How an athletic trainer found his passion on the pitch

Enrique De La Cruz on the field of Phoenix Rising

Growing up, Enrique De La Cruz loved soccer. He found his passion on the pitch and didn’t want to leave that behind when it came time to pick a career. 

He hasn’t—though it’s not quite the athletic career one might expect. De La Cruz is earning a master’s degree in athletic training while working with professional soccer club Phoenix Rising FC, helping keep the players healthy while still getting to do what he loves most. 

“I played football in my life. I understand the sport,” De La Cruz said. “I understand the demands that the body needs for it—the mechanics, the techniques and so on.” 

Athletic trainers are a critical part of every athletic team, particularly in the world of professional sports where athletes are pushing their bodies to theEnrique De la Cruz encourages two Phoenix Rising players as they run drills. limit daily. They are primarily responsible for rehabilitation and injury prevention among athletes, both in practice and during competitions—sometimes even playing a lifesaving role, such as with football player Damar Hamlin. 

That desire to be on the front lines of the sport led De La Cruz, a first-generation student, into athletic training and eventually NAU’s master’s program.

When thinking about a major, De La Cruz was drawn toward both physical therapy and athletic training. He knew that he “always wanted to come back to sports.”  

#DYK? An athletic trainer is the first person to show up when an athlete gets injured. ATs assist with every facet of the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of an athlete, ensuring healthy recovery from injuries and a body that is prepared to perform at its full potential out on the field. The relationship between the trainer and the athlete is symbiotic; together, the player and the athletic trainer work on the big picture of keeping the athlete healthy in the long term. This includes applying tape or braces to protect or prevent injuries, applying first aid for an on-field injury and implementing rehabilitative care in the event of an injury.  

Since beginning his work with Phoenix Rising, De La Cruz has honed his skills as a trainer. He enjoys getting to know the players and working with the rest of the team, including athletes and professional staff.  The team won a United Soccer League Championship last year, thanks in some part to people like De La Cruz. 

Enrique De La Cruz and other athletic trainersThe faculty and staff who make up NAU’s Athletic Training program work with De La Cruz to prepare him for a career in athletic training. From the program’s hands-on experiences to its passion-fueled professors, De La Cruz has attained invaluable insight that has helped shape the trainer he is today. The master’s in athletic training (MSAT) program offered at NAU’s Flagstaff mountain campus and the Phoenix Bioscience Core is primed to deepen one’s expertise and expand one’s professional network, an opportunity that De La Cruz was more than happy to capitalize on. 

“For those who want to get into athletic training, I want to make sure they understand what it takes to be an athletic trainer including the time commitment, and all the unexpected issues that may arise as well,” he said. “We need to keep going—keep hacking away, letting people know what it is we do and just how much we know.”

To learn more, visit the NAU athletic training program at NAU, visit our website. 

NAU Communications