Tommy McMahon shares his experience transitioning from playing football to teaching UPA’s physical education course.


McMahon getting ready to call the plays against Pioneer. Photo courtesy of Ryan McCarthy, Branham class of 2019.

Hazel eyes flit about, watching over courts of students shooting baskets and passing volleyballs. Tommy McMahon, computer by his side, sits on the gym bleachers, supervising students as they strengthen their athletic abilities. His quiet supervision is periodically interrupted by questions from confused middle schoolers wondering which days they have open gym. This year, he is serving as UPA’s Athletic Director and physical education teacher.

Having lived in San Jose all his life, McMahon attended San Jose State University. He graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and an emphasis on teaching physical education.

Last year, McMahon completed his student teaching at Silver Creek High School while substitute teaching for the East Side Union High School District and The Foundation for Hispanic Education. He began working for UPA three years ago when he served as a substitute teacher for any class that needed one. 

“It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of the students and form relationships with students, although I didn’t get the chance to develop my own classroom routines,” McMahon said. “It was challenging at times but fun.”

This year, he received the opportunity to teach his own PE class.

“It’s awesome,” McMahon said. “I get to be in control of the classroom routines and the units. I feel like I have more of an impact on my students.”

#11 McMahon looks to complete a pass against Mt. Pleasant high school. Photo courtesy of McMahon.

McMahon started playing sports at age four and continued into high school at Branham, where he played on the basketball and football teams. McMahon began coaching football teams after graduating high school in 2012, which played a key role in him becoming a PE teacher.

“That experience just made me realize how fun it is and how you can just have an impact on kids’ lives,” McMahon said. “You’re a role model. They pay attention to a lot of the things you do, and I just wanted to be able to be a key positive influence in students’ lives.”

McMahon coaches practice from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day for the Branham High School football team. Football is his favorite sport, and he played it from eighth grade to senior year before quitting due to injuries in his junior and senior years coupled with the fact that he did not want to travel to Ohio to play football at Oberlin College, a university that is not in NCAA’s (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I. 

In his junior year of high school, McMahon blew out his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and tore his meniscus, both in his right knee. He completed a five-month rehabilitation process and continued playing football, but during his senior year, injury struck once again; in the sixth week of the football season, McMahon broke the wrist of his throwing arm and returned to rehab.

#11 McMahon prepares to stiff arm an Andrew Hill defender. Photo courtesy of McMahon.

“It was my senior year and I didn’t want to stay out, so although the doctor said I should be out eight to ten weeks, I came back after two,” McMahon said. “I came back mentally because I was like, ‘these are my last two games I’m going to play football,’ so I was like ‘I have to play, I just have to play.’”

At the same time, McMahon was working at a Baskin-Robins establishment, and his wrist injury combined with the low temperature of the store made scooping ice cream a challenge. Even today, he experiences occasional pain in his knee and wrist.

“There are days where my knee is really achy,” McMahon said. “I get achy days, achy pain. But it’s all good. I’m good and I’m here and I’m happy.”

Suffering and recovering from these injuries put into perspective the amount of time McMahon would be devoting to football if he were to play it in college, contributing to his decision not to continue participating in the sport. 

McMahon poses with senior running back Cameron Rynhard at the Branham Football game against Andrew Hill. Photo courtesy of McCarthy.

“After going through both rehab processes and everything, [football] was just something I didn’t want to pursue anymore,” McMahon said. “It was devastating. I love the sport and I cherish the moments I play, so when I was unable to play it was really devastating—it was really discouraging. I still try to be there for the team, but it’s not the same when you’re not on the field especially when you have been on the field all the time. It’s different.”

Despite these memories, McMahon values his athletic experiences and encourages students to partake in various sports in and outside of school.

“[From sports] I’ve learned how to face adversity and I’ve learned how to work well with others,” McMahon said. “And definitely just pushing through when things get tough—it’s a really good way to learn how to focus and focus on the next task at hand.”

In his free time, McMahon watches football, swims in his pool and plays video games to unwind after a long work week. Although McMahon no longer has time to play on a football team, he still engages in the sport and other sports through video games, such as Madden NFL and NBA 2k. 

As a PE teacher, McMahon wants to help his students become more well-rounded individuals and instill the importance of staying active throughout life.

“I think learning and becoming educated about sports is a great way to stay involved with physical activity past high school,” McMahon said. “Obesity is very prevalent in our country right now, and having them be aware so they can live a long, healthy life is probably the most important thing I’m trying to get across.”

McMahon debriefs his team after the Bruins’ 4th straight win to start the season. Photo courtesy of McCarthy.