February 19, 2018  

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Gatwood Shows Direct Link Between Academics, Athletics at Southern Miss

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Southern Miss graduate Zach Gatwood did an internship with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars during the summer of 2011.

Students throughout the University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Health are constantly seeking internship and training opportunities in their field of choice. For students in the School of Human Performance and Recreation, these opportunities often materialize close-to-home. 

Zack Gatwood stepped across the stage at Spring Commencement last month having made a major impact on Southern Miss athletics, and did so while preparing for a career in sport management. 

Gatwood, a Petal, Miss, native, has been interested in sport management since his high school days. He worked as an equipment manager for the Petal Panthers and came to Southern Miss with the dream of continuing that type of service as a career.

As an undergraduate student at Southern Miss, Gatwood  fought hard to balance his classwork with the rigors of a demanding position as a student manager on the Golden Eagle football team. As a manager, he worked hours before and after practices and games for setup, drills, and breakdown, among other responsibilities.  

The amount of time that Gatwood spent with the team, including the preparation for practices and games, challenged him to become a very efficient, productive student. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in sports administration, he continued to follow his dream as he enrolled in the master’s program in sport management and took a graduate assistantship with equipment management. 

The assistantship not only helped Gatwood gain valuable experience, but also saw him develop important leadership skills. “As you take on more leadership roles on the team, you realize that more people depend on you,” he said. “You must have a great balance of time in order to be successful.”

As a graduate assistant, Gatwood learned under the tutelage of Patrick Stewart, assistant athletic director for equipment operations at Southern Miss. Gatwood praised Stewart as a “mentor for equipment management and one of the best teachers of equipment management that I have ever met.” 

For graduate students, the role of equipment manager is more intense than usual. Gatwood found himself in charge of all student workers as well as running practice and game “loops” for the players and preparing travel bags.

“Zack has been an integral part of Southern Miss athletics since stepping on this campus,” said Stewart. “He has always been a hard worker and done everything that is asked of him, both on and off the field.

Due to Gatwood’s success, Stewart helped secure an internship position for him with the Jacksonville Jaguars professional football team during the summer of 2011. 

Despite the large amount of time dedicated to his assistantship, Gatwood continued to meet the educational demands of the classroom. 

 “Anyone who gets the privilege of meeting Zack immediately recognizes that he possesses great zeal and passion,” said Scott Piland, associate professor and assistant director for the School of Human Performance and Recreation. “He consistently demonstrated poise and professionalism throughout his academic career, successfully navigating the challenges often associated with his time intensive pursuits.”

Gatwood was able to show this academic-athletic link not only through his activity as a student manager, but also through research. The Golden Eagle football team field-tested with a new “Schutt Vengeance” football helmet during spring practice of 2012. As part of the research component of his graduate work, Gatwood developed a survey, collected player feedback and evaluated his findings to determine their experience and preference between the old and new helmet types. 

Students like Zack Gatwood are part of the new age of professionals that are emerging from the Southern Miss College of Health. His dedicated efforts, character and attitude were recently recognized by the HP&R faculty as Zack was unanimously named the School’s Outstanding Master’s Student for 2012.

For more information about the College of Health at Southern Miss call 601.266.5103 or visit: health@usm.edu.