Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Trainer serves as key to 24 years of BYU soccer success

Behind each athlete is a dedicated team of coaches, trainers and physical therapists who help keep them at peak ability. For BYU men’s soccer, the physical therapist role is filled by Deniece Oats. Oats has stuck with the job for 24 years, and the team has captured seven collegiate club national championships in that time.

“She’s an integral part of the team,” head coach Brandon Gilliam said.  “She is the mom for 24 kids.”

Not only is Oats the dedicated physical therapist for the athletes, but she is also an emotional rock for team members. When players are struggling with college, they can go to Oats for life advice.

“We talk about lots of things, especially when they’re injured and they’ve spent a lot of time with me. I know lots of stuff about their lives. We talk about girls — there’s a lot of questions about girls and relationships,” Oats said. “Just how to survive college, that kind of stuff.” 

Midfielder Ben Fankhauser said she’s the one that takes care of the team. Whenever anyone has an injury or needs help of any kind, Oats is always willing to help. Fankhauser said that Oats has always been constant.

Deniece Oats and midfielder Ben Fankhauser listen to head coach Brandon Gillum give a motivational speech after practice. (Chad Flake)

Oats is the longest-running member of the coaching staff. The nature of extramural sports means that many coaches work part-time or on a volunteer basis, and it is not uncommon for coaches and staff members to come and go after a few years. But Oats bucks the trend.  She’s been with the team since 1995 when she was assigned to the team as part of her athletic training degree. At the time, she was the head physical therapist over all extramural sports.

“I did that job as a graduate student from 1995 to 1996, and they decided they liked having somebody there year after year. Before that, it had always been a different person,” Oats said. “When I first was working here, I felt like the older sister of the players. I’m the mom now. I have kids as old as anyone who’s on the team, and I love them like my kids.”

Around 2000, the extramural sports department decided to hire a different physical trainer for each contact sport. Oats recalled that at one particular rugby game, three ambulances were used. Since the teams traveled so frequently at the time, she decided she would be able to cover more soccer games if she stayed in Provo and worked the home games. Her management decided to hire more trainers, so Oats stuck with soccer and others were hired to work with lacrosse and rugby.

Though Oats has served as a physical therapist for a variety of sports, including rugby, hockey, and women’s basketball, she said the men’s soccer team has a different dynamic, and the brotherhood among the team is unique.

Deniece Oats tends to a minor injury during a BYU soccer practice. (Chad Flake)

“I think women are awesome, but as a collective group, the social dynamics among the teams are different. Girls tend to blow up at each other in odd moments. If the guys have a disagreement, they’re done. They don’t hold onto things ever,” Oats said.

Her role also gives her a birds-eye view over the boys and the connections they form with other teammates.

“I love watching freshman and pre-mission guys as they interact with the older players. I think that’s a huge influence for good. Just how to deal with college life, mission life,” Oats said.

Oats talked about the dynamic of Fankhauser and his two brothers, Seth and Alex, and their childhood friend, Connor Fordham, who all play for the team.

“They’ve played together for years. Their connection influences other players on the team. You can see it on the field — they know each other well; they anticipate each other. That’s fun to watch,” Oats said. “I just wish the university could see more of them, because they’re awesome.”

Following an undefeated season, the Cougars won their seventh national championship in Round Rock, Texas, on Nov. 21.

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