USD student finds success interning in the NFL

VERMILLION, S.D. -- When you’re a summer intern for a professional football team, you expect a daily dose of contempt from the powers that be whether its players, coaches or veteran members of the staff who assign you the most tedious of tasks in sultry weather.

Such hasn't been the case for Nick Mehlhaff, a student at The University of South Dakota, who completed his third internship with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008 and is preparing for a summer with the Carolina Panthers in 2009.  

"It's a great experience to be around players, coaches and a professional sports organization in general," said Mehlhaff, a graduate of Sioux Falls Lincoln High School and the son of Rick and Julie Mehlhaff of Sioux Falls, S.D. "At first, I was worried about being 'star struck,' but within a week that wasn’t the case. Everyone's a coworker and treats you as such. The front office made me feel welcome and I've made lifelong friends out of (the internships)."

Mehlhaff's first summer with the Vikings was the result of his own initiative. During his second semester at The U, Mehlhaff contacted a family friend who knew someone in the Vikings organization. That networking opportunity led to an interview, which eventually led to a position helping out during the team’s training camp at Mankato, Minn. The following summer, he was one of three interns (out of eight) re-hired for training camp while last year, Mehlhaff spent almost the entire summer months with the team, including working at team headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn., prior to the start of training camp in July at Mankato.

"That was exciting with a lot more going on and additional responsibilities I didn't have in previous years," said Mehlhaff, a business management major at USD. "I went to work for the team the very first Monday after school was out through the tearing down of training camp."

Mehlhaff worked for the team during mini-camps, helping out the rookies who were experiencing NFL life for the first time. He even helped out with home games at the Metrodome during the 2008 season often driving to Minneapolis during the wee hours to be at the stadium by 8 a.m. on game days. His duties varied from overseeing the set up and tear down of the team’s family lounge to running stats in the press box.

While he enjoyed his work with the Vikings the past three years, Mehlhaff turned to his supervisor at Minnesota to find another team that might be interested in his services. He was looking for more responsibility and the best interest of his résumé. After fielding responses from four or five teams, Mehlhaff decided on the Panthers where he will spend five weeks with the team this summer.

"I had three of the best supervisors anyone could ask for," Mehlhaff said of his experience with the Vikings. "I was impressed how they took time to put in a good word for me, especially with another organization."

Mehlhaff credits his supervisors and coworkers at Minnesota for making his internships a success, however, he also credits his Organizational and Behavioral Theory class at The U as preparation for helping to organize mini-camps, contacting vendors for training camp, coordinating travel and keeping records up-to-date for NFL players.

"Internships are invaluable to students as they make the transition from classroom theory to real life experiences," said Billie Streufert, director of the Career Development Center at USD. Streufert encourages students of all ages to pursue internships, whether it's during the summer or even the school year. "Having that 'foot in the door' is always an asset and we couldn't be more excited for a student like Nick to become more familiar with something he wants to do after graduating from USD."

An athlete in high school who still enjoys playing and watching sports today, Mehlhaff's ambition is to turn his internships and degree toward becoming an operations director for a professional sports franchise. It’s a season-long responsibility that requires tremendous organizational skills – from setting up organized team activities in the offseason to booking team hotels and making travel arrangements – and commitment.

"My dad told me, 'do something you love for a living,'" Mehlhaff said with a smile. "And that's the type of job that I'd love to do."