TUNE IN TO THE BEHIND THE U PODCAST TO LISTEN TO JESS SIMPSON TALK ABOUT HIS RETURN TO CORAL GABLES AS ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/DEFENSIVE LINE

LISTEN NOW!

Close Topbar

A New Yorker who Bleeds Orange and Green

by Kevin Ivany

CORAL GABLES, Fla. –  Undergoing treatment, monitoring the team’s health and showcasing boundless support to the University of Miami soccer program, athletic trainer Karl Rennalls’ dedication to The U over the past 14 years has been beyond compare.

One thing that stands out about Karl is his professionalism and enthusiasm to help,” third-year Miami head soccer coach Sarah Barnes said. “Whether it is a player or coach, Karl goes out of his way to provide first-class care regardless of the day or time. We work closely to manage the players’ health and wellness and he has done a great job of building trust with everyone in the program. We lean on Karl to take care of the team, to help the student-athletes return to play and have a sense of how they’re feeling and adapting to training. He is integral to our program and goes out of his way to do whatever it takes to help the players and staff.”


Prior to taking his talents to South Florida, Rennalls was born and raised over 1,300 miles north of Miami in his mother’s hometown of Upper Westchester, N.Y.

Enrolled into a small Catholic school, Rennalls and his peers quickly began to gain an interest in sports. From his time playing soccer in Jamaica, Rennalls’ father decided to get him involved in what happened to be his favorite sport.

After five years competing on the pitch, Rennalls made the shift to baseball for the next decade.

“When I was growing up I was a big Yankees fan and during that time I was able to look up to people like Derek Jeter, a bi-racial athlete like myself, as there were not a lot of bi-racial athletes at that time. Also, the Yankees were doing really well, recently winning the World Series, and that really brought my love of baseball and sports to the forefront,” Rennalls said. “I remember spending hours as a little kid in my front yard trying to perfect Derek Jeter’s jump throw because I thought it was the coolest thing to do. I went on and played baseball in high school and during that same time, my mom owned a hardware store growing up. So, I would work at her hardware store on the weekends and then in the spring I would have baseball practice and go back and forth. I think that’s where my love of baseball and sports and wanting to be involved in sports started.”

Despite the passion for baseball coursing through his veins, his mother spoke to him early in his high school tenure in order to get him to start thinking about his future away from the diamond.

“Funny enough, my mom, I love her, sat me down my sophomore year of high school because like most kids, I thought I was going to make it to the Majors,” Rennalls recalled. “But, she sat me down and said, ‘Karl, you’re not going to make it to the Majors and you need to have a backup plan. You need to find something else you are going to enjoy doing for the rest of your life.’”

Beginning to deal with some knee pain his junior year, Rennalls went to see an orthopedic doctor and received some physical therapy to regain strength in his quads. It was during this time when a future in athletic training began to peak his interest.

Understanding that athletic training would allow him to help others, stay involved with athletics and help him avoid sitting behind a desk, Rennalls explained how typing “athletic training schools” into the Google search engine changed the course of history for him.

Spending time in the Sunshine State during family vacations enjoying the palm trees, warm air and beach, when the University of Miami appeared on his computer screen Rennalls immediately knew where he wanted to spend the next four years of his life.

“The University of Miami popped up and I was like, ‘Miami sounds pretty cool, I would love to go to Florida,’” Rennalls said. “Also, at the same time, Miami football was really good and I thought, ‘Wow that would be awesome to work with the football team.’ I wanted to come to the University of Miami. I applied early decision because there was nowhere else.”

With a graduating class of under 100 students, most of his classmates remained close to home with only three leaving New York for college.

“My junior year I came to Miami on a baseball trip. We were going to play in Cocoa Beach and since my mom knew I was interested in UM, we flew down early,” Rennalls said. “I visited the school and I was set. We went to a baseball game and I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but I met with Coach [Gino] DiMare and Yonder Alonso, as well. I told them my mom emailed them about my interest in baseball and while they didn’t know much about me they gave me tickets to the game that night. Now when we flew out of New York it was snowing, so while I was walking around campus and leaving the snow for sun, I just knew. And ever since then I was set on the University of Miami and didn’t think of going to another school after that point.”


As a freshman at Miami, Rennalls received financial aid to work as an administrative assistant in the School of Education, where he had the opportunity to work with the dean of his department and future professors.

Training among a class of only five individuals, Rennalls and his peers were able to individualize their learning experiences under the program director at the time, Dr. Kysha Harriell, who now works in advancement with the UM Foote Fellows Honor program.

“Kysha really took me under her wing and showed me what athletic training had to offer and all the great things that athletic trainers can do,” Rennalls said. “She really kept me interested non-stop and made me strive to be the best I could be and also showed me how being here would get me prepared.

“I’m a very hands-on learner and thanks to our tight-knit and small class, we were granted that opportunity instead of having to memorize a book,” Rennalls continued. “My wife and I were in the same class and were friends at first. We were actually married by Kysha; that’s how close we really felt with her. We still talk all the time and I still call her my second mother and I’ll call her if I’m having a hard day here or having a hard day in general. She’s always been a great person to lean on.”

Athletic training, even as a student, takes a lot of time, as over 1,000 clinical hours have to be compiled over a two-year period. So, for Rennalls, a typical day involved class, clinical hours, sleep and repeat.

“I was a student while Randy Shannon was coaching and we knew practice would be ending when the sun came up. So, that’s how early we’d have to be there and then we would still have to go to class after and then come back later in the afternoon to collect more hours in the training room,” Rennalls said. “But during my time as a student I was able to meet Vinny [Scavo, Miami’s head athletic trainer] and that’s now been a real long-term relationship of somebody that I can look to as my mentor and help me get better.”


Following graduation in 2011, Rennalls spent a post-grad year as an athletic training student intern before fulfilling another goal of his: working in the NFL.

“That was one of my goals coming through college and I had done a summer internship with Washington and was lucky enough to get called back there,” Rennalls said. “I think the experience I got there was just invaluable. Learning from some of the best athletic trainers in sports and still being able to talk with them and getting some tips that you might not normally get was amazing.”

His time with Washington intertwined with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris’ rookie campaigns, as well as the Football Team’s first NFC East title since 1999.

The hours were long and due to the fact he was the only intern in the training facility, the tasks could be daunting, but for Rennalls he would not have changed a thing.

“One of the coolest games I ever got to work was the first game of the year against the Saints,” Rennalls said. “You’re in the middle of the Superdome with everyone chanting, ‘Who Dat,’ and I took a step back and said, ‘Holy cow, where am I?’ It was so loud and I couldn’t even think about what I was doing at that point.

“I think another great time during that season was playing the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day,” Rennalls added. “I remember growing up and watching those games on Thanksgiving and I still think back to the millions of people at home watching a game that I was working and having friends at home watching the game and seeing me on TV and texting me. They would play a game, ‘Where’s Karl?’ and my wife still plays it. I think another thing working for Washington was my father had passed away my senior year in college and the last game my dad saw in person was a game against the Jets in New York and it was just nice for everything to come full circle, being back in New York at MetLife Stadium. That’s one thing I can always look back on during my time there that I’ll always have fond memories of.”


 

As great as his time with the Washington Football Team was, it was not the place he considered home. Missing his future wife, Estefania, and his alma mater, Rennalls remained in close contact with Scavo up until a return was imminent.

“I had always wanted to be here at Miami because this is home now,” Rennalls said. “Even when I was with Washington all I would do was talk about Miami because of all those great relationships I had with the people here.

“Vinny had just become the head athletic trainer and he and I had been talking that whole year I was there and discussing a plan of how I could return and learn under him with all his experience,” Rennalls continued. “Coming back and working with the football team at the school you went to is just something I can’t really describe. It was a great experience…I loved working football, I loved all the relationships that I made and I think the thing for me was always being there for my student-athletes and helping them to achieve their goals.”

Despite knowing football was not the long-term answer with the plans he had of starting a family of his own, the opportunity to help several student-athletes achieve their lifelong dreams of playing in the NFL was incredible.

“Seeing Phillip Dorsett, one of the players I worked with getting drafted in the first round, Braxton Berrios and Brad Kaaya achieving their dream and making it to the NFL, Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson, to name a few others. Getting to know them on a personal level, then watching them on TV and knowing how great of individuals they were made me feel proud knowing I played a part in helping them during their time here,” Rennalls said. “Those were great things and as an athletic trainer that’s what you try and do, you try and get your student-athletes feeling as best as they can, in order to try and achieve their goals. So, getting to see those guys make it to the NFL gives you that sense of achievement.”


During the summer of 2018, Rennalls made his first return to the soccer pitch since he was 10, helping Barnes and her program make a transition to a permanent athletic trainer. However, little did Rennalls know, that the unassigned trainer would eventually be him.

“I was out there helping out, but after multiple conversations with Vinny about how I could make the switch from football to take care of myself and my family, Vinny came back and thought the best opportunity for me would be working with soccer,” Rennalls said. “I always try to give 110 percent and once that happened I wanted to be the best soccer athletic trainer I could be and working with Sarah I knew that she also wanted that and to this day appreciates that.

“The great thing with this staff is the communication we have and they know that I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win and keep them as healthy as they can be. I think that’s been the great part of this is that Sarah puts a lot of trust in me to know that I’m going to be able to handle as much as possible and make sure the girls are ready to go for her,” Rennalls continued. “She has a lot of confidence in myself and Julia [Rapicavoli], our physical therapist, that when we clear a girl to be back on the field; she’s not going to be hesitant to put them back in there. She knows that when we give the all-clear that the student-athlete is ready to go. We have a great relationship and even during the season I talk to Sarah sometimes more than my wife. Even during quarantine Sarah and I would talk for an hour a couple days a week, not just talking about soccer, but life in general. She’s just been such a great person to work with and work for as well as a great friend at the same time.”

Not only is the relationship Rennalls and the coaching staff of the utmost importance, but the relationship and trust the players have in him is also second-to-none.

Always having the best interest in mind for the athletes, Rennalls not only wants to help the student-athletes achieve success over their four-year careers, but also for the rest of their lives.

“I never want them to go through an injury that’s going to be long-lasting or regretting, pushing through something or doing something wrong. They trust me that I’m not going to put them in harm’s way,” Rennalls said. “When I say they can go, they can go and when I say pull back, they know there are reasons for it. Of course, they might fight me on it because they are competitive and want to play their sport, but they know I’m here for them.”

“Karl has been someone who the entire team has felt supported by on and off the field for the three years he has worked with us,” senior forward Tia Dupont said. “He is someone who you genuinely know is looking out for our best interest and just wants to see us thrive while we are at UM. Karl is extremely selfless and dedicates himself to keeping all of us healthy and happy. Whether it’s coming in early to do rehab with us or staying late to help with recovery, Karl would always be willing to do it with no complaints. For me personally, Karl has been one of the most impactful people I’ve met through UM athletics.”

Along with the words shared by Miami’s senior captain in the fall, junior defender Sierra Frey explained how Karl’s willingness to answer questions while she rehabbed from a leg injury that shortened the 2020 fall campaign for her was invaluable.

“Karl is an absolutely amazing human being. He is so dedicated to his job, often having to work from super early in the morning to super late at night. He is constantly researching ways to prevent and treat different injuries the team may have, and types up individual plans for each of us for every day while we are in the training room,” Frey said. “He has been the team’s biggest supporter and works tirelessly day in and day out to make all of us better. Karl is such a kind-hearted person and is always there to brighten our days. I would honestly say one of my favorite parts about going to practice each day is being able to see Karl and talk to him in the training room.

“During my time here at Miami, I have had multiple injuries so I have been able to spend a lot of time with Karl,” Frey added. “This past season was extremely tough due to my injury preventing me from playing this fall. However, Karl has been so helpful in getting me back to my full health so that I will be able to play this spring. Every day I would come in and Karl would be very transparent about my rehab plan and was so willing to answer any questions I had about moving forward. Never once was I ever made to feel scared about my injury. There were some days that were obviously mentally harder than others because no athlete wants to be sitting out for the season, but Karl was always there to listen to me and was extremely understanding of how I felt and did what he could to make me feel better. Although I wasn’t able to be training on the field during practices, I knew I would continue to get better on the sideline with him. I can genuinely say that the team as a whole is so appreciative for everything he has done for this program because we know we would not be the players we are today without him.”

With the long hours in place, the opportunity to watch the athletes grow as individuals is what it all comes down to for Rennalls.

“We as athletic trainers talk about ow we work in a thankless job,” Rennalls said. “We are expected to get our athletes back; that’s just part of the job.”

So, when a player returns to the field, scores a goal, or makes the next step in their career, those are the moments that cannot be described in words.

One of those instances took place in the 2020 fall finale against Duke when redshirt freshman Jackie Koerwitz tallied her first career goal just 14 months after tearing her right medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL).

“Jackie Koerwitz last season overcame a traumatic injury and through hard-work not only does she return this past fall but then she scores a goal and you just look back and smile,” Rennalls said. “Also, even since graduating, Lauren Markwith was training and pulled her quad, so she reached out to me about what to do. This is because I have built this trust with them, where Lo and Kristina Fisher still ask me questions. So, when I get them back on the field playing the sport they love, it’s just a full validation of all the hours I put in here. The sheets that I write every day, the rehabs I put them through, it just all feels worth it. Athletes like Dejah [Cason], whom I still have a great relationship with, come back and tell me how thankful they are for not just helping them as an athlete, but helping them as a person too. That feeling is just irreplaceable.”

This trust is even seen in players who have yet to take the field for the Hurricanes.

Entering the summer hoping to make an immediate impact for Miami, freshman midfielder Hannah Dawbarn suffered a season-ending ACL injury prior to making the trek from her hometown in High Wycombe, England.

“While I’ve been injured Karl has been a huge support: driving me around in the days after my surgery, making me feel at home with his ‘English’ accent and always checking in on me. He’s always been so positive and has celebrated the small gains I’ve been making in my recovery, which makes the process so much easier,” Dawbarn said. “While sitting on the sidelines watching practice I would bombard Karl with loads of questions about my injury and other injuries, and he would always patiently give me detailed answers which I have been able to apply in both my rehab and my classes. Seeing how he works has also allowed me to see how everything I’ve been learning in class about athletic training is actually applied in real life. He’s definitely someone I look up to and has made my first semester here a great experience.”


Now in his 14th year in South Florida and eighth year as an athletic trainer, Rennalls is exactly where he belongs.

“The U to me is home. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I love this school so much. My family loves this school so much. My mom will buy everything orange and green,” Rennalls said. “This is just home and this is family. I look up to Vinny as one of my biggest mentors and Dr. Harriell as well. I get to work with Julia Rapicavoli, whom I went to school with here. I say I’m from New York and I am a New Yorker at heart, but whenever I think of Miami, I think of wearing the orange and green. You can’t beat being in the middle of December wearing shorts and a t-shirt and having the opportunity to sit on the beach. That’s the great thing about this city, you can find anything here. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else and I’d love to be here as long as I can. I look forward to sending my kids here.”

And kids are what is next for the Rennalls’ household, as he and his wife are set to welcome their first born son into the world this spring.

“My wife and I started dating in college, not really knowing where that was going to go and I think the great thing is we were friends, really great friends going through college,” Rennalls said. “It’s just amazing having someone who knows what I’m going through since she’s an athletic trainer as well. She knows about the hard days and what’s causing them and what helps make the great days even better and it’s welcoming to come home and have someone who understands all that.

“Just after putting in all those hours it took away from some of our time together, but she knew that this was something that made me happy and she supported me every day and continues to support me,” Rennalls added. “I think that’s what makes it easier to come to work every day, where my wife trusts me and knows that I’m doing something that I love. Being able to talk about our days and when I’m frustrated she’ll find a way to make me see the positive side, but also keep me level and grounded.”

The added support he receives from Barnes and the coaching staff and the strong relationship they have built with one another is an irreplaceable bond that he cannot thank Barnes enough for.

“While I’ve been in this process of trying to start a family, Sarah’s been nothing but supportive and understanding of what it takes to start a family,” Rennalls said. “That’s been the great thing about soccer is that with football you sometimes have to pick family or job, but Sarah’s been great about allowing those to be balanced.

“The team has gotten to know my wife and we’ve all gotten close and I was just so excited to tell them that my wife and I had a baby on the way,” Rennalls continued. “I’m so excited to move to this new part of our lives and I have the best partner in the world to be able to work together with and have a family with, and the support that we have from Sarah is amazing. She’s been beyond supportive and understanding of all the challenges we faced and now that the baby is coming she’s been our biggest supporter and same with the girls. They want to name the baby, babysit the baby…it’s just been awesome.”