For Makowski, It's Skills and Drills with the Buffalo Bills
Rachel Makowski learned the ins and outs of football operations working with the Cardinal football team. Today, she uses the knowledge and the skills honed through several internships with the Buffalo Bills to assist her hometown team on game days at Highmark Stadium.
She chats with Field Notes about her path to the Bills and everything she’s learned along the way.
What inspired you to pursue the opportunity with the Buffalo Bills?
I have wanted to work in professional football in some capacity for as long as I can remember. When I originally came into Fisher, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in sport analytics, however that quickly changed as I took some statistics classes. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I started working for the football team here at Fisher in their operations department and I knew that I wanted to pursue working in football operations. In February 2020, Professor Gordon called me into his office and said that he had an opportunity for me as an equipment operations intern with the Buffalo Bills. I knew that this experience was not something that I could pass up and I had a phone interview with Spencer Haws, the assistant director of equipment for the Bills. From this conversation, he offered me a training camp internship. Even though I had no experience in equipment going into the internship, I was going in ready to learn everything that I possibly could. Plus, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with their hometown team? I have been with the Bills Equipment Department for the past two training camps and I am going on my second year as a GameDay Assistant working on the Ball Crew for home games.
What did your position entail?
As an equipment intern, I was responsible for a number of tasks. One of my main responsibilities was doing laundry. In the morning, we grabbed a loop which consisted of the players, coaches, and staff clothes as well as weight room and training room towels. Throughout the day, we could do a couple more loads of player laundry as well as weight/training room towels and then at the end of the day we would grab the same loop we did in the morning. Another responsibility that I had was doing pre- and post-practice jugs. I would go out to the fieldhouse 30 minutes before practice started and stay 45 minutes after for any player who wanted additional practice.
During practice, I was responsible for working with a position group during individual periods of practice and then during team periods I was responsible, along with another equipment intern, for doing the sticks. I would rotate between doing the down marker or the distance marker. During camp in 2020, I was responsible for working with the running backs and quarterbacks and assisting Coach Skipper or Coach Dorsey with any drills. For training camp this year, I was responsible for working with the defensive backs and assisting Coach Babich and the safeties when we split between corners and safeties.
A third responsibility that I had was doing office projects and that could range from scrubbing footballs to labeling training camp clothes for players and coaches to separating clothing or shoe shipments based on CUSTPO and Style. Now, I work home game days on the sidelines as a member of the ball crew and I help Tyler Bass warm up pre-game.
What was your biggest takeaway/lesson learned?
My biggest takeaway/lesson learned from this internship is to never get comfortable or complacent. I have worked for the Bills in the equipment department for two years now and my supervisor told me to never get comfortable and to keep working hard. There is always someone watching you work even though you may not know it at the time.
Throughout my internship, I continued to ask for projects to complete or if anyone in the department needed help. I did not want to just sit around and do nothing during down times. Just because you have been with an organization or the same department for a number of years does not mean that there aren’t new things to be learned or new things to partake in. By showing initiative, this shows your supervisor that you are willing to put in the work and are interested in what you are doing rather than sitting back and waiting for projects to come to you.
How did your Fisher education help you prepare for the role?
My Fisher education helped me prepare for this role in a number of ways. In Sport Industry Seminar, I learned the critical importance of networking and so during my time at the Bills I have been able to connect and learn about other employees’ roles and how the different departments work with equipment room. In addition, my education taught me the importance of professionalism and the fact that there is always someone watching even though it looks like no one is there. Lastly, my education has prepared me to step outside my comfort zone in talking with people I have never met before and the importance of asking questions. Asking questions shows supervisors that you are interested in learning about the department and organization as a whole which can go a long way in future placement in the organization.
What would you tell prospective students about the sport management program?
The sport management program here at Fisher is top notch. The professors truly care about who you are as a person and will help you out in whatever way they can in order for you to succeed. The classes that are required for the major are truly relevant for what actually occurs in the sport industry and students will get the chance to use the knowledge in real world situations. The program requires two internship experiences and this is an opportunity for students to figure out what tasks they like doing in the industry and what tasks they do not like. The practicum, which is a 120-hour internship, is completed junior year whereas the internship is a 400-hour experience completed senior year. Students have the opportunity to apply for internships locally or go outside of New York if they so choose. I have loved being a member of the sport management program since my freshman year and I would not be where I am today without the guidance and support from all of the professors.
What advice would you give to incoming students interested in the sport management program?
A piece of advice that I would give to incoming students interested in the sport management program is to get involved early and experience every part of the industry that you can. Sport Management Club is a great way to connect with other sport management students as well as connect with current industry professionals. Take advantage of the guest speaker sessions that are offered by the club or in class by connecting with the industry professional and learning more about them and their job. That professional could be someone who gives a student an internship, job or reference down the road. Participate in volunteer experiences so that you can gain experience in the industry to figure out what tasks you do/don’t like to prepare for a potential internship or job placement. Networking is crucial in the sport industry and the earlier that you start, the better prepared you will be when it comes time for internships, graduation, and a job.
Photos courtesy of Harry Scull Jr. of The Buffalo News.