On Monday, Jan. 11, the Alabama Crimson Tide NCAA Football team exited the tunnel and ran onto the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida to play their National Championship game against their opponents, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Among the unwavering pack was Hall of Fame Coach, Nick Saban; Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith; star quarterback, Mac Jones; and Patterson resident, Jake Saavedra.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even supposed to be here,” said Saavedra, son of Dan and Barbara, of Patterson. “I thought I was gonna get a job at [Texas] A&M, but that fell through and I ended up in Alabama kinda late.”
Saavedra spent the last two years with the Las Vegas (Oakland) Raiders as part of their medical staff working as a Seasonal Athletic Training Intern, more commonly referred to as an AT, or in Saavedra’s case, a certified ATC. The position requires a proficiency in sports medicine, nutrition, anatomy, biology and kinesiology, to ensure an exceptional understanding of the management, prevention, and recovery of injured athletes.
“[In Alabama] essentially, I was able to help for the care and prevention of injuries for athletes. Just to continue to keep them healthy and make sure they are able to be out on the field,” said Saavedra, who became an ATC in the state of Alabama.
Saavedra spent time working with different Crimson Tide players, like star quarterback, Mac Jones, who was one of four Alabama players to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Jones is a highly touted prospect, and many experts and analysts have him high on their draft boards.
“Oh yeah, we worked with Mac a lot this season. He’s a great person, a great individual. He’s earned everything that he got this year,” said Saavedra. “We have a handful of guys that will be in that first round [of the 2021 NFL Draft.]”
The championship season, which saw the Crimson Tide go undefeated in a historically difficult SEC only schedule (a schedule that required the Crimson Tide to face only the teams in one of the best conferences in all of the NCAA), did not start without its uncertainties.
“I came in the middle of July, a few weeks before the fall camp was getting ready to get going. There was still a lot of uncertainty at that point because of the pandemic. When I first got there, there was a lot of doubt in those first few weeks. We didn’t even know if we were gonna have a season, but with a lot of teamwork and help from the university and the testing company, we were able to push through and have a season.”
Saavedra grew up and went to school in Patterson, and although he loved sports, the Patterson native originally planned to become a math teacher and explored multiple educational paths before taking his career to the national stage.
“I was born and raised in Patterson. I lived there all the way until I was twenty-one and moved off to Fresno State where I completed my undergrad [a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training]” said Saavedra. Before going off to Fresno Saavedra tried his hand at Math before athletic training was finally able to grab his attention.
“I went to Stanislaus State thinking I was going to be a math teacher but, I quickly realized I didn’t want to do that,” said Saavedra. “...In High School (Patterson High School,) I was a three sport athlete. I knew I wanted to do something in sports. That’s what drove me to this profession. To be a part of a team and to help those athletes get on the field and perform at their best.”
After coming to the realization that math wasn’t the career for him, Saavedra reached out to another Patterson native, Travis Halseth, Associate Athletic Trainer at the University of Oregon.
“I called Travis Halseth over at Oregon Athletic and he suggested I go to Modesto Junior College and meet with Bob Boswell [Sports Medicine Director]. From there I took Bob’s intro class and fell in love with it. I wound up in the internship program at MJC and [from there] went to Fresno State.”
On the championship game, Saavedra said it was a once in a lifetime experience that only few get the opportunity to relish.
“Being on the sidelines was an amazing experience. I don’t even know if you can put it into words. Running out of that tunnel in the beginning, it would have been better with a packed stadium but it was a surreal feeling just to even be a part of the game. As the game went on we started to pull away a little bit and it hit in the fourth quarter that we were gonna be the national champions. A [good amount] of people in this profession will never be able to be a part of that. When that horn hit and it was all zeros, there was a ton of emotion.”
Just the other day, Saavedra accepted a full-time position as an Athletic Trainer for San Diego State University. He is happy to be back in California and hopes to one day get back to the NFL. When probed for advice for the young and aspiring, Saavedra had this to offer.
“Just keep pushing. Continue to follow your dreams and there might be steps that you have to take that seem like a step back but in the long-run, you just have to keep working towards your goal. You can't let anybody tell you no, ‘you can't do it.’ I’m lucky enough to have a great support system from my family there in Patterson and everybody along the way taught me a lot. You just need to keep your head down and continue to grind and follow your dreams...I just want to thank my family and thank all of the people from Patterson because I have a lot of friends and family that still live there and when we won that National Championship, my phone was flooding with texts from Patterson. I’m truly blessed to be from such a great town with people who support me and I can’t thank them enough because it wouldn’t be possible without them.”