Dr. Alex Weber excused himself before heading out toward the 40-yard line, in the direction of the injured Monrovia football player prone on the La Cañada High School field turf.
Weber stood by, allowing the Monrovia training staff to treat the player, who’d sustained a separated shoulder. After a few minutes, the young man was able to stand and walk to the sideline for treatment (as suggested, gently and reasonably, by Weber) while the game resumed.
And Weber, the second-year team doctor for both La Cañada High School and USC, returned to the Spartans’ sideline, where, on that particular Friday night, he would deal with back spasms, a shoulder injury, a torn knee ligament and the cocktail of emotions stemming from such athletic injuries.
“My goal is to be here and watch a football game and not have to do anything,” said Weber, who is the assistant professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Sports Medicine and General Orthopedic Surgery for Keck School of Medicine at USC.
Of course, he also doesn’t mind being put to work, even if it’s technically on his free time. Weber’s job as team doctor to the Spartan athletes is purely a volunteer position.
The soft-spoken, 34-year-old has been on campus for every Friday home football game the past two seasons. He’s also made it to as many away games as he can, and if he couldn’t be there, checked in often with athletic trainer Tina Vasquez.
Weber shows up on campus every Wednesday, too, monitoring athletes who are recovering or newly injured. He gives out his cellphone number to all of them, encouraging them to call if they need him, day or night.
And when the Spartans’ football season ends this week, he’ll continue to work with athletes in other sports through the school year.
“One way to get to know the community is to volunteer at the public local high school,” said Weber, who began his assignment at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital last year. “It’s kind of a win-win; I hopefully provide some medical care, and in return, I get to know the community.”
Weber graduated from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in New York before serving as a resident at the University of Michigan and a fellow at Rush Medical Center in Chicago, where he was among the team physicians for Major League Baseball’s White Sox and the National Basketball Association’s Bulls.
For his part, Weber was an elite youth volleyball player before he stopped growing at 15, by which time he’d gotten a peek at the athletic medicine facility at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“A team trainer there said, if this is interesting to you, you should check out sports medicine,” said Weber, who makes the same suggestion to some of the student-athletes he now treats. “And that was it. I always said if I couldn’t be a professional athlete, I wanted to at least take care of them.
“The appeal of working with competitive high school or college athletes, or professional athletes, it’s the highest level of physical function,” he added. “I’m not taking anything away from the guy who replaces hips and knees, that serves a great purpose. When someone has no pain in their joints and they can go walk or play doubles tennis or ski or whatever it is they do, that’s a great success.
“But taking care of athletes is the highest level of form and function of the human body. It’s a unique challenge, from a medical and surgical perspective, not just to be able to walk or jog, but to have your ACL-torn knee feel just like your non-ACL-torn knee when you’re done with your surgery and rehab.”
Athletic Director Kristina Kalb said she’s always been grateful for the doctor-parents who have volunteered their time. And with Weber, LCHS scored big.
“It’s priceless, an incredible gift,” she said. “It’s a luxury most programs cannot have. Dr. Weber knows our kids because he sees them week in and week out, so he gets to know them and their body language and so forth.”
More importantly, Weber suggested, is that the kids know him.
“A lot of times, we’ll see injuries happen at this level and they go to a pediatrician who doesn’t really know athletic medicine and be pulled out for the rest of the season,” Weber said. “And then that athlete has total distrust for doctors: ‘They’re just going to shut me down.’
“So to have someone who’s been around, who maybe your friends who have had injuries have seen and they’re healthy now and back playing, maybe they’ll trust you? So they’ll feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, this is a nagging injury.’ If there are simple solutions to a thing they’re just being quiet about because they’re worried about being shut down for the season, that’s crucial.”
When he’s on the field, Trevor Lee plays running back or linebacker for the Spartans. He didn’t have an opportunity to suit up this season, however, because he was sidelined by a fracture in his back.
Weber recognized something beyond soreness likely was causing Lee’s discomfort and sent him to see a spine specialist he knows. Although that led to the revelation that sidelined Lee for the season, he said he’s grateful to have received real news.
“It was just good to know that,” Lee said. “And then [Weber] gives you a good plan of action for rehab. He really tries to keep you playing as long as you can until he knows for a fact that you can’t, like, how can we get you to play while still being safe and healing at the same time. So I think he’s great.”
Weber’s credentials working with some of the world’s top athletes don’t hurt, either, Lee said.
“That’s pretty cool, I’ve definitely thought about it,” he said. “You know he knows what he’s doing.”