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 didnt 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 masters degree in health sciences from Alabama in 2003, where he spent two years as the Tides 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.
Im 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 didnt so anything different. I did my job. Thats why Im employed here. Thats what were 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 theyre doing them.
An important part of Haggards 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 hes 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 were doing is the best thing for the player. Always, he said. You always have to make sure youre doing whats 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 trainers 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 hes in there for their best interests, and hes trying to get them better. If a players got a bum ankle and you get him out there four or five days too early, then hes going to have a bum ankle for six or seven weeks.
Elliott likes Haggards business-like approach and his take-charge mentality.
Clints not going to wait around. Hes 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. Theyre 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.
Theyre in the dumps because football is taken away from them, he said. At that point, they cant see that in six months down the road that theyre going to be fine and theyre 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 couldnt 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. Theyre very appreciative of what I do, and I appreciate that.