Purdue Health and Kinesiology alumni square off at College Football Playoff National Championship

Pierre Nesbitt

Pierre Nesbit is a 2013 Purdue University health and kinesiology alumnus, who is now an athletic trainer for University of Michigan football.

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

When the University of Michigan Wolverines and the University of Washington Huskies collide Monday, Jan. 8, under the bright lights of the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship, two former Boilermakers will be on the sidelines, ready to spring into action.

No, these aren’t members of the transfer portal: Jaqui Carrell (’12) and Pierre Nesbit (’13) are both products of the Purdue University Department of Health and Kinesiology (HK) and are working the big game as athletic trainers — Carrell for Washington and Nesbit for Michigan.

Both have had stellar careers since finishing at Purdue, earning advanced degrees elsewhere and working in the athletic training field for years, but Monday’s game, which is set for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN, is the highest stakes for both former Boilermakers.

“I feel prepared and excited. This is an incredible opportunity that not many people get to be part of, and I’m thankful to be part of the ride,” Carrell said. “My duties are unchanged with media and TV cameras present, and during the game, we are so busy and locked in on each task at hand that I often forget about the cameras.”

It’s been an epic season for both teams, and Nesbit and Carrell’s expertise have been key in keeping their athletes healthy throughout a season of hard hits and big wins. Hopefully all the student-athletes will be unscathed during the championship contest, but should an injury occur on the field of NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, the two Purdue alumni will utilize all their training, which started more than a decade ago in West Lafayette.

Jaqui Carrell stands on the University of Washington practice sidelines.

Purdue Health and Kinesiology alumna Jaqui Carrell stands on the sidelines of a recent University of Washington football practice.

Football fanatic

Carrell grew up around football. Family members were coaches and players, and the sport was always on the living room television. The intensity increased when the Carrells moved to Indianapolis, home of the Colts NFL team and only an hour away from Purdue and Ross-Ade Stadium.

While her first career goal was that of a trauma surgeon, Carrell found athletic training the way many future athletic trainers do — by getting injured herself while playing sports. She got to witness professional trainers in action. She experienced firsthand what goes into the profession. Soon after, Purdue’s athletic training program caught her attention. Like almost every Purdue athletic training student, she was assigned to patrol the sidelines and training tables to treat Purdue football players.

“I fell in love with the medical side of it. Football was fast-paced, had a huge variety of injuries and provided me with countless learning opportunities every day,” Carrell recalled. “Those things, paired with the incredible work ethic and drive I saw in the athletes and staff covering the sport made me want to have a career in Division I football.”  

Jaqui Carrell readies a University of Washington football player.

Carrell readies a University of Washington football player in a training room.

Carrell also worked with Purdue’s soccer and volleyball teams while learning about anatomy, body processes and rehab skills in classrooms and labs. She considers her time at Purdue as the foundation of her career.

That foundation will get a chance to be seen by millions Monday night.

“My family watches every game, looking for me and supporting me, so, when we are on TV, I feel like it brings us a little closer together,” Carrell stated. “Secondly, being a female in this setting is still pretty rare, so I love the idea that other women can see me doing what I love in this field and know that if you have goals for yourself, you can achieve them, no matter your gender or the job setting.”

‘Completely geeked’

Growing up in Chicago, Nesbit dreamed of a career in the NBA. However, in high school, he realized the Bulls were probably not in his future. As a first-year student at Howard University, a chance meeting with the historic school’s basketball athletic trainer cracked the door for a career athletic training, which led to him taking the only athletic training class at Howard.

“I had never seen athletic training before in my life,” said Nesbit from his office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “He explained to me that it’s a healthcare profession. Athletic trainers are sports medicine professionals that wear a lot of hats. And at that moment, I said ‘That’s it right there. This is what I’ve been looking for. This is what I want to do.’”

Nesbit left Howard to pursue this concentration. A childhood friend who was transferring to Purdue encouraged Nesbit to apply as well. Nesbit got in and jumped into the renowned athletic training program.

The knowledge he took from his time as a Boilermaker helped prepare him for all training methods as well as the rigors of high-level training with a large school like Michigan or professional sports team like the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, which Nesbit worked with in the 2016-17 season. He was forewarned about the long hours, travel and pressure to keep the athletes healthy, which he later found just as valuable as learning to tape ankles.

“There’s so much that goes into it that people don’t see, that people don’t understand. Purdue did a really did a good job of really exposing us to everything we will see in the profession,” said Nesbitt, who has worked for Michigan football since 2017. “There are tons of programs out there, but I don’t know if there is a program better than Purdue.”

Nesbit even trained under Carrell during Purdue’s spring football practices in 2012. The two have kept in touch over the years and Nesbit is “completely geeked” to work a championship game and see his classmate on the other side of the NRG field during college football’s grandest game.

“It takes people a lot of time to find themselves in a position like this. Some people never get the opportunity to get to a championship, whether it be a player, coach or athletic trainer,” he explained.

Scott Lawrance, health and kinesiology clinical professor and a member of the Indiana Athletic Trainers’ Hall of Fame, was elated when he learned two of his program’s young alumni would be integral parts for their respective teams during NCAA football’s biggest night. While there can be only one college football national champion, the Purdue athletic training program has already won with such successful alumni as Nesbit and Carrell.

“We’re immensely proud of both Jacqui and Pierre. Both have excelled in their careers and been very successful at their respective institutions,” Lawrance said. “It’s always nice to look across the sidelines and see another member of the Purdue athletic training family looking back over at you.”