Gamecocks' off-field team plays important role

Head football athletic trainer Clint Haggard makes sure his medical staff always does what’s best for the players

nwhite@thestate.comDecember 12, 2011 

  • FOOTBALL SUPPORT TEAM FOR THE GAMECOCKS

    TERRY COUSIN, Director of Player Development | Former USC and NFL player, he focuses on off-the-field activities of the student-athletes and serves as a resource in balancing the demands of academics, athletics and their personal lives.

    MARIA HICKMAN, Associate Director, Academic Services | In her fifth year at USC, she is the lead advisor for the football team. During her tenure, the football team recorded its highest GPA ever during the fall 2010 semester. She also serves as the liaison to the registrar’s office.

    DAN AUSTIN, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | He is the former head strength coach at Austin Peay, Tennessee State, UNLV, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State. A native of Greenville, he graduated from Newberry College.

    JOE CONNOLLY, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | He worked at Harvard and Louisville before coming to USC. He is a a former baseball player at the University of Hartford.

    DWIGHT GALT IV, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach | A former defensive end at the University of Maryland, he is in his second season at USC. His father is the head strength and conditioning coach at Vanderbilt.

    NATHAN PECK, Assistant Football Athletic Trainer | Came to USC with head athletic trainer Clint Haggard from Rice, where he was the primary athletic trainer for baseball one season and basketball two seasons.

    RACHEL SHARPE, Assistant Football Athletic Trainer | The Tennessee native worked as a graduate assistant in the program for two years as an athletic trainer before becoming full-time this season.

    JENNIFER BOYNTON, Sports Dietitian | A former volleyball player at Virginia Tech, she came to USC from South Florida three years. She is married to men’s assistant basketball coach Mike Boynton.

    JEFFREY GUY, Medical Director, Orthopedic Surgery | Also serves as company physician for the Columbia City Ballet and is the founder of the SMART program (Sports Medicine for Athletes And Recreational Teams), which serves more than 25 high schools and middle schools in the Columbia area.

    JASON STACY, Team Physician, Primary Care | The Wisconsin-educated doctor joined the faculty of the USC School of Medicine in 2004 after completing a sports medicine fellowship at Palmetto Health Richland.

    CHRISTOPHER MAZOUE, Team Physician, Orthopedic Surgery | With extensive experience caring for athletes from youth levels to professional leagues, he provides care for numerous local high schools and colleges, including USC.

    RAMON YLANAN, Team Physician, Primary Care | He joined the faculty of the USC School of Medicine in 2008 after completing a fellowship at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

    TIMOTHY MALONE, Director of Wellness | A national speaker on substance abuse, mood disorders and ADHD, the psychiatrist is the service director of the Intensive Outpatient Program at Three Rivers.

    EVAN COHEN, Team Chiropractor | S.C. Chiropractor of the Decade (2000-10). He also is the official chiropractor of the Colonial Life Arena, where he has worked on performers from the top acts.

    ADRIAN DESPRES, Team Chaplain | A graduate from the Seminary at Columbia International University, he serves on the Itinerant Ministry Staff of Kingdom Building Ministries.

Clint Haggard went to the University of Georgia with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. And although he changed his major to athletic training, he has managed to spend his career taking care of Bulldogs, Owls and Gamecocks.

Haggard, who is serving as the head football athletic trainer at South Carolina for the third season, discovered his true calling due to an injury of his own. The Ila, Ga., native hurt his knee as a high school senior, and while he was undergoing therapy he became interested in the field.

At Georgia, he explored the possibility of helping the football program as a student athletic trainer through the encouragement of director of sports medicine Ron Courson, and it didn’t take him long to realize his affinity for assisting athletes instead of animals.

“I got into it, and I liked it,” said Haggard, who received his undergraduate degree in exercise and sports science at Georgia in 2002 and his master’s degree in health sciences from Alabama in 2003, where he spent two years as the Tide’s assistant football athletic trainer.

After three years at Rice University as the assistant athletics director for medical services and head football athletic trainer, Haggard, 31, returned to his SEC roots in the summer of 2009.

“I’m where I want to be now,” he said.

Haggard is part of a larger team of trainers, doctors, counselors and nutritionists who support the Gamecocks football team off the field.

With the football program on the upswing under coach Steve Spurrier, Haggard knows he has landed in a good spot. He is doing what he loves most at a high-level program and working with a staff that applauds his efforts.

Spurrier praised Haggard in early August for his work with freshman offensive lineman Brandon Shell, who was struggling with a heat-related illness during running drills. He required immediate medical attention and was transported to a hospital.

“Coach was funny,” Haggard said. “He said, ‘You did this, and you did that.’ I told him, ‘Coach, I didn’t so anything different. I did my job. That’s why I’m employed here. That’s what we’re supposed to do.’ ”

Haggard said his staff keeps a cold tank and air-conditioned tent at the practice facility. He also credited his staff – as well as team physician Jason Stacy, who was in attendance at that practice – for their involvement in treating Shell.

“We drilled for that particular situation,” he said. “Everybody has a role. Everybody knows what to do. They all have specific jobs and they’re doing them.”

An important part of Haggard’s job involves emergency planning and drill work to be ready for whatever medical issues arise, such as the 2009 game at Alabama when receiver Moe Brown was knocked unconscious and needed to be taken from the field on a spine board. Brown was diagnosed with a concussion, an injury that athletic trainers are monitoring more closely.

Haggard considers education of coaches and players a large component of his job. His primary goal involves describing the injury, how his staff is going to treat the injury, the potential ramifications and the timetable for a return to the playing field.

He knows it is important for the coaches, the players and the players’ families to trust that he’s doing the right thing.

While Haggard admits there are decisions the medical staff makes that can affect wins and losses if they involve a key player, he tries to live up to one rule.

“I want to make sure what we’re doing is the best thing for the player. Always,” he said. “You always have to make sure you’re doing what’s best for the kids because 20 years from now, I want them to be OK.”

Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said the value of a good athletic trainer’s ability to communicate with the staff is incalculable, whether it involves information about a specific injury or how players are feeling in general.

“The name of the game is not just to get them back out on the field but to get them back out there healthy,” Elliott said. “He does a great job in his relationship with us as far as communicating. The players know he’s in there for their best interests, and he’s trying to get them better. If a player’s got a bum ankle and you get him out there four or five days too early, then he’s going to have a bum ankle for six or seven weeks.”

Elliott likes Haggard’s business-like approach and his take-charge mentality.

“Clint’s not going to wait around. He’s going to make a decision and go with it and put the plan is action,” Elliott said.

The lines of communication also extend from assistants Nathan Peck and Rachel Sharpe all the way up to medical director Jeffrey Guy and Stacy. They’re constantly discussing the prevention and treatment of injuries and what they can do as a team to assist the players.

Haggard calls the most gratifying part of the job helping a player who has suffered a devastating injury like a torn ACL return to the playing field.

“They’re in the dumps because football is taken away from them,” he said. “At that point, they can’t see that in six months down the road that they’re going to be fine and they’re going to be back. You have to tell them that everything happens for a reason, and you see them go from that to see them play again.”

He hopes to be treating USC athletes for a long time. He raves about the upgraded athletic training facilities at Williams-Brice Stadium and the relationships that he and his wife Erin and two young children have built here.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “The coaching staff is wonderful, very understanding, and very easy to work with. It makes my job a lot easier. They’re very appreciative of what I do, and I appreciate that.”

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