From growing up in Castlewood, South Dakota to becoming the Head Athletic Trainer for the San Francisco 49ers, Dustin Little has had an impressive journey.
This Sunday is Super Bowl 54 with the 49ers slated to clash with the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami, Florida. For Little, this isn’t his first time being at the biggest event in sports. In fact, it’s his second. Little was part of the Denver Broncos staff when the team played the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. The Broncos took custody of the Lombardi Trophy that year with a 24-10 win.
Listen to the full interview here:
With as hectic as it can be leading up to the ‘big game,’ teams do their best to keep things as routine as possible.
“There's a lot of stuff as far as the traveling, tickets for your family members if you can. Who's all coming to the game? Because you know, all your family members are trying to come to the game,” said Little. “Especially from a player standpoint that's a lot of what you deal with. But other than that, once you actually get to the scheduling, it's the same stuff we've been doing all year, but now all of a sudden it's just more people around.”
Growing up in Castlewood, sports were a large part of Little’s upbringing. It was during his youth where the interest of sports medicine first popped up as well.
“Growing up and playing sports, you get injured along the way and a lot of times you’re working with an athletic trainer or somebody within sports medicine,” said Little. “And I really enjoyed the people along the way that I met and I enjoyed the process. It’s just something that really interested me when I was younger and it’s just something I wanted to continue as I got older.”
Little grew up and attended the University of South Dakota. Along with playing basketball and a year of football in college, he studied physical therapy and got his doctorate. Little also received a masters degree from South Dakota State University in athletic training.
After College, he was given his first opportunity in the NFL, as an intern with the Denver Broncos.
“I think 75 to 80% of athletic trainers or physical therapists in the National Football League have all done an internship,” stated Little. “Really what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get on with a sports team and demonstrate your capabilities, and the only way you’re really going to be able to do that is through an internship.”
Little’s internship led to a full-time position with the Broncos organization, a place he would call home for five seasons.
“I was an assistant athletic trainer/physical therapist and then after I think about a year, year and a half, I was given the title Director of Rehabilitation which basically was the same thing I was doing, but I was just kind of given credit for obviously designing more of the rehabilitation plans for the players,” Little said.
Fast-forward to today and Dustin Little is the head athletic trainer for the 49ers. A normal day consists of Little waking up around 4 am, getting to the office around 5 am, and staying until 4-7 pm, depending on the day.
“It’s a seven day a week job and it’s a six-seven months straight job,” explained Little. As soon as training camp starts to the end of the season. I think I probably had three days where I didn’t come into the facility over the past seven-month time frame.”
Dustin Little and his wife Bailey have four children. Because he works roughly 80 hours a week, sometimes it’s hard for Dustin to spend time with with his family. However, his job with the 49ers allows for a unique opportunity to both work and spend time with his children at the same time.
“Obviously having this job, you get some perks as far as my kids can come into the locker room, come into the training room. They can be around on game day and stuff like that,” said Little. “It's one of those things, especially as they get older, it'll be a lot of fun for them to be a ball boy along the way during training camp and even on the sidelines during the games, maybe someday.”
For most people, working for an NFL team, or a pro-sports franchise, would be a dream come true. For South Dakota native Dustin Little, he’s doing just that – living his dream. Most dream jobs have their own rewards that come with it, and for the 49ers head athletic trainer, he reaps the rewards every day.
“Returning [a player] back to the game he loves is always the best part of the job. You get to work with these guys when they're injured and get them on their way,” exclaimed Little. "To be able to see a player get back out there and return to form and do what he loves to do, there's nothing better than that as far as an athletic trainer, physical therapist goes.”