One of student athletic trainer Elissa Floyd's favorite things about tending to Brownsboro High School football players and their injuries on Friday nights is the intensity of being on the field when a player needs help.
"We had a player get knocked out on the field a few weeks ago, and it was very intense — but it turned into a good experience. We became good friends," said the 17-year-old senior, who has been in the special Brownsboro athletic trainer program since her sophomore year. The player is doing well now, Miss Floyd said, and he has recovered.
She's been in the Brownsboro student athletic training program since she was a sophomore and hopes to make it a career some day. "I would tell anyone that it's the second-best thing to playing sports," she said about the work she does with players, whether it's tending to their cuts and bruises or taping their wrists before a game.
They are the unsung heroes at the Friday night football games — the athletic trainers who work hard on the sidelines taking care of the players so the players can take care of business.
"They aren't the typical waterboys most people think of," Brownsboro Independent School District Head athletic trainer Travis Gray said Thursday.
The athletic trainer program at Brownsboro has been around for about 19 years, and Jeff Howard, now the assistant principal at the high school, began the program, Gray said.
Gray said he wants the students to be involved in player rehabilitation and training. Some of the trainers are assigned to volleyball, basketball and baseball players. He has held that position for three years and has 23 student trainers who work for him.
"I run it like a college program and keep them busy, which prepares them better for college," he said. "By their junior year, they are doing assisted injury evaluations, becoming more familiar with tests and helping to set up rehab protocol for players."
During a football game, Gray assigns the student trainers to the offensive bench or the defensive bench to give the players water and to make sure no one is hurt. If a player is hurt, the student trainers make sure Gray knows about it.
Most of his students either want to be a physical therapist or an athletic trainer, or would like to have a medical career. To be an athletic trainer in Texas requires a bachelor's degree and a state license. Gray is also a national certified athletic trainer, which lets him work anywhere in the country.
Over at Tyler Junior College, head athletic trainer Eddy McGuire echoes many of Gray's comments. McGuire said although he doesn't require experience of his student trainers, they need to have a love of athletics.
"If you don't love athletic training, you'll be miserable," he said.
A trainer must work at all practices, games and often cannot set his or her own schedule.
"You have to get there before the athletes to set up and get ready with the supplies and be ready to tape them, and you leave after all of the athletes leave," McGuire said.
The general public doesn't see all the work involved with tending to athletes and their injuries, and the "athletic trainer doesn't get his name in the paper," McGuire said.
And he said he wants to make sure people understand the difference between an athletic trainer and a personal trainer, which are "totally different jobs."
In addition to the required bachelor's degree, an athletic trainer must pass a state-licensing exam and complete 1,800 hours of work under the direction of a licensed trainer.
McGuire and his staff of 15 student trainers, one full-time assistant trainer and two graduate assistant trainers see a wide range of injuries and illnesses in their work with athletes, from concussions and heat-related illness to minor cuts and scrapes.
The athletic trainer serves as a liaison between athlete and coach in deciding the best course of action in treatment or whether to play in a game.
"What's best for the team isn't always what is best for the player, and what's best for the player isn't always what's best for the team," McGuire said.
The team physician for TJC, Dr. Kim Foreman, works for Azalea Orthopedics and calls such athletic training programs "invaluable."
"Having a strong program like TJC does means the athletes are taken care of better and faster and they are evaluated by someone with training and knowledge," Foreman said.