulock, MA, ATC joined the University of North Carolina as the Head Athletic Trainer for Football in 2007. Trulock came to North Carolina after spending 11 years in the National Football League with the Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the San Diego Chargers.
Each of these individuals transitioned from professional football back to the collegiate level. In this article, they address some questions that individuals have regarding the transition for the NFL to the college ranks.
SG: What do you see as some of the biggest differences with the NFL and the collegiate setting?
ST: In college, we really start by raising kids. When Freshmen come in, they have varied backgrounds and some are still learning basic life skills. Think of your typical NFL rookie - that is our finished product! We really have to focus on some of the fundamental components of physical development like eating, sleeping, and training properly. Hopefully, by the time they are Juniors or Seniors, they have mastered the basic skills and are ready for more advanced direction. The benefits of working with younger athletes is that they usually have less of an injury history and recover a little quicker from injury. The NFL poses greater, more complex medical challenges.
MS: Dealing with 18 year KIDS that need educated on everything that they do. Notifying parents when issues arise. Working around class schedules, tutors, etc. makes it very difficult to find time during their busy schedules. Very little offseason, everyone is around during both summer school sessions.
PJ: The biggest difference is the athletes schedules. In the NFL you have them pretty much whenever you want them you just have to work around meeting times. In college you have to work around classes, meetings, tutors, learning specialists and study hall. That has been the biggest difference for me. You try to schedule rehab or an appointment and you have many time conflicts.
SG: What were some of the deciding factors that made you transition from the NFL to the collegiate setting?
ST: I went to Graduate School at UNC and finished my Masters in 1996, so Chapel Hill has always been a special place to me. Working in College was always something that interested me, so when the position at UNC became available in 2007, it was an opportunity I certainly wanted to pursue.
MS: I had the opportunity to advance in my career and it gave me and my family the opportunity to move close to home.
PJ: The opportunity to be a Head Athletic Trainer.
SG: What has been the biggest challenge in the transition back to college football?
ST: Aside from the age and maturity issue, one of the other challenges was navigating health care needs around academic requirements. In the NFL, when a player is injured, care for that injury usually take precedence over just about anything. In College, student athletes have academic responsibilities that always must be considered when planning MRI's, surgeries, or rehabilitation sessions. Communicating and working closely with the academic support staff is imperative. Obviously, the goal of everyone should be overall success of the student athlete, on the field and in the classroom. No one benefits if a student athlete returns to full participation from a health perspective, but is ineligible academically.
MS: Unchanged really from the first question. I feel that it all applies.
PJ: You are dealing with a different age group. In the NFL you are dealing for the most part grown men. We have some freshman that are 17 years old when they get here so there is a difference in maturity level and the way you have to treat them. Most of them do not realized the demands of the season. They are away from home for the first time and they have to get accustom to being on their own, adjust to college classes as well as their athletic requirements.
SG: What is it like dealing with parents of collegiate athletes?
ST: Great question. While athletes in professional sports are represented by agents who look after their clients’ interest, many parents are also heavily involved in their child's day to day issues at the collegiate level. Due to a variety of social reasons, this involvement is far greater today than in the past. I communicate on a daily basis with various parents via phone, text, and email. To compare the two - while a professional agent is predominately financially invested in their client, the parent is primarily emotionally invested, and sometimes financially as well. This reality obviously affects the extent of concern regarding healthcare issues. I have tried to begin building a relationship with many parents early in the recruiting process to make for a smoother line of communication when their child arrives on campus.
MS: Depends on the parents, some are very understanding others are more difficult. The key is to build their trust and make them understand that their kids are being taking care of with the upmost care.
PJ: Most of them want just want to be informed on what is going on. Especially if their sons gets hurt and they are not close by. They mainly just want to know that there is someone there to take care of them.
SG: With the recent focus on concussions, has it changed how you and your staff operate?
ST: We have been very fortunate at UNC to have been on the leading edge of this issue, going back to when I was in grad school here and we began some of our research projects. Like everyone at all levels in all sports, we are trying to get better every year at preventing, evaluating, diagnosing, treating, and returning athletes to play following a concussion. The issue has certainly become a focal point for everyone involved in sport and requires a thorough plan for managing. For the most part, the interest has been positive and has led to many advancements in the area. Having Kevin Guskiewicz and the Gfeller Research lab on our campus is a tremendous asset to our sports medicine staff and benefits our student athletes greatly.
MS: Not really a lot of change, I would say stressing the awareness and educating student athletes the importance of notifying if they have symptoms.
PJ: There is not a change in how we operate. As a medical staff you are always going to be cautious when dealing with concussions. I think the rules that are in place by the NCAA are going to do the most for preventing them.
SG: Who was your mentor in the athletic training profession?
ST: When I look back on my career to this point, I am overwhelmed with how fortunate I have been to have the variety of mentors to work under. Beginning as a student at Boone High School in Orlando, FL under Mike Plaza to my time at Valdosta State to work under Jim Madaleno, who is one of my closest friends to this day. Dan Hooker, Bill Prentice, Janine Oman, and Kevin Guskiewicz were all instrumental for me at UNC. Then, to have the opportunity to work under James Collins, Todd Toriscelli, and Steve Antonopulos in the NFL could not have prepared me any better for the challenges I have faced. I am grateful to all of them for what they have done both professionally and personally in my life.
MS: Jim Madaleno, James Collins, Jeff Allen, and Scott Trulock
PJ: The person I learned the most from was Todd Toriscelli just because I was with him for so long, but I tried to learn something from everyone I worked for or with.