The Journal Gazette
Friday, November 08, 2019 1:00 am

Cougars balancing football, nursing

ELIZABETH WYMAN | For The Journal Gazette

A typical day in the life of Saint Francis football player Rece Roney is different from that ofmost other college students.

He attends nursing clinicals at Parkview Behavioral Health from 6:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. He does a quick change out of his scrubs and into his No. 74 practice jersey for team commitments until 5:30 p.m. Then he studies – at the library, in the Doermer Health Science building, in his bedroom. He goes to bed at a sometimes reasonable time and wakes up to do it all again.

“I know Coach preaches eight hours of sleep, but sometimes that's not always possible,” Roney said. “We have our late nights of studying.”

Roney, an offensive lineman, is a nursing major. And he illustrates the ultimate balancing act of competing at one of the nation's top NAIA football programs while excelling in a field many football players – and men – stay away from.

Unbalanced field

With the multitude of injuries the Cougars (6-2, 3-2 Mid-States Football Association) have suffered this year – up to nine season-ending injuries – it's fitting they have a nurse-in-training on the team.

“It's kind of crazy, I never expected them to come to me, and just seeing people from back home or even here saying 'hey what's that? What's this? What do you think of this?' It's awesome,” Roney said. “I'm not graduated yet, so I don't know it all, but I do know a little bit, and that's just cool seeing people think of me as a nurse.”

But on the outside, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound football player with a national championship to his name isn't typically seen as a nurse. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 9% of all nurses were males as of 2017.

Roney is changing that.

“The percentage of guy-to-girl ratio is just crazy,” he said. “Once we get into the clinical setting you can tell all the nurses are excited to see male nurses. There's a high demand for them, just for the fact that we're stronger and can help move patients. It saves people time and energy.”

Roney, a junior from Columbus Grove, Ohio, isn't the only football player working toward a bachelor's degree in nursing. Carroll graduate and wide receiver Jordan Schmeling is in his second semester of clinicals with Roney, while running back Will Homan is also enrolled in the program.

All three want to encourage more men to think of nursing as a career choice.

“I think that men in nursing can kind of bring a different feel for the patients,” Schmeling said.

“I feel like we can connect to patients a little different than women can. I think me and Rece being on the football team can bring a sense of leadership and we can fill leadership roles pretty well.”

The Department of Nursing is Saint Francis' largest, and the traditional bachelor's program has about 235 students enrolled this year, according to Dr. Carolyn Yoder, program director.

Of that, 7.6% percent are men.

While some instructors would steer student-athletes away from a rigorous career path such as nursing, Yoder and the department encourages athletes to study nursing, and the school provides accommodations to make it less overwhelming.

“The (Department of Nursing) warmly welcomes and supports all student-athletes. In our experience, we have found student-athletes become strong leaders in their chosen nursing profession,” Yoder said. “USF student-athletes and their nursing professors communicate closely to ensure academic and athletic success.

“Athletic students share their sports schedule with their nursing professors at the beginning of each semester. The student, coaching staff, and faculty work together to see that student-athletes attend scheduled events and foster flexibility with practice hours.”

Nursing blood

Roney comes from a family of nurses.

His aunt Bonnie Bryan is a nurse at Parkview. His other aunt, Kristi Leindecker, is a doctor. Both have been instrumental in exposing him to the field.

As a lineman, things happen fast and Roney enjoys that. He's leaning toward a path of becoming an emergency room nurse.

“That's fast-paced, you don't know what you're going to see every day,” he said.

Roney's dad, Mark, is a correctional officer at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio. He's put the thought in Roney's head about being a prison nurse.

“You can see new things every day, new people,” Roney said. “You can imagine what happens and the stuff they see day in and day out. I don't want to be stuck as a floor nurse where I see these repetitive things every day.”

Schmeling has shown interest in being a flight nurse, who provides medical care on aircraft at scenes of trauma.

The pair have had to be flawless in time management between clinical rotations and football, and Schemling admits it's hard for others to understand just how busy they really are.

“'Oh, you're a nursing major, you think you're so busy,' but it is a lot of work,” Schmeling said. “It is nice having Rece in the program with me as sort of that support and to have him going through the same thing I'm going through in terms of assignments and football.”

Still, it's worth it.

Currently in the oncology rotation of clinicals, Roney said he recently had that moment with a patient when he knew he was meant to be a nurse.

“It made me realize like this is awesome, this what I want to do the rest of my life – is care for people,” he said. “When you see a patient smile or laugh that just makes me feel so much better, and that I know I'm doing the right thing. It gives me the assurance that I know I want to do this the rest of my life.”

Not just football

Head coach Kevin Donley, in his 41st season coaching football, and at age 68, admittedly attends a lot of doctors' appointments these days.

“I run into graduates at all my doctors' visits at my old age, and most of them are Saint Francis girls,” Donley said. “All they talk about is their favorite professors and the numerous professors that changed their lives and got them ready to do their life's work.”

He knows his players come to play for him and for the reputation of Cougars football. The back-to-back NAIA national championships, the 27-game win streak and numerous All-Americans that are made at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium create an enticing offer for many players. Donley knows it's about more, though.

“It's not just about winning football games. Sure, I like to win, I'm a terrible loser, but it's about them walking away,” Donley said. “I think football is a classroom experience. I think we can add to their classroom experience, whether they're becoming a nurse, businessman, teacher whatever it might be.

“I think we can help teach them life skills on dealing with disappointments, frustrations, successes, dealing with elements and things out of your control.”

Roney knew he wanted to continue his football career in college.

“Having a great football program and having a great nursing program was probably why I was dead set on coming here,” he said. “The fact that there are great hospitals around in Parkview and Lutheran and then having great nursing instructors and coaches just made it a much easier decision.”

After next season, when football ends and the pads come off, Roney will forever have his championship ring and a nursing degree.

“That is a quality program, and he's a quality guy,” Donley said. “When football is over, he's going to be prepared to be a good nurse, and I hope that this experience here will make him a better nurse.”

Saint Francis at Taylor

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Turner Stadium, Upland

Records: Saint Francis (6-2, 3-2 MSFA); Taylor (2-6, 0-4)

Radio: 106.3 FM

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