Photos courtesy of Rob Kearney.
Rob Kearney was on his way to Atlantic City, N.J. to partake in the Jersey Shore Strongman Beach Bash July 23 of this past summer when he heard his phone ring. To his surprise, Barclay Dugger, the head athletic trainer at Springfield College, was on the other end with an offer Kearney simply could not refuse.
Dugger’s proposition must have sounded too good to be true to the junior Athletic Training major. According to Dugger, the New England Patriots had a summer internship spot open for an athletic trainer and had asked Dugger if he had anyone in mind. When Dugger offered Kearney the spot, he immediately accepted the offer.
“I got off the phone with Barclay and about five minutes later, got a call from the Patriots,” Kearney said.
After talking with a Patriots’ representative for several minutes, Kearney explained that he was driving to New Jersey to compete in a Strongman competition.
“They were like, ‘That’s fine, no problem. Be here tomorrow,’” Kearney said. “Once I got off the phone with them, I called my mom to tell her. I was like, ‘Hey, so I leave tomorrow to go work with the Patriots,’ and she was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It was pretty funny.”
After overcoming the initial shock of attaining his first internship at SC, the president of SC’s Powerlifting team settled in to finish second at his competition before retreating back to Norwich, Conn. to pack before arriving at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on July 24 to start his five-week internship.
Kearney was placed in a Hilton hotel suite, which was completely paid for, approximately 15 minutes away from the Patriots’ practice facilities. The organization also gave him a rental Chevy Suburban to drive and paid for his gas. He arrived two days before the players, making the most of those days by figuring out what exactly it was that he had signed on to do.
“I had no idea what to expect going into it. I knew the days were going to be long. Our work days went from 5:30 in the morning until midnight, seven days a week, for five weeks with no breaks,” Kearney said.
After the players arrived, Kearney was put to work helping to complete physicals. Among other tasks, he took players’ blood pressures, heart rates, heights and weights. He also got to tape some players.
“I got to tape [Chad] Ochocinco’s ankle, which was pretty cool,” Kearney said.
Once camp began, Kearney split his time between doing treatment in the athletic training room and spending time out on the field with the players, gaining hands-on experience by giving them water and attending to any injuries. Despite being around star athletes, Kearney remained grounded, avoiding the all-too-common star struck mentality.
“For me, it was just learning their names and getting a feel of how they interact with me,” Kearney said. “The star struck and everything and the whole concept of me actually being there kind of went away after the first couple days, and then reality set in.”
Kearney’s inside access provided him a behind-the-scenes view of many people’s heroes. What he witnessed would probably surprise most people.
“They’re regular people. I always tell people they’re pretty much like 6-year-olds still playing football but getting paid for it,” Kearney said. “They’re immature, they’re hilarious, but when it comes time to get on the field, it’s time to work.”
During Kearney’s time with the Pats, he was able to form relationships with a number of players, many of whom took an interest in his competitive lifting. One relationship that did not start off on the right foot was his interaction with Wes Welker. Kearney’s loyalty to New York teams actually got him in trouble with the star wide receiver.
Welker was in the athletic training room stretching on the ground when Kearney made his fateful entrance during the third week in. Kearney has a tattoo of the New York Yankees symbol on his right calf, which he kept covered while on the practice field but left exposed once inside the facility. When Welker noticed the tattoo and questioned Kearney about it, Kearney assumed Welker was joking around with him. Instead, Welker’s annoyance with the blatant display of New York loyalty led him to insist to Jim Whalen, the Patriots’ head athletic trainer and Kearney’s boss, and owner Robert Kraft that the symbol be covered at all times. Kearney complied, and said that he and Welker were able to joke about the incident later.
A perk that Kearney enjoyed while employed was being able to utilize the Patriots’ weight room. He would wake up earlier than necessary in order to arrive at the weight room, around 4 a.m. on some days, to continue staying in shape and maintain the muscle necessary to keep his No. 2 national ranking in the lightweight level for competitive lifting.
“I snuck a peek into the weight room every once in awhile, and I’d say I could be pretty competitive with some of the bigger boys on the team,” Kearney said.
Kearney was able to attend the team’s first three preseason games, including the two away games at Tampa Bay and Detroit. During timeouts, he would run onto the field to give water to the players, which led to his brief appearance on TV.
“After the Detroit game, I got a text and they [Kearney’s friends] were like, ‘Dude, you just upstaged Tom Brady!’” Kearney said. “I guess they [the cameras] were trying to focus in on Tom Brady and I just walked in camera view and just stood there without me knowing that I was on camera.”
Kearney’s five-week summer experience with the Patriots helped him to network himself in order to earn another internship for this upcoming summer with the Carolina Panthers, except this time, his time with the team will double as he will work 10 weeks. Despite this increased workload, Kearney is excited about returning to the sidelines.
“It’s a lot of work, and that’s the one thing that’s going to be tough, is working for 10 weeks straight this summer on four hours of sleep every night,” Kearney said. “It’s hard work, but the doors that it can open for me are unimaginable.”
Joe Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org