Johnson Beth-El National Athletic Training Month Student Feature: 5 Questions with Ryan Kelly

Kelly stands in the Athletic Training lab at the Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center

March is National Athletic Training Month, and during this time, we take the opportunity to recognize the students and professionals working in the field of athletic training, like Denny Kellington, assistant athletic trainer for the Buffalo Bills. He jumped into action after Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field during a January game.

As defined by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), athletic training “encompasses the prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of emergent, acute or chronic injuries and medical conditions. Athletic training is recognized by the American Medical Association, Health Resources Services Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services as an allied health care profession.”

To celebrate athletic trainers everywhere, let’s all get to know Johnson Beth-El Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) student Ryan Kelly. Kelly answered five questions about his experience in the UCCS MSAT program, his future plans, and his experience working with the CU Boulder Athletic Training Staff assigned to the football program for his clinical education this semester.

What drew you to athletic training, or why did you pursue an athletic training degree?

Kelly: I have always loved the atmosphere of team sports. I grew up in Texas playing football, and I played rugby over in England. Personally, I have a connection to team sports and athletes. Once I had my first glimpse at athletic training at Fort Lewis, where I completed my undergraduate degree through the exercise physiology program, you know, I kind of fell in love. I came to UCCS for the Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) program.  

I enjoy taking care of athletes because they often push themselves to return to their team. Athletes are determined to return to their team, following an injury. It’s hard for an athlete to be out. You can see how hard it is for them. It’s fascinating to see their progression and healing.  

What excites you most about your clinical education placement with the CU Football program this semester?

Kelly, smiling: I chose the CU Football program specifically because of the athletic training staff. Several of the athletic trainers have worked with high-caliber football teams their entire careers and that is something I want to also accomplish in my career. I am looking forward to working with and learning from professionals that have accomplished what I want to achieve. The athletic training staff and their experience is the reason I applied to the program. I want to work with the highest caliber of football player, and eventually for the NFL. This semester has already been a great learning experience.

Nicknamed “Coach Prime,” Deion Sanders is leading the CU Football program. How does the athletic training staff support the entire team’s success?

We function together as a team and support the players.

Athletic trainers have a role to help protect athletes from and heal their injuries. These are typically acute or chronic injuries we are treating for the athletes. We also work with team physicians and strength and conditioning trainers to make modifications to the player’s workout as they rehabilitate and heal after any injury. We all work together to support the players.

What is the difference between athletic training and strength and conditioning?

The athletic training staff and the strength and conditioning team are two separate teams with separate purposes. Although the teams work together and communicate to help rehab injured athletes and make modifications to their workouts, they serve very different functions.  

Athletic trainers continually work with the team’s physicians on rehabbing athletes’ acute and chronic injuries. Mostly, in football, we see a lot of shoulder, hamstring, knee and ankle injuries. We must be ready to treat any type of injury.  

The strength and conditioning trainers are primarily focused on using exercise to improve the performance of the team or athletes, whereas athletic trainers use exercise to prevent injury and rehabilitate athletes.   

Athletic trainers are in the training room an hour or so before practice and stay after practice for the players’ needs and their treatments. Different manual therapy techniques and modalities are used to supplement an athlete’s rehab or to accelerate an athlete’s recovery. Some treatments available for athletes may include dry needling, cupping or massage. The treatments can help alleviate an athlete’s muscle pain or tension.

What is your dream career?

Kelly: Eventually, I want to work as an athletic trainer for an NFL team.

I am taking the Board of Certification (BOC) exam in two weeks. This exam is the Athletic Training national certification exam. 

I’ve been accepted into an internship program that puts me on track for my dream career, working as an athletic trainer in the NFL. I start a seasonal internship with the Dallas Cowboys after graduation and obtaining my athletic training licensure. I’ll continue to pursue NFL internships to stay in the field, literally. I’m from Texas, so the Cowboys are my team. I am thrilled for this experience.

About the Master of Science in Athletic Training Program

The Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) professional program at UCCS is committed to high-quality education through team teaching by experienced faculty, hands-on clinical experiences with skilled preceptors across diverse clinical sites, and high-impact learning opportunities. The MSAT became the first graduate athletic training program in Colorado when it was awarded CAATE accreditation in the Spring 2020. The MSAT program moved into our unique learning environment in Fall 2020 in the 100,000-square-foot Hybl Sports Medicine & Performance Center.

About Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences

The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences has trained and educated the region’s health professionals and human performance professionals for over 118 years, and in 2022, celebrated 25 years with the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS).

At Johnson Beth-El, students meet the needs of a rapidly changing health care landscape by providing innovative, nationally accredited, and ranked programs.

Johnson Beth-El’s nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The Clinical Simulation Learning Center is accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH). The Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics is the first Future Education Model (FEM) registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) program in Colorado and accredited by ACEND. The Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) became the first graduate athletic training program in Colorado when it was awarded CAATE accreditation in Spring 2020.

Our traditional Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) program is ranked nationally by US News and World Report. The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences ranks #67 out of 681 national nursing programs. The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences is consistently ranked as a US News and World Report’s Top online Master’s in Nursing program for veterans. In 2022, we ranked #1 in the state of Colorado for veterans. Learn more about the Johnson Beth-El at