DENTON – When one mentions the Manning Passing Academy, the annual football camp held on the campus of Nicholls State in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, the first thing to pop to mind is obviously football – particularly throwing and catching.
That's natural when considering the namesake – the famous Manning quarterback family, who hail from Louisiana.
But there's another aspect to the summer camp for quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers that might go overlooked, and a few North Texas students were able to experience it first-hand when a group of student athletic trainers from UNT were chosen to work the camp.
Rachael Dickey, Jordan-Lee Dobbins and Jake Odom applied for and were chosen to work the camp with the encouragement of Jeff Smith, senior associate athletic director-sports medicine, who was the head athletic trainer for the Manning Passing Academy for six years.
"I still keep a lot of relationships there and they've leaned on me for students in the past," Smith said, "and they contacted me and needed some students. They were some of our better athletic training students and are older and have really put in time and are very dedicated and loyal. They earned the right to be recommended for that camp."
Odom, a junior from Krum, Texas, said he grew up watching the camp on ESPN and the NFL Network and never even considered the possibility he could one day work there as an athletic trainer. While the work was good experience, Odom said the biggest thing he and his classmates took from the experience was the networking and professional development.
"You're obviously there to work and you work hard, but along the way there are so many people there who can help you get to where you want to be," Odom said. "There are people there who, with nothing more than a polite conversation, can get you in the door somewhere."
One of those people was Dean Kleinschmidt, who spent decades in the NFL as the head athletic trainer for the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions. Odom met Kleinschmidt at the New Orleans Bowl last year and reconnected with him at the four-day camp that ran June 21-24.
The two spoke several times over the course of the camp, and by the time the camp was over, Odom had a new reference to add to his growing resume.
"At the end of camp, I asked him if it'd be okay if I used him for a reference to apply for internships in the NFL this summer, and before I could even finish the sentence he said, 'There's no issue with that. I'd love to,'" Odom said. "The networking part of the camp was the biggest deal for me."
Dobbins, a senior from McAllen, agreed.
"Every day at lunch, we'd have a roundtable discussion with some of the top athletic trainers in the profession, and that was a huge part of it," Dobbins said. "They gave us advice on resumes and applying for grad school. That was the biggest part of it – just learning from them."
Aside from the networking and professional growth, Smith said the fact his students can see how one of the largest youth camps in the country is run and that the fundamental keys of athletic training are the same regardless of the environment are both crucial for them.
"It shows them the things we do here are the same things they do there as far as hard work, communication and hustling," Smith said. "It's the same things they see on a day-to-day basis there and they were well complimented on their ability and their time there. The things we do here every day prepared them for that environment.
"Any time our athletic training students can better their careers and put themselves with a premier camp like that and work with different staffs and with Hall of Fame athletic trainers and high-profile athletes only betters their future and helps broaden their careers," Smith added.