Nick Richey is the head athletic trainer for the Illinois football team. Now in his fourth year in charge, he is an important asset for the Illini football program. His background prepared him well for his work at Illinois.
"I graduated from Purdue University in 2003 with a degree in Athletic Training. I had football and basketball experience at Purdue and wanted to go more in depth with football.
"I got an opportunity to do that as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech. That was a phenomenal experience for me. It was the last year for them in the Big East and then the first year in the ACC; they won an ACC championship in that inaugural season, beating Miami at the Orange Bowl, which was a pretty big deal.
"And then I got married and wanted to spend some time closer to home. We were able to get back to South Bend, Indiana, and work at Notre Dame for three and one half years. I loved it there; it was awesome. But the opportunity for me to get involved with the football program there was limited.
"I got wind of a possibility here with an assistant's job. I applied for it, interviewed and got it. My first year was the Rose Bowl season. I shared the head football athletic trainer responsibility with Byron Cunningham for a year, and then Byron wanted to work in the NFL. It opened up things for me even more, and I've been doing that since."
Looking after the day-to-day health needs of an entire football team is a major undertaking and requires a great deal of dedication and self-sacrifice.
"At any given time, we have roughly 100 kids on the roster working out, training, which actually is second in roster size to track and field. Track and field probably has more kids, but the exposure to injury with football is higher than any other sport.
"With the number of kids we have and the exposure to injury we have, it does make for a fairly significant task. I think we do a pretty decent job with it. I have two full-time staff members that help me, one also shares time with baseball. We have a graduate assistant who works primarily with football, and then we have a host of student athletic trainers."
The University of Illinois has had a Sports Medicine program for a number of years, and students from that program have provided assistance to Richey and his staff. However, the UI is eliminating that curriculum, requiring a change in approach to finding adequate help.
"Our student athletic training program is in a dissolving phase. Coming from a very strong athletic training program at Purdue, it's extremely disappointing to be losing the services of those student athletic trainers.
"It's going be an adjustment period for us. I don't know that it will be difficult, but it's going require a trial-and-error period to identify some individuals who are interested in sports medicine, interested in football and interested in getting exposed to the trade; then see if they can apply that to their studies here on campus."
Will you be able to obtain the help you need?
"Yes, I think we will be able to get enough students. Trent Chesnut in the equipment room is the best. He works with us on everything.
"He and I have had some discussions on utilizing an extra set of student managers to assist us with our duties out on the practice field. Not so much from a health care standpoint but from an observation standpoint.
"We kind of operate on a referral basis with student athletic trainers as it stands now; if they see a problem, they bring it to our attention and we take care of it. We can teach general first aid to any student on campus, and provide opportunities to become certified on CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), AED's (Automatic External Defibrillator), first aid certifications, just like our coaches and strength staff are all trained in that.
"I think the interest in football on campus is high enough. I think the population in the Kinesiology department and some of the other health care related departments on campus is high enough to have some involvement. It will be good for these students to get some exposure and have it be a resume-builder for them. I think we'll be able to find kids who will be willing to help us out."
Richey can certainly use the help. As he discusses in part two of this 8-part interview, Richey and his staff work long hours.