Hidden within the innards of the Seal Football Complex, Justin Gremillion patrols a wide, white expanse, sitting a floor below the head coach’s office, accessible through an otherwise-innocuous set of double doors.
The goings-on in Mississippi State’s training room are like a city beneath the streets. Bustling action from sunrise to sunset otherwise unknown and unseen by those walking the floors above.
As the head football athletic trainer, it’s Gremillion’s city to run.
Icing down a massive lineman at one moment and reviewing progress charts of an injured running back the next, he and his staff are responsible for healing aches and pains as well as blown-out knees and broken bones.
Over three, four, five or even six years at MSU, some players will spend just as much time with Gremillion as they will their coach.
Then, they move on. Many of them to someone else’s training room in the NFL.
But this year, by chance, there was a reunion of sorts.
Gremillion, the athletic department’s Employee of the Month in September, was invited to the NFL Combine. Not to run and jump, of course, but to observe, and hopefully, learn.
As fate would have it, three of his formers players were in Indianapolis, as well, with Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Josh Boyd all winning invites to the premier pre-draft workout.
Gremillion knew they’d be there, but the three Bulldogs had no idea they should be expecting to see their home trainer when they went through the assembly line of treatment and testing rooms in Indy.
“They were pretty surprised,” Gremillion said with a laugh. “Like, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Taking part on just an observational basis, Gremillion and a few other trainers from around the country were there to see the process.
Lucky for him, Boyd was one of the first people he saw.
“I actually got to follow him around and that was pretty special. I’ve been here since he’s been here. Going through four years, watching the way he reacted to everything that he had to do. He’s a character,” Gremillion said. “Josh came up to me, shook my hand, shot the breeze for a few minutes. He was the first one. I just followed him from room to room. Seeing him interact with those guys, it was pretty special.”
Just like the trio participating in drills, Gremillion’s presence in Indy was a testament to the work he’s done.
MSU’s team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rusty Linton was the one in particular who ensured Gremillion was able to get the experience.
Linton has a long-standing relationship with plenty of NFL teams, as well as the trainer’s association which runs that portion of the Combine, something he’s a part of each offseason.
“A few years back he mentioned to me, ‘We need to get you to the Combine,’” Gremillion said. “This year, everything fell into place.”
Between graduate school at LSU, his first job at Florida Atlantic and now six years at MSU, Gremillion has seen plenty.
The Combine, however, was quite a new experience. In Starkville, his team maxes out at a little over 100 players, with a much lower number all needing treatment or rehab at one time.
In Indianapolis, the number swelled to over 300, with nearly every single one getting some type of training for some of the most important days of their young careers.
“That was the amazing thing,” Gremillion said, “the things these kids go through in four years of college athletics. You look back at their history and they go through a lot. Whether it’s a meniscus surgery, ACL reconstructions. It was really, really unbelievable what the guys go through and what they had.’
Going from room to room, sometimes with Boyd and sometimes on his own, Gremillion watched not just as a curious onlooker, but as a fellow professional trying to better himself.
“Being up there, I really evaluated what I do, how I look at guys,” he said. “I learned a lot of different techniques as far as testing of ligaments and things like that. Dr. Linton has always done an unbelievable job of taking what he learns at the Combine and bringing it here, so I had a little advantage. A lot of it looked familiar to me.”
Now that he’s back, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to put what he learned into practice. The quiet time of year for him, when his players aren’t hitting each other, is over as spring practice began last week.
The days are different from the season, he said, as all parties involved are lucky enough to get a day or two off between practices to heal.
But, Gremillion said with a smile, “After the first week, the tables get full in the training room.”
Busy and sometimes stressful though it may be, the full room is like family gathered in one house for the holidays.
Gremillion’s favorite part of the job isn’t the minutiae of rehab or the particulars of paperwork.
“Dealing with the guys, no doubt about it,” he said. “It kind of brings you back to when you were in college. They’re a bunch of characters.”