Twenty Five Years of Bulldog Care

Like most young men, Rusty Linton dreamed of a career in sports. When his own playing days were done, Linton attended Mississippi State and eventually went on to medical school where he acquired the skills needed to become one of the leaders in his field nationally. Honored as the 2009 SEC team Team Physician of the year, Linton is now completing his 25th year as the doctor to the Bulldogs.

"When I was in grade school, my goal was to be a professional baseball player," Linton explained. "I was 12 years old and living in Colorado Springs, a city of a million people. I was one of the two starting short stops on the All-Star teams, so thought I was on my way towards a career as a big time baseball player."

Linton's path to the big leagues got derailed a long the way. While many of his peers were sprouting up and advancing physically, Linton saw his growth pattern move at a different rate.

"When I graduated high school I was 5 foot 3," Linton said. "I was on the team in high school, but I didn't get the chance to play. Other guys were getting those opportunities, so there were no scouts looking at me."

The product of a military family, Linton was born in Japan and had the chance to live in several places during his childhood including Alaska, Colorado, Florida and Illinois.

A mandatory class for junior high school boys laid the grown work for a career path that saw Linton learn to work with his hands.

"They made everybody take shop class," Linton said. "We had to learn how to work with metal and work with wood and all of that stuff. I found that I absolutely loved building things with my hands.

"I thought I might want to be a carpenter, but once I got to looking at all of that I realized that it wasn't the best living around.

"I got to look at architecture, because I could design things and then be out there when it's being built. The neat thing about architecture for me was looking at things that were three dimensional and then putting them on a blue print as two dimensional.

"You know it turns out that's sort of the same thing as an X-ray."

Linton can look back at his days around sawdust and plaster of Paris and see where the first building blocks towards a successful medical career were put into place.

"I learned how to work with tools back then," Linton said. "I'm an Orthopedic surgeon now, but I am still working with hammers and saws and chisels everyday."

As the time came for Linton to consider his college future and a potential major, it was a suggestion from his father that became a game changer.

"When I was a junior in high school, my dad asked me if I have ever considered being a doctor," Linton said. "Nobody in my family was medical and my dad was an accountant, but it just sort of hit me that this is what I needed to do.

"It was like there was a sign from the good Lord that I was supposed to be a doctor. Everything changed from that day forward. I got jobs at the hospital to see if I would like all of that and it just sort of took off from there."

Like his father before him, Linton pursued his college education at Mississippi State, graduating in 1980. Near the end of his four years in Starkville as a student, Linton began to see where he fit best in the field of medicine.

"Orthopedics was kind of the thing then," Linton said. "I had the chance to work some with Dr. Hutchins between the time I finished up at State and went on to medical school. I went to ask him if I could observe him and he gave me a job that summer.

"I was able to get in the operating room and got to see how all of that works.

"I got to work some with Dr. (John) Longest over at the student health center. He would let me work at the center in the mornings and then go over to the football practices and the baseball practices in the afternoon. That was when Will Clark, (Rafael) Palmerio, (Jeff) Brantley and (Bobby) Thigpen were on the team.

"I was in the dugout with the baseball even back then, so that's been 30 years ago now. I was sewing up chins and that sort of thing back then when I was in medical school."

As Linton worked to complete his medical training, he remained in contact with his mentors and friends at Mississippi State including head trainer Stratton Karatossas.

"Sometimes a Bulldog would get a tough injury and he would call me up and ask me about it," said Linton. "We would get reports and things like that to help Dr. Hutchins take care of the team."

Linton went on to finish fourth in his graduating class and then went on to a prestigious residency at the Campbell Clinic for Orthopedics in Memphis, Tennessee.

"I did five years in Memphis and then I had to apply for a sports medicine fellowship," Linton explained. "I ended up making the highest grade in the nation on what's called an in service training examination.

"I sort of became the recruited guy after that, so I could have gone where I wanted. I looked at several different training places, but I ended up going to Florida, which is also in the SEC.

"The team doctor there was taking care of the Florida Gators and the Miami Dolphins, so I was able to get some experience on both the college and pro level. That opened a lot of doors for me."

Linton was soon invited to be one of the attending physicians at the NFL combine, an opportunity he tries to take part in every year.

"I went down there and I ended up hitting it off with Dr. Dan Kannell," Linton said. "He said after the first combine that he wanted me to come back every year. Counting that first year when I was training, I have gone to the NFL combine 22 of the past 26 years helping the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears.

"The beauty in all of that and how it helps Mississippi State is that so many of those doctors specialize in different things. Some of them are specialists with hands or backs or whatever, so if I run across something with a Mississippi State athlete that is a little something out of my expertise, I always have an NFL doctor I can call. It helps me take good care of our Mississippi State football players. That's come in handy several times."

Throughout his time as a resident at the Campbell Clinic and the sports fellowship in Gainesville, Linton always had the desire to return to Starkville and assist his favorite team as a team physician.

"Throughout my time in Memphis and at Florida, Dr. Hutchins was the team physician," said Linton. "Before then, all of the doctors were in Jackson. If they were in two-a-days and somebody got hurt, then they would have to drive them to Jackson.

"They had some great doctors down there, but it was terribly inconvenient.

"I can't say for sure when the moment came, but it was always just kind of known that when I got done with all of my training that I was going to be the team doctor."

Linton's arrival in Starkville meant a new age for Mississippi State football players, because they were now being treated with the latest and most efficient procedures.

"They had some good doctors before me, but they were still treating ACLs with the big incision and the cast," Linton said. "I learned how to do everything through the scope and the small incision. It was a faster rehab and all of that was just better.

"I was just out of school, but I had a lot of experience already."

The Bulldogs benefited from Linton's new found expertise and his willingness to be there when the Bulldogs were on the field, a practice he continues some 25 years later.

"You know you have to be available," Linton said. "You can be the best doctor in the world, but if you can't be here when they need you then you're not a good team physician.

"Some of the other doctors were great doctors, but they didn't have the time to always be here. They were on call and they did a good job, but I knew that I wanted to do it the way I saw these other sports medicine doctors do it.

"I was willing to make that commitment, because I had my regular job and then I was coming here all of the time."

Attending practice allows Linton to see how players handle themselves and to see how they are recovering from an injury. The Bulldogs' team doctor wants to be involved with the athletes before and after any potential physical ailments.

"You can lose 1/10th off of your 40 and that can make you not good enough to play on Saturdays," said Linton. "There is a difference between a doctor's decision and a coach's decision. I may clear him and say his ligament is healed and good to go, but he may not be ready to go and compete like the coaches' want just yet.

"I need to see what the coaches are seeing, so we're all on the same page. I want to work with the trainers to get that last burst of energy back. It's a team effort from all of us to help our players.

"When I first came back, I wasn't married, so I had more time to give. I was coming over here four and five days a week trying to get the program going. Now we have some great guys who work hard and do their job great. They can call me on the phone and we can make a diagnosis right then and I can see an MRI or an X-Ray over the internet now. I don't have to be here quite as much, but we stay in touch."

When Linton first returned to campus, Mississippi State had just two paid trainers on staff, Stratton Karatossas and Paul Mock. The staff is considerably larger these days.

"We basically built the sports medicine program here with the newer surgeries and the new technology," Linton said. "We now have several more paid trainers on staff, we have a therapist we work with all of the time and we have several GAs (graduate assistants). It's a whole lot bigger process than what it was.

"We have always had a lot of people involved who were really dedicated to Mississippi State, but they may not have always had the latest and greatest stuff and we have had to integrate all of that.

"When we first got started, we had no money and no real budget. I bought things to expand our training room. There is a big thing called an Isokinetic machine. The first one Mississippi State ever owned is one I bought for them.

"I have partners I have now who have helped buy things for basketball. When we first got started with all of this, we did not have what we needed to compete in the SEC.

"We gave time and money and we talked it up to other people to help us get the things we needed."

Linton is known as a tireless worker who could be considered a work-a-holic. When he first arrived for official duty in Starkville, he was a young doctor ready to make his mark in the world. While many of his peers were collecting the material spoils of their labor, Linton was a bit more practical in his approach to living.

"When I first got here, I rented a house close to the hospital," Linton said. "I enjoy hunting and fishing and I had the chance to buy a piece of property from a doctor friend of mine that had a lake on it and would be a great place to build a house someday.

"I loved that place, so I bought the land. I wanted to live there. I wasn't married then, but I had hopes that someone would like me enough some day to marry me. The easiest thing for me to do was to put a trailer out there and just live.

"I figured if I built a house, then some girl was going to make me tear it down and build one her way, so I just lived in a double wide until I got married.

"I met the girl of my dreams and we got married. She lived there for a year and a half, while she drew up house plans. We've been in that big house on the hill for nine years now."

Looking back over his life, Linton appears to be content with how things worked out. His dreams of being a big time ball player never came true, but he has devoted his life to help others achieve their dreams.

"I wish I could have become the big baseball star way back when," Linton said. "I never made it, so now I am kind of the guy who is sort of the wind beneath other people's wings. I can try to help these guys be the best they can be.

"Just a thank you from them means so much. Some guys don't say thank you, but most of them do and it means so much. It really does."

Linton get a bit emotional when thinking about the task of helping injured athletes get back on the field of competition. It is more than just a job for him.

"You know we had a triple jumper here several years ago that was one of our best track athletes," said Linton. "She was getting ready for this big career and she tore her ACL.

"I fixed it and she ended up going to the Olympics. She didn't medal, but she set her personal record in the Olympics. She got interviewed after that and she said that the biggest part of her State career was me getting her back to running again.

"She went on to some world games and she brought me back a present. Little things like that mean so much to me.

"I want to win. I like to win. The coaches get a lot of the credit, but I am proud of the things we have done here to help the players and coaches win games and get to bowl games and all of that.

"We have beat Ole Miss a few times and we have won some big games. All of that is important to me and I enjoy all of that, but the thing that means the most to me is just a heartfelt thank you."

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