Most students can’t say med school is their backup plan, but DJ Arnson is different than most students.
The NAU senior performs as one of the top punters in the Football Championship Subdivision and has aspirations to play professionally. After that, the Biomedical Science major plans to attend medical school.
An Arizona native, DJ has deep roots at NAU. His parents met here. His father also was on the football team. One of DJ’s earliest memories is of going to the Skydome to see his father graduate with a master’s degree. Even so, DJ was en route to another college in another state when a stop in Flagstaff changed his mind.
“The second we pulled in,” he said, “I remember seeing the Welcome to Flagstaff sign and telling my parents, ‘we’re not driving through, we’re staying.’”
DJ was a Lumberjack.
Just like his decision to come to NAU, his choice of major was rooted in his family history.
DJ’s grandfather was a surgeon in rural Thatcher, Arizona.
“He loved what he did,” DJ said. “it was never about the money; it was just his opportunity to serve people.”
DJ shares a memory of his grandfather that helped cement his decision.
“He always would help people—all the time. I remember when I was probably eight or nine, a neighbor across the street was working on some shelving in their garage and one of the boards came down and cut him across the crown of his head. It was a pretty deep gash.
“And I just remember him coming over…there was a knock at the door and the neighbor came through and I could see the blood on his rag. And I remember my grandpa was like, ‘Arden, looks like you got a little cut there, let’s get you fixed up.’ He was so old-school; he had a doctor bag with a stethoscope hanging out the side. He went and got it they were just having a conversation about Rotary Club or something like that as he’s just stitching him up.
“And he said, ‘all right. I think you’re good to go.’ And you know, the neighbor had bled on his shirt, and my grandfather’s like, ‘hey, you know, I don’t want you to head home and Lucille to see you like that. You want to borrow my shirt?’ Like that was just the kind of person he was. I mean, literally he would give you the shirt off his back. And you know, as a medical professional, I just think that is so amazing. That’s my blood. It kind of pulls me to just be like my grandfather.”
But first: football.
“I kind of noticed there’s doctors that are 70 years old, but everyone’s done in the NFL at 35. So I figured, I’m young, I have the ability, I think I need to take this where I can, see where my leg can get me.”
A senior, DJ will graduate this spring. Because he has another year of eligibility, he’ll likely stay on to play another season. He said he’d like to work on a master’s in administration or something that will ultimately help him in his medical career.
His experience at NAU has been better than he could have imagined.
“I love the professors here—every single professor that I’ve had, from the chemistry department to mathematics, has just been so approachable. You’re not just a number. You’re not just a face. You’re a name, you’re a person, you’re an individual.” DJ singled out Biological Sciences Associate Professor of Practice Robert Kellar as a particularly influential mentor.
And while balancing sports and academics hasn’t been easy, it helps that DJ finds joy in both arenas.
“Nothing that’s worth it is ever easy. It’s going to be hard. But I love going to class and I love going to practice.”