Brian McGuire discusses role as athletic trainer for NFL combine

Brian McGuire is a colonel with the Marine Corps Reserve. However, for the next six days he is Brian McGuire the athletic trainer who is volunteering his services at the NFL Scouting Combine for the sixth straight year along with two other athletic trainers.

Also a federal employee for the Marine Corps at Quantico, Va., the certified athletic trainer has been overseeing the Marine Corps physical fitness testing policies and other physical-readiness-related programs and policies. He leads the Marine Corps Sports Medicine and Injury Prevention Program. He serves as the program manager and has 28 certified athletic trainers that work at various training institutions around the country.

McGuire talked to NFL Evolution contributing editor Bill Bradley last week about how he became an athletic trainer at the NFL Scouting Combine, the differences between training NFL athletes and military personnel, and how the combine helps his military programs.

How did you become a trainer for athletes as well as work in the military?

I went to school for this at Salisbury University in Maryland. I was on active duty from 1986 to 1990. I left active duty then to enter the civilian sports medicine world. I worked in a number of sports medicine clinics from 1990 1997. At that point, I became the head athletic trainer for Emory University in Atlanta. I came back on active duty in June of 2001 for what I thought was a short stint. The tragedy of 9/11 happened and I was mobilized shortly after that. I spent seven years, 2001 to 2008, on active duty in support of operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. I was at Quantico, but I did spend a year in Iraq from 2005 to 2006. In 2008, I transitioned to being a federal employee while remaining active in the Marine Corps Reserves. The program we have that runs the athletic trainers at the training institutions was implemented in 2003.

How did you get involved in the NFL Scouting Combine?

Circling back to Salisbury, the first head athletic trainer I worked for at Salisbury went on to become the head athletic trainer for the Indianapolis Colts. That's Hunter Smith and he was with the Colts for 25 years. We would stay in touch over the years. There's also a current Salisbury graduate on the Indianapolis athletic training staff, David Walston. How the combine staffing works is there are very few individuals on the full-time combine staff. Myself and most of the others who comprise the event staff are from other places. For a long time, the Colts had the responsibility of providing the on-field care for the athletes as well as the other things. At some point in the early 2000s, they selected some other individuals whom they trusted to take on that responsibility. The combine has grown and the medical screening responsibilities have grown commensurate with that. The Colts sought out individuals that they worked with and they trusted, so the Colts training staff could focus on the screening of the 330-plus athletes that come through the combine. That's how I got involved. I've been working at the combine since 2009.

How is it different working with 330-plus rookies than working with members of the military?

It is different in a couple of profound ways. First, the athletes come to the combine in a very fit state. As the years have gone by, most of the athletes have taken advantage of working with the large performance sports groups. They also have had time to recover from the season. At the end of a long season, nearly every athlete has something they have been dealing with. Along with the (medical) screenings that really are the foundation of the combine since its inception, we work with them to prepare to go through the skills and drills on the field.

The combine does a lot of things: It provides the medical and the physical screenings, etc.; it does give the coaches some pretty acute insight to the athletes' capabilities; but it's not as though the athletes are playing a game. That means if they're coming to the combine hurt, it is to their advantage to let the teams and combine staff know that. First and foremost, we're looking out for their health and welfare and we don't want to put them in a position that aggravates their injury.

Secondly, every NFL coach and scout is at the combine, so it is imperative that they be healthy. It is very rare that an athlete relies on the training staff to do what is traditionally considered a medical treatment. They have their staff for that before they leave their home. Also, the large performance sports groups typically have a suite at one of the nearby hotels where they take on the role of trainer. Myself and the two other athletic trainers are responsible to the combine for insuring the appropriate care of the athletes, should they become injured during combine itself.

What are some of the similarities in treating these athletes and treating military personnel?

People have asked me that a lot of times over the years. Luckily, most of the injuries to that happen to NFL athletes and our military personnel in training are mainly minor in severity, mainly on the lower scale of muscular-skeletal injuries. That is good that the injuries are mostly minor, but there's a lot of them. Talk to any athletic training staff during the early parts of a football season -- sometimes it varies year to year -- but the volume of those minor injuries can add up. It places a great deal of stress on the capacity of the athletic training staff. ... A lot of injuries are very similar (between football players and military personnel). Athletes are bigger for the most part, but there are similarities in the type of injuries we see. Also, (the military pays) as much attention to the mild traumatic brain injuries as does the NFL. There are some interesting partnerships between the NFL and the military that are pretty exciting in terms of increasing head injury awareness.

What are the most common injuries during the combine and how do you treat them?

(Hamstring) strains are the bulk of what we see. We evaluate them. We treat them appropriately and in combination with the Colts physicians, who have the additional responsibility of being our combine doctors. We refer the cases as necessary. (The doctors) make the call whether to refer them for X-rays or MRIs. In cases where we have to have an X-ray or an MRI, the MRI is at the stadium. That's there in case the team of physicians wants to have a more updated MRI on whatever the injured body part was. That also helps (the trainers) out in case there is an injury of a more severe nature.

The health and welfare of the athletes is our paramount concern. Our threshold is very low to recommend that an athlete sit out if he suffers an injury or a strain of some kind. We tell him not to push through the combine drills. That is a time-honored relationship between the trainers and the athlete, so he knows the athletic trainer is looking out for his welfare. We would do that in any case, even if it was a big game during the season. But when you consider that the athletes these days have a Pro Day, which is essentially a follow-up combine at their schools that happen 3-4 weeks after the NFL combine, we do recommend that the athlete not try to push through an injury. It doesn't matter how minor it is because if they are injured being filmed during the combine, you can see how that would not be in the athlete's best interest from a health perspective and a performance perspective.

Is there anything that has caught you off guard while working at the combine?

I think some of the athletes -- as well-trained as they are -- train separately for some of the events, like the 40-yard dash or the bench press or the various shuttles (despite the fact they are performed consecutively at the combine). Sometimes the metabolic demands of all of those events show they're not prepared for the totality of them. They run a fabulous 40-yard dash, they run great on the shuttle events, but when it comes to the skills and drills, those drills come very, very fast in a very short period of time. When you have the combine being in February when everybody is fighting some sort of environmental distress from the season, you put that in a dry environment like Lucas Oil Stadium -- as are all domes that are empty -- dehydration can happen and some cramping can occur. I think that surprises some viewers when they see that on TV.

How much do you enjoy doing this event every year?

I come back every year enriched by the leadership of (combine president) Jeff Foster and the group of athletic trainers I work with at the combine. It's a very, very fun time. But there's always a tweak to the screening and testing every year that is very interesting to us. I am able to take that back (to Quantico). Not everything applies to our military settings, but there are some that do. In fact, Jeff has been gracious over the past three years to invite individuals that work in and support the Marine Corps Injury Prevention Program. They get to interact with the team of athletic trainers and physicians and the whole mosaic of what happens at the combine. That is an enriching experience for them and also the unit where they work.

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