Through all of the adversity football players face in a season, Molly Sutherland is always there to help.
Seventy-two hours before the first football game of the season, junior defensive lineman Terrence Fullum received some of the worst possible news an athlete can receive—he wouldn’t be playing in the first game.
He had survived the relentless physical and mental demands of preseason camp. He had endured the soaring temperatures and sticky humidity of August in Virginia. Then, he was injured and unable to participate in the first game.
“I did it in a pass rush one-on-one drill,” Fullum said. “I did a spin move and when I spun, my knee popped. It happened at the beginning of practice, but I finished practice. The next morning, it was unusually swollen, so I went to see [Sutherland].”
After having an MRI, Fullum was informed of the tear to his lateral meniscus in his right knee—an injury that would require surgery and rehabilitation for a quick return to the field.
“She was the most involved of anyone on the athletic training staff,” Fullum said. “After my surgery, I came in and started rehab immediately, and she was the one that was always responsible for my rehab.”
For two weeks, two or three times per day, Fullum went to the University of Richmond athletic training room. “I was coming in and stretching, trying to get the mobility back in my ankle and the swelling down,” Fullum said. “I told her I wanted to be back in two weeks, so that was her goal date, too. I was back in exactly two weeks.”
In the second week of the season, the Spiders traveled to NC State University in Raleigh, N.C., to play in front of their 52,380 fans. Just minutes into the first quarter, senior wide receiver Ben Edwards’ helmet was ripped off just as an NC State player’s facemask collided with his head. Edwards needed nine stitches.
“[Sutherland] was the first person to get to me,” Edwards said. “She was the one that compressed all the blood. After the initial injury, I got a lot of extra treatment on my stiches, probably twice a day, and that’s because she continuously made me.”
The third week of the season, Richmond football traveled to the small town of Boiling Springs, N.C., to face Gardner-Webb University.
With two minutes and six seconds left in the fourth quarter, fifth-year Sam Roller made a touchdown catch to give the Spiders a 10-9 lead, and simultaneously ended his season.
“I broke my fibula and dislocated my ankle,” Roller said. “She came into the training room with me right after it happened, and was there by my side being optimistic and just helping me through all the pain. I felt a lot more comfortable with her there, and then she’s been checking up on me ever since.”
Sutherland always dreamed of being a doctor, until she took her first semester of chemistry at the University of Virginia as an undergraduate student.
“I absolutely hated it,” Sutherland said. “I had a what-am-I-going-to-do-for-the-rest-of-my-life meltdown—as most college students do. Thankfully, I quickly realized it.”
Later that day, Sutherland was making small talk with a stranger on campus. He turned out to be the director of sports medicine, and he brought sports medicine to Sutherland’s attention.
“I played volleyball, tennis and basketball in high school, and I wanted to go to medical school, so I thought it could work out.’” Sutherland said. “I tried it the next week and fell in love with it. I knew it was what I wanted to do from there on out.”
Now, as the assistant athletic trainer at the University of Richmond, Sutherland works with over 90 football players, the women’s track team and the cheerleading team, but that is only the beginning of her responsibilities.
“I feel like there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what athletic trainers do,” Sutherland said. “Because we wear so many different hats in what we do. We don’t just specialize in one thing, but several.”
Sutherland is responsible for ordering and keeping inventory of every supply in the training room, setting up doctor’s clinics, managing emergency personnel and equipment as well as overseeing and teaching 11 certified interns and undergrad students.
The three most important qualities for an athletic trainer to have are flexibility, a good work ethic and good communication skills, Sutherland said. “You never know what the day is going to bring, you never hope someone gets injured, but you have to be ready for when that happens and what you’re going to do next,” she said.
Fullum and Edwards are playing football again. Roller will not be able to play football for Richmond any longer this season, but he is optimistic about participating in Richmond’s NFL pro day in the spring.
“Even though Sam can’t play football,” Sutherland said, “he’s going to get back into lifting. He’s going to go to practice. Being at practice and being with the team is always very important to the players. So Sam will still be involved.”
Although Roller’s recovery and rehab will be a longer process, Sutherland will work with him through the remainder of the season, she said.
“Molly does her job extremely well and with a great personality,” Roller said. “Those two elements make it easy to trust and respect her. She’s a down-to-earth person and makes being in the training room enjoyable at times, even when you don’t want to be there.”
Chris Jones, the assistant athletic director of sports medicine, said hiring Sutherland was an obvious decision. “Molly has very strong clinical and organizational skills,” Jones said. “But she also does great deal of things behind the scenes that allow everything to run smoothly.”
In his time working with Sutherland, certified intern Phil Weivoda has learned a lot and seen her interact with everyone in the football program.
“There’s a big respect factor,” Weivoda said. “There’s just something about her, she demands respect from people without being in their face about it.”
Contact reporter Lauren Shute at email@example.com