His job as an athletic trainer at Collegiate was meaningful and fulfilling. He’d developed relationships built on professionalism and compassion with colleagues, athletes, and parents. He’d engendered trust, inspired loyalty, and earned respect.
He wasn’t going anywhere, or had no plans to do so anyway, until one pre-pandemic day this past spring when Jeff Burns, the athletic director at Randolph-Macon College, dialed him up.
Turns out the folks in Ashland were restructuring their athletic training program and were seeking a highly qualified, experienced practitioner to work primarily with football and take on other assignments when time allowed.
Are you interested? Burns asked.
“We talked about it a little bit,” Engle said. “When COVID hit, it went on everyone’s back burner. We picked up the discussion maybe two weeks ago.”
One thing led to another and come the end of July, Engle will transition from Collegiate to his new role overseeing the athletic training for the Yellow Jackets’ football team.
“It definitely was not an easy decision,” he said. “I’ve loved being at Collegiate. I couldn’t ask for a better place to start my career. I wasn’t unhappy and looking for a job. This opportunity came up. I hope it’ll be a good move.”
A native of Factoryville, PA, Engle earned undergraduate (East Stroudsburg University) and graduate (Indiana State) degrees in athletic training. He moved to Richmond in 2006 to work with Richmond Physical Therapy and was contracted to Collegiate for part of each day. He came on board full time in 2013 and has worked closely with Shannon Winston, Collegiate’s head athletic trainer.
From time to time, he assisted with camps and clinics at R-MC, so he was no stranger to athletic personnel at the Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference signatory. He’d developed a rapport with Pedro Arruza, the Jackets’ head football coach since 2004, so when the opening arose, Engle’s name came up.
“The call came out of the blue,” Engle said. “My wife (Jess) and I were both very shocked and surprised. I was definitely flattered, but even when it first happened, I was 99 percent sure I’d go up and meet with them, and this would be just a passing thing.”
The ODAC has suspended fall sports competition, but Engle will still work with Arruza’s players as they train for their next competitive opportunity, whenever that might be. He’ll serve under Heather Bauby, the long-time director of sports medicine. Another trainer will be hired to assist Engle.
What made a college position attractive? I asked.
“For me,” Engle said, “it’s just the challenge. It’s taking that next step and getting outside my comfort zone. Another big draw was that I really enjoy being part of a team. Doing internships in college, you got to bond with everyone. It’s fun being part of a team atmosphere.”
Over the years, Collegiate’s trainers have researched new trends and implemented best practices and expanded their professional horizons well beyond their traditional roles.
“I’ve learned a ton from Shannon,” Engle said. “I’ll always be grateful for what I learned from her and for her friendship. It seems like we’re never satisfied with what we’re doing. We’re constantly re-evaluating our athletic training program and sports performance program to see how we can improve.
“When you’re in with injured athletes, it’s usually not a good day for them. It’s important for them to trust you and know that working with you will give them the best chance of getting back on the field.
“The psychological side of sports, whether it’s from the mental health or mental illness side of things, has started coming out a lot with professional athletes. That’s trickled down to college and high school. The mental side of sports has become a big point of emphasis.”
Then we got serious.
What will you miss the most? I asked.
“Definitely, the people,” Engle said. “Telling everyone I’m leaving has been the hardest part about this whole thing. I’ve made a lot of good relationships.”
Then we got really serious.
How would you like people to remember you?
He paused. He collected his thoughts for a moment.
“I guess,” he said, “that I was hard working, dependable, honest, trustworthy.”
Couldn’t agree more, I said, and a loyal friend, a great role model for all of us, and a consummate pro as well.