Steadfast and Faithful... All the Way to the Super Bowl

March 1, 2024
Brynn Johnson Holds the Super Bowl Trophy

Photo courtesy of Brynn Johnson

Brynn Johnson’s first glimpse into her future career came as a sophomore in high school—although she didn’t fully realize it at the time. An athlete herself who also enjoyed watching sports, Johnson had the opportunity to attend an athletic training camp to learn basic taping, first aid, CPR, and other related skills.

“It sort of sparked something in me,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I did know that I wanted to help people.”

Johnson began volunteering with her school’s football team and found her desire to help people and her love of sports colliding. She now had a plan and a goal—she would become a sports medicine doctor. This plan led Johnson first to a university in her home state of Michigan before she transferred after her sophomore year to a university in Florida. Having grown up in the chilly Midwest, Johnson sought warmer temperatures and an institution nearby to the osteopathic medical school she had her eye on.

Transferring in as a junior wasn’t without its challenges, and it took Johnson some time to build her new community and to settle in. With those adjustments, she also began to reevaluate her career path.

“After a year in Florida, I realized I did not want to go to medical school. I began to ask myself, ‘What’s the next best thing? When were you happy? What did you enjoy?’”

These questions brought Johnson back to athletic training in high school. Unfortunately, her university did not have an undergraduate athletic training program, so she reached out to the school’s head athletic trainer to see if they would be willing to let her come observe.

“I didn’t want to take myself down another path that I wasn’t going to want to do in two years,” she laughs.

Those initial observation hours turned into a summer training camp, which turned into four years of volunteering with her school’s football team and the athletic training staff.

“It just clicked. Being there and being a part of that team and the challenge of it—I thought, ‘This is fun. This is what I want to do,’” Johnson recalls. “I get to combine my love of sports with helping people. I feel like God was gently nudging me in the direction of athletic training, and I knew, at that moment, that it was what I was meant to do.”

The complications of transfer credits and the demands of her volunteer hours extended Johnson’s time as an undergraduate. Then, toward the end of her final semester, her dad got sick.

“It was a pivotal moment where I had to decide if I should keep going or if I should stop and go home. My dad said, ‘You are so close to the end. You’re right there. Keep working at it. You’re so close. I’ll be okay.”

With her dad’s encouragement, Johnson kept going. About a month from her graduation in August, however, her dad took a turn for the worse and entered hospice care. Her professors graciously allowed her to finish up her classes from Michigan, and Johnson’s dad was able to celebrate her graduation before he passed a few weeks later. 

“That’s something I am forever grateful for. He didn’t get to see where I am now and what I’ve accomplished, but he got to see me graduate. And I knew that he knew that I was on my way.”

Following her graduation, Johnson spent time with her family before focusing again on her next goal—a master’s degree in athletic training. As she looked at programs across the country, Baylor University stuck out to her. She applied to Baylor and one other institution and received offers to both.

“After speaking with Dr. Gallucci [Baylor’s athletic training program director at the time] and hearing about what they were going to offer, I knew Baylor was the best fit for me,” Johnson shares. “After working with an NCAA Division I football school, I knew I wanted to do bigger football, which was Power Five.”

Johnson joined the first cohort of Baylor University Master of Athletic Training (MAT) program in 2018. She worked with the Baylor football team and was determined that collegiate football was her endgame. When it came time for her to apply for summer internships, Johnson’s first thought was to find an opportunity with another collegiate athletic program, but the Baylor faculty encouraged her instead to try something different—like the NFL.

“I had no desire,” she shares. “I never had any interest in working in the NFL. I didn’t even really watch it—I enjoyed watching college football.” 

However, Johnson trusted her professors and was able to secure a summer training camp and preseason internship with the Los Angeles Rams.

“After that experience, I began to reevaluate—again—because I began to sense that God might have a different path for me. I should have known because I was so against it and so singularly focused,” she laughs. “I loved it. When I came back from the internship, I knew I wanted to be in the NFL.”

Johnson began planning out the next steps that would lead her to a NFL athletic training position after graduation. She had a job lined up with Harvard University Athletics as a part of this plan. But, she was graduating in May 2020, and Harvard elected to cancel fall sports in light of the pandemic. So, in July 2020, Johnson found herself without a job and having missed the deadlines to take on an internship role for a fall sport. 

“The timing of everything was not great,” Johnson says. “But God works in mysterious ways, and He’s always working.”

A job opportunity for an athletic trainer for Marlin ISD opened up, and three weeks later, she found herself in the role. 

“I never thought I’d do anything like that because I was staunchly against working at a high school,” Johnson reflects. “But I found myself freshly graduated and on my own, autonomously practicing. You really are in the trenches in that type of role, and I thought, ‘This is athletic training at its best.’”

The experience of serving as the sole athletic trainer for the district pushed Johnson to figure out who she was as a practitioner in a way she may not have been able to within a more hierarchal staffing structure. So when Harvard called that spring offering her back her position as athletics returned, Johnson knew she was ready for her next challenge.

Brynn Johnson Athletic Training for Harvard Water Polo

After her 12-month commitment in the Harvard Sports Medicine Transition to Practice Program, Johnson turned her attention back to the NFL. She sent out her resume and cover letter to all 32 teams and began the waiting game. It was mid-March when the Detroit Lions called, and Johnson accepted a position as a seasonal (one-year) athletic training intern. She would be going back home to Michigan as the first and only female certified athletic trainer on staff for the Lions.

“That one year with them was so challenging and so rewarding. It was super fun and really, really hard work. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of tests along the way, but I loved it,” she says.

The primary role of NFL seasonal athletic training interns is to support the full-time staff. From setting up the athletic training facility, gameday and practice set up, and assistance with patient care—seasonal interns arrive early and leave late. While it’s not an autonomous role, interns have the opportunity to support and learn from clinicians at the top of their field and engage with some of the world’s most elite athletes.

Brynn Johnson Working for the Detroit Lions

While NFL seasonal internships are typically renewed for a second year, due to staff transitions within the Lions’ organization, Johnson’s position was not. The timing was also challenging because, by the time she found out that she would not be offered a second year, the deadline to apply for an internship with another team had passed.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had plans to stay another year in the NFL before figuring out what was next,” she recalls. “I did some soul searching and spoke with our pastor. I wondered if I was trying to force something to happen that just wasn’t going to. My pastor encouraged me not to pigeonhole myself—to look at all the opportunities and cast a wide net.”

It was now February 2023. Ever determined, Johnson considered the NFL teams who were currently competing in the playoffs and may not have had the time yet to fill their seasonal internship positions. With a prayer, Johnson sent her resume and cover letter out to six teams. A few weeks later, fresh off their Super Bowl LVII victory, the Kansas City Chiefs called with an offer.

“It was a no brainer,” she says. “Two weeks later, I had packed up and moved to Kansas City.”

If you’ve done the math and calculated the dates, yes, Brynn Johnson was in Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII as a member of the Chiefs’ 2024 staff. And yes, she does get a ring.

“It was surreal. It was a whirlwind. Coach tried to keep things as normal as possible, so we packed for our normal routine. Even the game, at the end of the day, is a football game. Yes, there are more eyes on you and there’s a little more pressure. But at the end of the day, your job is to make sure that these athletes have what they need and are taken care of to do their job—which is to go win a football game.

Brynn Johnson on the Field at the Super Bowl

“As long as you do that, the rest is cake. And it doesn’t hurt when the confetti falls, and it’s your team’s colors!”

Reflecting on her long and winding path from 16-year-old volunteer athletic trainer to seasonal intern for the Super Bowl champions, Johnson credits her time in the Baylor Master of Athletic Training program for paving her way and equipping her well for the challenges and opportunities she has already faced in her career. 

“Looking back, the combination of didactic knowledge and expectation for excellence in the classroom with diverse clinical experience requirements is something that I have found to be so unique to Baylor,” she says. “I don’t think I would have been prepared for half of the journeys that I’ve been on had I not had those Baylor experiences and had I not had the professors who challenged and supported me.”

Johnson places great value in the ways that her Baylor professors pushed her to be the best athletic training clinician she could be. They created an environment that tested her and her cohort to push past mediocrity to excellence. They urged (and required) the students to engage in a wide variety of experiences—from doctor’s offices to high schools to the NFL.

“I don’t know that I would be where I am right now had I not gone to Baylor and had the support and guidance of Dr. Gallucci, Dr. Hudson, and Dr. Williams,” she says. “I came in thinking I knew what I wanted, and they helped grow and stretch and support me.”

Currently, Johnson is contemplating her next move. She has the opportunity to intern another year with the Chiefs, but she may also decide to explore positions elsewhere. Whatever her decision, she has faith in the path that God has laid for her and is ready to take on whatever challenges come her way.

“If you are truly faithful to where God is leading you, you will end up where you’re supposed to be. Being challenged and being pushed outside of your comfort zone allows you to solidify your faith in God and in yourself,” she says. “I wholeheartedly believe that all of the challenges and the tests that I’ve had to go through have taught me to persevere and to problem solve and to be more in tune with myself and those around me.

“My biggest takeaway from all of my experiences, including my time at Baylor, is to be faithful to God and to yourself. If you can do that, you will be alright.”

“My biggest takeaway from all of my experiences, including my time at Baylor, is to be faithful to God and to yourself. If you can do that, you will be alright.”

Photos used in this article were provided courtesy of Brynn Johnson.