Athletic training friends to go head to head at Arkansas-Kentucky football game this weekend

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (News release) – Thomas Kidd and Jon Melia became great friends while attending graduate school at the University of Arkansas. People often couldn’t tell the two apart and their education/career trajectory has been nearly identical as well.

Both earned undergraduate degrees from their hometown schools — Melia at the U of A and Kidd at the University of Kentucky. After graduate school at the U of A, each began working for the NFL. Melia went to the Cleveland Browns as an intern while Kidd went to the Seattle Seahawks in the same role.

Now, they’re both back at their alma maters, each serving as an assistant athletic trainer for the football team. The two friends will face off on Saturday (Oct. 12), when Kentucky and Arkansas play each other for the first time in seven years.

Kidd and his fiancée, now wife, Jade, were in Fayetteville over winter break in 2018, and they met up with Melia on Dickson Street. That’s when they connected the dots.

“Thomas asked me what I was doing on Oct. 12th this coming fall,” Melia recalled. “I said, ‘If that’s a Saturday then I’ll probably be playing a football game.’ Thomas said he would see me there, and that’s how he told me that he had gotten the assistant athletic training position with Kentucky football.”

Melia and Kidd got to know each other well at the U of A because their athletic training cohort consisted of only 15 students.

The two friends bonded over a love for outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing and camping. And sports, of course. While in grad school at the U of A, they made a trip to Lexington with several friends for the Arkansas-Kentucky basketball game in 2015. Kidd showed everyone around his old stomping grounds.

The pair said their favorite memory is the time they were floating down the Buffalo River and had an unexpected visitor.

“A snake fell in our canoe from a tree, so we had to somehow manage not to tip over,” Melia said. “[Thomas] lifted the cooler the snake was hiding under and I snatched it and flung it out of the boat.”

Kidd recalled the time they dressed up as half of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one Halloween.

“And yes, we were — and still are — often mistaken for one another,” he said.

So what will it be like to go head to head on Oct. 12?

“It will be fun to have our teams play each other,” Kidd said. “In this profession you sometimes know an opposing athletic trainer but it’s not very often you come from the same graduating class. I look forward to hosting Arkansas and seeing some familiar faces that weekend.”

Both said the U of A program did an excellent job of preparing them for their roles.

“Matt Summers, the former head athletic trainer at Arkansas football, showed us how a collegiate athletic training room should be operated. Dr. Bonacci and Dr. McDermott gave us the knowledge to apply in our clinical sites,” Melia said.

Kidd added, “As Jon mentioned, Matt Summers was an excellent mentor. I am also very thankful to have had Dr. B and Dr. McDermott as both professors and mentors; their hard work has made the U of A a nationally recognized athletic training program.

“One of the most beneficial aspects of Arkansas’s program, in my opinion, is that each semester our clinical rotations exposed us to different sports, athletes, and settings that an athletic trainer would work in. I feel like this not only helped me immensely in my career but is also creating well-rounded athletic trainers.”

Kidd married his U of A sweetheart in July in Northwest Arkansas. Melia, McDermott and three other cohort members attended the wedding.

“That was the first time we had all seen each other in three years but it felt like no time had passed at all,” Kidd said.

In the same role with their respective universities, both say they appreciate being able to bounce ideas off one another and talk about their experiences.

“Having someone I learned this profession with in the same conference and sport as me has been a really cool resource,” Melia said. “I think it will be a little weird being on the opposite side of the field from him, but I’m excited to shake his hand at the end of the game once we beat them!”

They both had one parting thought.

Melia: “I would like to add a big Woo Pig Sooie!”

Kidd: “Since Jon added a WPS, guess I need to add a Go Cats!”

To see more photos related to this story, visit the College of Education and Health Professions’ online magazine, the Colleague.

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