Long Beach State student and College of the Canyons alumnus Eric Encinas was expecting an uneventful summer break.
A missed call and an urgent voice message from Long Beach head athletic trainer Jarrod Spanjer indicated otherwise.
Spanjer was calling about an internship offer from the Los Angeles Rams. Three weeks before camp was scheduled to begin.
“I was in disbelief,” Encinas, a graduate of Los Angeles Lutheran Jr./Sr. High School in Sylmar, said. “The next morning, Tyler Williams called, who’s an assistant trainer at the Rams. Within 20 minutes he was like, ‘I’m going to be honest. The one person dropped out, I was given your name and I’m offering you the job.’ At that moment, I didn’t know what to say, but I said yes.”
For Spanjer, the decision to call Encinas was an easy one.
“He was one of my two students that worked men’s basketball, and he stood out as a hard worker,” Spanjer said. “When I asked him to do something, he actually runs to do something. He learned very quickly.”
Encinas has known for a while he wanted to work in athletics, but couldn’t pinpoint a profession. When he took an athletic training class on a whim at COC, he fell in love.
“(I like) just being able to help people, help athletes succeed where they want to,” Encinas said. “A lot of it we just see the athlete make the touchdown, make the basket, make the game-winning goal. You don’t see the points that they are at to get there.”
Encinas has worked as an athletic trainer at the high school, college and now professional level and says that there are parallels between athletes, regardless of their career stage.
“For the pros you have that money aspect, but a lot of the guys that come in, they work hard and they don’t essentially do it for the money,” Encinas said. “They realize they’re playing sports, which is a child’s game, for money, but they’re able to do it at the highest level.
“And with the high school and college level, a lot of them are trying to get to the pro level. But in the back of their head, it’s all for the love. And that’s where I get that energy from. I love what I do. But I see also they love what they do and I want to get them there.”
He needed that energy, working 15-hour days, seven days a week, for seven straight weeks when he was with the Rams.
As an intern, he had the same duties as the full-time trainers. He treated and helped rehabilitate players’ injuries, oversaw weight-lifting sessions and took care of paperwork. He also drove players to off-campus facilities if they needed medical attention that couldn’t be given on site.
The first few days were tedious and consisted of unloading equipment from trucks and setting up the training facilities, but Encinas embraced every moment. And the team embraced him.
“You might think (professional athletes) might be snobby or kind of big-headed,” Encinas said. “But I couldn’t speak more highly of them. They were more appreciative than I would have thought. You root for them not because of what team they are, but because of the type of people they are. From day one I felt like I was part of the team.”
Encinas is on course to finish his classes at Long Beach in December and will graduate in the spring. Afterward, he’ll look for a full time or graduate assistant position at any level of sports.
For now, he’s still coming down from a pro-football high.
“I really can’t explain how lucky I was,” he said. “Driving up (to camp) was when it kind of hit me. Like, this could be real. Then once I got there and got the dorm, got the welcome package, got everything, it was like, ‘all right. It’s not a dream.’ It’s still surreal for me.”