Years before he began overseeing an NFL team, Kyle Johnston had a far different responsibility.
It was a responsibility that didn’t carry quite the cachet as being the head athletic trainer for the Miami Dolphins, but one that went a long way toward making his current position possible: Paper Towel Stocker.
“When I was a freshman at Kentucky, the Director of Sports Medicine, Jim Madaleno, asked for a volunteer. I shot my hand up thinking, ‘Great, I’m going to do a rehab or something.’ He takes me over to the paper towel dispenser – the one that you actually have to manually stock, not the automated one – and says, ‘All right, here’s your job for the rest of the year. Nobody’s gotten it right to this point yet.’”
That wasn’t quite what Johnston was hoping for.
“I was hot. But that competitive side of me was like, “All right, I’m gonna show him. So every day, multiple times a day, I’m checking it, I’m stocking it. I go on my off days and stock it. I’m going to own it.”
Johnston kept the dispenser stocked the entire year. He figured his performance would earn him high praise, but when it was time for his evaluation, not a word was mentioned of it.
“I was mad, I mean really upset.”
Ten years later, Johnston received an offer to become the head AT at the University of Louisville. He called Madaleno to let him know, and that’s when it came full circle.
“He said, ‘You know why you got the job? Because you didn’t mess up the paper towels.’ He taught me that even with nominal tasks, that if you don’t have attention to detail, don’t have a work ethic, don’t have accountability and discipline, the little things can become bigger things. He knew that if he couldn’t trust me to handle paper towels, he couldn’t trust me to handle a rehab.”
And that lesson, Johnston said, is one he’s carried with him every step of his career.
“Paying attention to those details can make a difference in a player’s rehab or a diagnosis that can save a life. Sometimes those little things don’t seem like they’re going to amount to much, but they will someday if you approach it right.”