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With NFL internships, athletic training students stand out in their field

group of NFL athletic training interns wearing hard hats and masks
Kelli Stetson (second from the right)

Many young athletes and sports fans dream of the big leagues, including second-year graduate students Alex Manzo and Kelli Stetson. Although those dreams often go unrealized, that wasn’t the case for these two high-achievers, who recently completed athletic training internships in the NFL. 

Alex, from Santa Clarita, Calif., attended Chico State University, received a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and a minor in nutrition, and interned with the Seattle Seahawks. Kelli is from San Diego, Calif., earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science at George Washington University and interned with the San Diego Chargers.

Learn more about Alex (AM) and Kelli (KS), their NFL internships and their experience in Oregon State’s athletic training (AT) program in this Synergies Q&A. 

Why study athletic training? 

AM: My whole life has revolved around sports and I love the fast pace and unpredictable nature of athletic training. Each day gives you something new and tests how you can react to difficult situations. This profession pushes you in every way possible and allows you to grow as a professional and as a human being. Athletic training allows me to care and help athletes in their most vulnerable times to achieve their goals when they feel like everything is lost. This enables me to bring joy and happiness to individuals. 

KS: I ran track and cross country in high school and undergrad, so I am no stranger to injuries. I met many ATs in my time as a runner, and some have been absolutely amazing while others have been less than helpful. Both ends of the spectrum inspired me to pursue a career in this field. One of my biggest goals is to always be like those who helped me along the way and made my athletic injuries – which are dark times for passionate athletes – more bearable. I strive to never make someone feel like I am too busy for them.  

Another reason I chose to study AT is that I love to help people. Few things in life make me feel happier than when I am able to have a positive impact on someone else’s day. This profession is the perfect combination for me as it provides exposure to the athletic world, while I get to help passionate athletes. 

What are your goals for the future? 

AM: I am currently applying for more seasonal internship roles with NFL teams. If that falls through, I want to work with a Power 5 or high-level Division I football team. This would allow me to stay on track for reaching my dream goal of working in the NFL.  

KS: Since I first became interested in athletic training, I have had two real dream settings that I ultimately want to work in – the NFL or Division 1 track/cross-country program. My summer internship was a big stepping stone for me in that direction. Interning at a summer camp is an absolute must for anyone considering a career in the NFL. My hope was that this experience would give me an idea if I really wanted the NFL life or not. You can imagine it as much as you want, but to really see what it’s like you have to get your feet wet. 

What did you learn during your time in the NFL? 

AM: During my time with the Seahawks, I was exposed to a variety of treatment and rehabilitation interventions, including a multitude of objective measures to track and assess the athlete’s progress. These interventions have allowed me to administer treatment and rehabilitation techniques customized to the athlete’s needs. Additionally, these abilities have given me the capability to adjust my interventions given the inevitable ebbs and flows of rehabilitating orthopaedic conditions.  

Alex, athletic training graduate student, on Seahawks football field
Alex Manzo

The comradery and communication among the Seahawks is indescribable. It was the healthiest work environment I have been a part of. Everyone wants to give 110 percent to create an environment that focuses around the care of the athletes. The most challenging part of this experience was working under COVID-19 constraints, but athletic trainers are the most adaptable people you will meet, and we got the job done.  

KS: I learned a great deal during my time with the Chargers. As you might expect, the NFL is an environment that never stops moving. I learned that the players are shockingly kind, respectful and a pleasure to work with. I learned to work smarter and not harder – or at least I tried. I learned that 15-hour workdays can sometimes feel like 50 hours or 50 minutes. Every day you are learning and adapting, trying to be just 1 percent better than you were the day before. And I learned that no matter how much each day takes out of you, there is something about working in the NFL that I don’t think you can find anywhere else. 

What do you like about the athletic training program at Oregon State? 

AM: This program is great for finding out what setting you want to be a part of after you receive the master’s degree and athletic training certification. It provides a diverse experience in settings ranging from Division I football to high school. It gives you the opportunity to grow as an individual by being able to adapt to a variety of athletes and preceptors. The instructors want you to succeed in any setting and want you to grow as a professional and human being along the way. They care for each student and want the best out of each and every one of us. 

KS: I have really enjoyed OSU’s athletic training program so far. I love the way they move you around to so many different settings. Even though you might feel like you are switching sites every two seconds in your first year, it gives you exposure to a lot of different things you could miss if you stayed at one or two places. Additionally, the switching gives you the opportunity to build relationships and connections with many people. I also think the faculty is a great group of knowledgeable and caring people who are eager to teach. I would definitely recommend this program to prospective athletic training students! 

My advice would be to not give up if this profession excites you. Some experiences may challenge you, but if this is what you want and you are willing to work for it, you can make a real difference. Athletic training is such a fun and rewarding field. 

Learn more about Oregon State’s athletic training program.  

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