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Jessica Bradburn sees Gamecocks football in a different light

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By Greg Summers

Just before the start of every University of South Carolina home football game, Jessica Bradburn gets caught up in moment as the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey”) roar over the public address amid 80,000-plus screaming fans.

She has one of the best vantage points in Williams Brice Stadium, to see up close what’s been called one of the most electric entrances in college sports.

Bradburn is already on the sidelines when the Gamecocks run out onto the field while rabid college football fans cheer and wave “Cocky Cloths” in unison.

Behind her, the stands roar as fans scream, “Game.”

Across the field comes an echoing reply, “Cocks.”

“The noise is just ridiculous at field level,” Bradburn said, while smiling and shaking her head in disbelief. “It gets so loud that you have to scream just to talk to the person standing beside you. It is so cool.”

But unlike the fans in the stands, Bradburn doesn’t have the luxury of getting caught up in the moment.

For her, being on the sidelines isn’t recreation, it’s a classroom. These days, she sees sports in a different light.

Bradburn, 21, who is working her way toward a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, is a student intern for the USC football team this year.

“Even though I’m a fan, I watch the game differently,” she said. “When a tackle is made, I’m watching to make sure that everyone gets up. I’m looking for injuries.”

Although Bradburn played volleyball and softball in high school and has a passion for sports, she didn’t grow up with dreams of becoming an athletic trainer.

She said an aversion to the emergency room proved to be a blessing in disguise, leading her to switch majors.

“I started out as a nursing major, but I didn’t like it,” she said, laughing. “It only took one rotation in an emergency room for me to realize that nursing  wasn’t for me. But looking back, I’m glad it worked out that way.”

When it comes to the number of classroom hours she has earned, Bradburn is a college senior. However, she still has two years left after switching majors to get in all the required course work. After that, it’s more testing to become a certified athletic trainer.

“I knew I wanted to do something in heath care and this has become the perfect fit for me,” she said. “When you get out there, you want to make things better.”

Being a student intern trainer for the football team is time-consuming. Bradburn estimates that it takes up about 35 hours a week. 

“It’s almost a full time job without pay,” she said. “But I’m glad to be where I’m at.”

Buford High School football Mike Wells is glad that Bradburn is there, too.

A 2005 BHS graduate, Bradburn volunteered to help on the Jackets’ sidelines during the past football season to further her learning experience.

But she’s done a little teaching in the process, too. Wells said Bradburn’s knowledge of sports-related injuries has been invaluable.

He said it’s much more than taping ankles, evaluating sprains, rehydrating players and treating stingers and cuts during the game.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Wells said. “A lot of kids will tell you they’re OK when they’re not because they just want to get back on the field. But  when Jessica tells us someone doesn’t need to play, they don’t play. If someone needed to be sent somewhere to have an injury looked at, they are sent, no questions asked.

“I know having someone around like her sure takes a lot off the coaches,” Wells said. “I wish every high school in the state had someone like Jessica. We could really tell when USC was playing away and she wasn’t there on Friday nights.”       

Bradburn never left the high school training room those nights without giving Wells a post-game injury evaluation of players’ bangs, bruises and injuries.

“The kids love having her here and if someone was hurting, she’d stay around as long as she needed to look at them,” Wells said. “If there was something we needed to do to get someone healthy, Jessica wouldn’t leave until telling us what to do.”

Bradburn said keeping athletes active and healthy are all in a day’s work for a trainer. She also tries to pass along injury avoiding tips to players by watching their technique and body mechanics.

“I like Friday nights better because it’s a little more hands-on,” she said. “On Saturdays, it’s more about observing. On Friday, you get a chance to use what you’ve been learning. It’s something that’s definitely needed on the high school level and I’ve enjoyed it. I hope to do it again, if I can.” 

Next semester, Bradburn will be assigned to the USC track & field team for another internship. Then, during the summer months, she will be on the training staff of the University of Tennesee Girls Basketball Camp.

“The one thing I have learned is that athletic training is all about networking and who you meet,” Bradburn said. “One door opens another. This isn’t a field where you want to be closed-minded. If you do, you miss your opportunities.”