From WP to the NFL: Athletic Training Grad Kelsey Harkins ’18 on Her Journey to the Buffalo Bills

Harkins and her colleagues have been in the national spotlight this year for saving the life of player Damar Hamlin

Kelsey Harkins '18

Working with the NFL is a dream for many pursuing careers in the sports industry. For Kelsey Harkins ’18, that dream became a reality, and she credits William Paterson University for getting her there.

Harkins, who earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training at WP and then a master’s in exercise physiology from Baylor University, is the coordinator of player services for the Buffalo Bills NFL team, a role she’s held since April 2022. Before that, she spent two years as an intern with the Bills as a post-graduate, fully certified athletic trainer.

“William Paterson really set me up in a good way to be where I am today through the athletic training internship opportunities they offer through the New York Giants,” says Harkins, who interned with that NFL team in her senior year at WP, in fall of 2017.

For more than 20 years, the University has sent two standout students every year to work alongside the Giants’ certified and licensed athletic trainers as part of a written Affiliation Agreement between William Paterson’s athletic training education program and the Giants franchise.

“That is what got me to this path here: how well I was set up for this future through that Giants internship,” Harkins says. “That, and the people at William Paterson were great,” she continues, thanking kinesiology professors Robb Rehberg and Linda Gazzillo Diaz, along with head athletic trainer Alison Moquin, who were “huge” in her schooling and with whom she continues to keep in touch today.

“I really had a lot of opportunities to engage in hands-on work with real athletes,” Harkins says, noting the smaller class sizes at WP and how faculty and staff subsequently gave her “a lot of time and energy.”

Through her current role in player services for Buffalo Bills, Harkins is responsible for all types of player support on and off the field from being a point person to players’ family members on game day to answering any questions players may have— “to alleviate any burdens for them so they can just play,” she explains.

Additionally, she continues to assist on the athletic training side of the Buffalo Bills team.

She is among those credited with saving the life of Bills player Damar Hamlin this past January, after he went into cardiac arrest during a game and was revived on the field.

She and her fellow Bills athletic trainers were publicly honored at a home game thereafter, and in July, they walked the red carpet for yet another honor. During the 2023 ESPY Awards ceremony, which recognizes individual and team athletic achievements, Hamlin himself—through tears—presented his healthcare heroes with the Pat Tillman Award for Service.

Though she never expected to be in the national spotlight, Harkins is thrilled about the attention and recognition it’s brought to the profession of athletic training. “That’s been the biggest thing,” she says, “It’s really amazing … because there is definitely a need for more athletic trainers across the country.”

What would she tell other WP students who dream of working in professional sports someday?

“I would give them the best advice that I got: You don’t have to go to a Division I school to make it in pro sports. What matters is how hard you work,” says Harkins, a native of Barrington, New Jersey. “I went to Division III William Paterson and I’m proud to have been there.”