Brandon Rockwell is on the sidelines during Berea High School varsity football games.
But he’s not watching the score as closely as most people. He’s watching for what he hopes won’t happen.
“You’ve got to be alert – every play, every down, every second of the game,” said Rockwell, an athletic trainer.
“Hopefully, on a good Friday night, you don’t even notice us – that’s the best-case scenario,” said Jay Williams, a trainer at Mauldin High School.
Trainers work all week to get their athletes ready to play. On Friday nights, they’re front and center, ready to help if one of those athletes is hurt.
Williams was a professional baseball trainer for about three decades. His last job in that sport was as minor league medical coordinator for the San Francisco Giants.
These days, his afternoons and evenings are busy with all kinds of athletes – tennis, softball, volleyball and, of course, football.
A day starts slowly. In the early afternoon, Williams will take care of paperwork and get water to whatever fields will be used for practices or games. As the school day begins to wind down, he’ll start seeing athletes, checking on injuries.
Rockwell said his high school didn’t have the luxury of a trainer. At games, he would see athletes on opposing teams getting taped up or iced and think, “That would be awesome – my ankle hurts.”
When choosing his career, those observations helped him make his decision.
He worked with a university baseball team and also in a clinic setting before becoming a trainer for Greer and then Berea.
Monday through Thursday, Rockwell said his eye is on game night and “getting those kids ready to get back on the field. … That’s where they belong.”
The range of care a trainer gives or supervises is broad.
“It might be as simple as, they’re coming in and they’re getting a pad taped on their arm or leg,” Williams said.
Others need weight training or exercises prescribed by a doctor or therapist. Some are waiting on surgery.
“We’ve rehabbed them so they’re strong before” the surgery, Williams said.
While the physical work is going on, trainers also are building relationships with the students.
“It’s important that you develop a very good rapport with your athletes,” Rockwell said. “They have to trust you.”
In the Greenville County School District, athletic trainers are employed by Greenville Health System. The district contracts with GHS to provide trainers for its schools.
Trainers are certified by the National Athletic Trainer Association and must complete continuing education every two years. They’re also licensed by the state.
“The people that are doing this job are educated professionals,” Williams said.
Some trainers coordinate stand-by ambulance services and on-call physicians for games. They also work with student trainers, prepping them to manage beginner tasks such as taping and game-night set up.
“We have a great support system surrounding us,” Rockwell said.
At least one trainer is on the sideline, typically not far from a coach, during varsity football games.
“I like to see the injury happen because then usually before I even get there, I have an idea what’s going to be wrong,” Williams said.