By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — EVANSTON, Ill. — Tory Lindley and Cody Cejda had never met each other when they started working at Northwestern University.
Not long after Cejda was hired by the Wildcats' football program four years ago, he perused the school's online bios of his new coworkers.
One stuck out: Lindley's.
"I was reading his bio ... and it said, 'He's a proud alumnus of Suttons Bay High School,'" said Cejda, a Kingsley graduate. "And when I saw that, I said, 'Wait a second. This guy went to one of our rival schools. I need to talk to him.' And I went over and said, 'Hey, Tory, I went to Kingsley' — and that completely changed the dynamic of our friendship."
Lindley, 43, is Northwestern's Associate Athletic Director and Director of Athletic Training Services, working mainly with the football team. Cejda, 27, was brought in four years ago as coordinator of player development, but worked his way up to director of football operations within two years.
The pair both graduated from Northwest Conference schools. And now they work at Northwestern.
"We always send a lot of texts back and forth when they're playing for the Brown Jug," Cejda said of the schools' annual gridiron rivalry clash. "We have some fun with it."
"It makes for some good banter back and forth," Lindley said. "We both have a lot of pride in where we came from — and still do. We keep close tabs with everything that goes on with athletics and otherwise."
In addition to going to nearby high schools, the pair went to rivals Michigan and Michigan State for college. "We're rivals of all sorts, that's for sure," Cejda said.
Both are connected to Traverse City West football coach Tim Wooer as well.
Lindley played against Wooer in basketball, where both were guards fighting for the Northwest crown.
"Of course, he was at Kingsley," Lindley joked. "I was at a far superior institution in Suttons Bay."
"We had some battles," said Wooer, a year behind Lindley. "Suttons Bay and Kingsley, we had some good games. I don't think we lost, but they were some good games."
Cejda was a two-year varsity football player for Wooer at Kingsley from 2001-02, playing alongside Justin Hansen.
"He had a huge heart," Wooer said. "He was small and slow back then. But he could have been an assistant coach, even back then. He knew everybody's job. He understood the game and was very well-respected by his teammates."
Cejda invited Wooer and the TC West coaching staff to attend Wildcats spring practices, and the Titans obliged with a Feb. 28-March 2 visit.
"Cody grabbed (Lindley) and asked him if he remembered me," Wooer said. "We kind of looked at each other and he says, 'No.' Then he told him who I was and we laughed and chuckled and told old Northwest Conference basketball stories."
While Lindley is in charge of keeping Wildcat players on the field, Cejda stays involved in the day-to-day planning and scheduling of the team's activities.
"He's running the show down there and everything was extremely well-organized," Wooer said. "The last time I remember him, he was a little senior in high school. Now he's at a Big Ten school as director of football operations."
NORSE OF COURSE
Lindley took a long and winding road to get to Evanston.
Starting in Suttons Bay, he was an athletic trainer for the football team while still in high school. That experience served him well at Michigan State University — which he refers to as the "Big Ten institution in East Lansing" instead of by name — and the University of Minnesota, where he earned a Master's degree in biomechanics.
From there, his career involved a stint as an assistant athletic trainer with the NFL's Houston Oilers, a spot as head athletic trainer at Division 3 Hamline University, back to MSU for four years and then to Eastern Michigan for two as the head athletic trainer before landing at Northwestern.
All the while, he came back to the Suttons Bay area as much as he could.
Now his kids are teens — which makes the logistics more difficult during the school year — but the family gets up here each summer and visit his parents, who still live in the house he was raised in.
"We have a ton of admiration for the lifestyle we were raised in," Lindley said. "We've got a great desire to return as much as possible. A lot of great people that helped me in my career are still in the area that I still keep in contact with."
Before going to Evanston, he didn't know all that much about Northwestern. But he'd like that to change for northern Michigan students.
"It's not a place I was very familiar with growing up," Lindley said. "It's a tremendous, tremendous institution. The combination of Big Ten athletics and the unmatched academics that are here, I wish there was an even more strong connection between northern Michigan and Northwestern. It's a place I think every valedictorian and salutatorian up there should take a really strong look at. I just don't come across enough northern Michigan people and students here at Northwestern. I wish there were more."
Despite the Wildcats tough academic standards that it rigidly makes athletes meet as well, Northwestern won the Gator Bowl last year, 34-20 over Mississippi State. It was the Wildcats' first bowl win since a 1948 Rose Bowl victory.
"It was a great year overall in a number of different ways," Lindley said. "In football, it's based on that postseason opportunity to be a champion. Beyond league championships, it's about being a bowl champion. For our program and for our guys, it was a great goal to achieve and a great way to cap off a very successful season."
The job of an athletic trainer requires many things — among them, the willingness to deal with things that others won't. That was on display recently when Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware suffered a gruesome broken leg in the NCAA Tournament.
"The video kind of told the story," Lindley said. "There were a lot of people running away and a lot looking away, and only one person moving toward him — and that was their athletic trainer.
"It requires a pretty diversified skill set. Obviously, from a health-care standpoint, you need great clinic skills and you understand what you're doing in terms of injury recognition and diagnosis and rehabilitation. What sets us apart from other health-care providers is our ability to work in the prevention side. We're in a unique environment to know our patients when they're healthy."
Northwestern deals with the usual assortment of football-related injuries. And the team's use of the spread offense exposes the quarterback to even more hits, which puts extra emphasis on proper in-game diagnosis and treatment.
"There's probably five or six situations a game where our health-care team does a great job of assessing what's going on and really making quick, but very sound, medical decisions," Lindley said.
FROM STAGS TO 'CATS
Cejda's rise in the Wildcat football program has been swift.
He was a senior student assistant at Michigan, which included getting on national television frequently as he held the headset cord for head coach Lloyd Carr during the Wolverines' football games.
He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from U-M in 2007 and then worked for Accenture as a business consultant for a year and a half.
"After a year and a half of traveling, I realized I missed football and being part of something bigger than myself," Cejda said. "Fortunately, one of my contacts at Michigan put me in contact with Northwestern. They set up a meeting and made me an offer to pretty much work full-time for free. And surprisingly enough, I was excited about it."
So in March 2009 he started working as an unpaid recruiting intern. In April, he received an offer to actually get paid from another school and head coach Pat Fitzgerald offered to make him coordinator of player development and personnel in order to keep him around.
That job entailed helping student-athletes getting jobs and internships, plus community outreach, recruiting and working with NFL scouts that come to see Wildcat players.
In June 2010, he was promoted to director of football operations.
"My position is to be an extension of coach Fitz and to be his right-hand man and help him with the day-to-day operations of the program and serve as a liaison between the football team and the athletic department," Cejda said.
That involves equipment, compliance, marketing, scheduling and coordinating the team's hike to Kenosha, Wis., for a week of preseason training.
He does the same thing each year for a bowl game, as the Wildcats have played in the postseason in each of the last five seasons.
"Kenosha doesn't seem that bad when you compare it to Jacksonville, Dallas or Houston, where we've played the last few years," Cejda said.
He also kept the NFL part in his new job. "I couldn't let that go," he said.
After Hansen was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan, Cejda arranged for Hansen's father, Rick, to be on the sidelines for the Northwestern-Michigan game and meet coach Fitzgerald.
Like Lindley, Cejda also comes home every year, taking a week off each summer to visit his parents in Interlochen and grandparents in Suttons Bay.