With just days to go before the biggest game in the National Football League – and arguably the nation – three College of Public Health and Human Sciences alums are gearing up for what is sure to be the highlight of their careers.
David Stricklin and CJ Neumann will represent the college at Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey as assistant athletic trainers for the Seattle Seahawks, and Vince Garcia as an assistant athletic trainer for the Denver Broncos.
Although on opposing sidelines, the three say they’re proud of each other for achieving this high degree of excellence in their field – and wish each other luck in the game.
“I think it’s great for all of us involved,” Vince says. “I think it speaks volumes about the program at Oregon State and the type of athletic trainers who come through the program.”
“We’re really excited for them and for the program,” he says. “It’s a proud moment to see our students providing healthcare to Super Bowl athletes. This shows current students that they can accomplish their goals. Although not everyone wants to work in professional sports, these three alumni had a goal of making it that far and it’s important for all of our students to see examples of alumni who have accomplished their dream.”
The three will soon join OSU Head Football Athletic Trainer Ariko Iso – CPHHS alum and former Pittsburgh Steelers assistant athletic trainer who worked in three Super Bowls with the team – as members of an elite group of CPHHS grads who have made it to the Super Bowl.
Success in life isn’t measured solely by how smart or talented you are – it’s also determined by how much you stand out among your peers.
At least that’s the lesson both Seattle Seahawks athletic trainers learned.
While David Stricklin pursued a master’s degree in EXSS and a minor in public health, he spent a majority of his time as a graduate assistant athletic trainer with the OSU football team. He was later hired as an assistant athletic trainer with the Oregon State football and baseball teams in charge of coordinating healthcare, injury prevention and rehabilitation for the baseball team and assisting Barney Graff with the football team.
His hard work paid off, earning him an internship with the Seattle Seahawks, which ultimately turned into a full-time assistant athletic trainer position with the team and the chance to join them at Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
“I always tell students who are budding their careers to make it a point to be spectacular wherever they are, market yourself well and do everything you can to put yourself in a position to succeed,” he says. “When the opportunity arises, you will have the tools, relationships and respect to grab ahold of it.”
That’s exactly what EXSS alum CJ Neumann did. During his senior year in the CPHHS, he requested and was assigned to work alongside David, whom he says has been and continues to be influential in his growth as an athletic trainer.
CJ landed a graduate assistantship at Arizona State University after graduation and he worked as an athletic trainer with the football team.
Afterward, he contacted David, who had recently been hired as an assistant athletic trainer with the Seattle Seahawks. He suggested that CJ pursue an internship with the NFL, and thanks to David’s influence the Seahawks hired him as a seasonal intern for the 2011 season.
“CJ has always been a self-driven person, calm and cool under pressure and a great critical thinker and planner,” David says. “He is a fast learner and very smart, and I think all of those things make him an outstanding athletic trainer who will excel at whatever he decides to do, wherever he decides to do it.”
As the season neared the end, CJ landed a job with the Seattle Mariners as a minor league athletic trainer assigned to their AAA team, where he previously completed an internship. Before the baseball season was over, however, he got a call from the Seahawks asking if he would be interested in coming back as an assistant athletic trainer.
“I jumped on the opportunity,” CJ says. “Working in the NFL is demanding, fast-paced and time consuming, but I enjoy coming to work every day. Each day presents a new challenge and a new opportunity to learn and improve.”
David and CJ say working in professional football is a daily grind.
“I tend to get used to getting things done so quickly due to the fast-paced environment,” David says. “Sometimes, the rest of the world seems like it is in slow motion.”
Their days start off around 6 a.m, typically don’t end until about 7 p.m. and entail everything from setting up for practice, conducting and preparing treatment and rehab plans for the athletes, performing administrative work, taping and keeping on their toes during practice.
“My favorite aspect of my job is seeing a player progress through rehabilitation of an injury,” CJ says. “Taking a player from not being able to participate to playing and contributing to his team during a game is a truly rewarding experience.”
“When a player sustains a major, time-loss injury, often they lose a piece of their identity,” David says. “My job is to help them become the player they were prior to getting injured and get that identity back. When a guy goes from barely being able to walk to playing against the best in their profession effectively, I get excited and take pride that I had something to do with that transformation. On the other side, if I can keep a player from getting to the point where they have to lose that identity, I take just as much pride in that.”
Now, on the verge of the most important game in the NFL, preparation is key.
“The logistics of taking care of a football team for a week in another city medically are in a binder about an inch thick,” David says. “We have to know where we are getting MRIs and X-rays in the event that we need them, what hospitals are the ones that we are going to use and for what ailments. It’s crazy to prepare everything that we have in less than a week, across the country.”
But their roles during the big game fundamentally won’t change.
“We will show up early to the stadium to make sure everything is set up,” CJ says. “We will tape the players and get them prepared for the game. During the game I will be on the sideline watching for injuries and providing any medical care necessary, along with providing water during timeouts and in-between series.”
So, how will the medical staff celebrate if the Seahawks win the Lombardi Trophy?
“Pre-planned post game party at our hotel, and I’m going to wear my ring 24-hours a day for the first month – after that it will go in a safe maybe,” David says.
Rocky Mountain dream
As a competitive athlete growing up in southern Colorado, Vince Garcia always knew he wanted to stay close to competition and sports. When he realized he could do so as an athletic trainer, he jumped on the opportunity and never looked back.
A star in his class, he was selected as one of five interns for a training camp internship with the Denver Broncos during his junior year at the University of Northern Colorado.
“That’s how I got my foot in the door,” he says. “I remember busting my butt that summer and trying to not mess anything up. I did all of the grunt work from setting up the water, stocking the coolers and tape, making ice bags – but every bit of it was worth it.”
“It was awesome – academically and athletically,” he says. “I got practice dealing with all types of injury and deciding what’s best for each individual athlete, it really helped me grow in the field.”
After graduation, he landed a job as a seasonal intern with the Broncos. Shortly after, a full-time position opened as an assistant athletic trainer with the team.
“I was a huge Broncos fan growing up, so to get an opportunity to work for the team you grew up rooting for is something special,” he says. “It has always been a dream of mine.”
It’s a dream that doesn’t come without passion. Working 11- to 13-hour days, seven days a week for a good part of the year takes a strong commitment to the profession.
“There’s no way you could do this job without loving it,” he says. “You have to have a passion for it – otherwise it would be extremely tough. Luckily for me I have so much fun at work that I don’t even think about not getting a day off.”
So what does a typical day at the Broncos look like for Vince?
Much like David and CJ working with the Seahawks, Vince starts treatments for injured players around 6:30 a.m. That’s followed by administrative work while the athletes are in meetings. Then, he sets up the fields, tapes players’ injuries and gets ready for practice. That, of course, is followed by hours of practice where he’s alert and prepared to help with any injuries. After practice, he does more treatments and gets ready for the next day.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s special because you’re a small piece of a big pie, and it’s great knowing you’re helping the best athletes in the world,” he says. “I really love going to work every day – helping the players and creating those friendships are important to me – it’s an opportunity not many people get.”
And it’s something Vince says the CPHHS helped prepare him for.
“The athletic training program is a challenging program that prides itself in research and evidence-based medicine, and those are two things I use every day with the Broncos,” he says. “Our head athletic trainer always stresses the importance of staying on the cutting-edge of our profession and getting better every day, and that’s the same thing the program at Oregon State is all about, so it’s prepared me tremendously.”
Now, as he heads into the biggest game of his career thus far, Vince says he’s nervous, anxious and above all excited for what’s to come.
“This is exactly what I work every day for – to have this opportunity,” he says. “Winning the AFC championship game was such a great feeling. It’s a rare thing, and when you get this far you just hope you finish and you’re trying to enjoy every minute of it.”
Game-day preparations for the Broncos’ athletic trainers started several weeks ago and included everything from packing their equipment to practicing.
Although most everything remains the same in regards to his job on Super Bowl Sunday, Vince says he couldn’t be more proud of the team.
“My job is to help them with anything they need – and I’m happy to be a small part of this big moment because of them. I wouldn’t be here without them. This is very, very exciting stuff.”
Although he doesn’t have any specific plans to celebrate if the Broncos win the title, Vince says this game is one he will never forget – regardless of the outcome.
“I’ve just been trying to focus on this week and doing our part to help prepare the team as much as possible,” he says. “I haven’t really thought about celebrating. I’m just enjoying every day and I hope we are celebrating come Sunday night.”