Thursday, January 31, 2008

Players hone their skills at Athletic Edge for NFL Combine

LAKEWOOD RANCH --If you didn't see the words painted in the window, and from an angle you couldn't, then the pairs of football cleats drying in the sun on top of a few vehicles parked outside seemed a bit odd.

Two pairs on the roof of a white P.T. Cruiser.
One pair on the hood of black Grand Cherokee.
What the heck?

Ah, but then you see the words on the window: Athletic Edge Sports Performance Conditioning. You're in the right place.

Inside the doors you'll find 26,000 square feet of space dedicated to the conditioning of athletes, football players mostly.

"It doesn't look like much," Amobi Okoye said last year. "But then you don't need much. Just some weights and a place to run."

The weights and exercise machines line the walls. The grass field is found three miles down the road at Lakewood Ranch High and was a bit soggy Monday, hence the wet cleats.

Trainer Mike Gough's facility would never be confused with the larger training sites that are backed by high-powered agents. "I tell the guys if you're looking for something big don't come here," Gough said.
And still they come.

Okoye, a defensive tackle, trained with Gough last year and was taken by the Houston Texans with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Joseph Addai, a running back, trained there in 2006 and was selected in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts.

This year's blue chip recruit among the eight college football players working out twice daily is Cody Wallace, a center from Texas A&M who will attend next month's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Wallace decided to train with Gough on the advice of Melvin Bullitt, a former Aggie, whose time at Athletic Edge helped earn him a free agent contract with the Colts.

"Melvin had a really good pro day after working out here," Wallace said. "We have everything you need here, and Mike pushes you really hard."

The Super Bowl will be played Sunday. It's the biggest game of the season, the one every college football player dreams of playing in once he completes the first steps, which is to get into an NFL camp and make the team.

Eli Manning will quarterback the New York Giants on Sunday, and some might remember Manning worked out at IMG in preparation for the combine after his senior year at Ole Miss.
Big facilities, small facilities, it doesn't really matter to NFL teams where you hone your skills as long as you have the skills they seek.

Okoye was right. Gough's gym looks like any other business in the industrial park off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. Step inside, though, and it's nothing but sweating and grunting and dreams being forged by hard work.

On the walls up near the ceiling are frames containing a few NFL jerseys. There is one for Edwin Mulitalo, an offensive guard now with the Detroit Lions who lives nearby and comes by in the offseason, and ones for Okoye and Addai.

Addai left Athletic Edge for the draft and has since rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons in Indianapolis. He has also been to the Super Bowl, which he won last February with the Colts.

"Yeah, how about that," Wallace said looking up at Addai's jersey. "You know he's done some good things."

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