CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jeremy Boone liked the idea.
I asked him if I could stop by his gym, Athlete By Design at the Performance Unlimited Facility, last week while I was in town to watch him work out one of his star pupils, new Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Boone was all for it, but had one stipulation.
“You don’t get to watch,” Boone told me. “You’ve got to participate.”
All right, then. Bring it on.
Gilmore has been working out with Boone, formerly the Carolina Panthers’ speed coach, four days a week since the beginning of January. The workouts are football-specific, and each day is different — Monday is for conditioning, Tuesday for change of direction, Wednesday for straight-ahead speed, and Thursday a combination of conditioning and change of direction.
On three of the four days, Gilmore does a second workout in the pool, followed by massage work.
“I can help him get a little bit faster, but the main thing is keep him healthy,” Boone said. “Because his team, the Patriots, they need him to start every game, and that’s the criteria. They invest in their bodies, because the NFL has invested in them.”
Our workout began at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at Boone’s gym, a converted warehouse space in suburban Charlotte. Joining us for the day: free agent running back DeAngelo Williams, Broncos safety Darian Stewart, former 11-year NFL cornerback Dre’ Bly, former seven-year NFL receiver Ruvell Martin, and Gilmore.
So, yeah, I stuck out a bit.
We begin with some stretching — a walking dip/lunge that helps stretch the hamstrings, and a high leg kick over a set of five hurdles that helps stretch the groin. We do the hurdle drill frontward and backward three times each. I’m already starting to sweat, while the athletes look like they’re reading the morning newspaper.
“Feeling warm yet?” Martin says with an evil grin.
Next, we line up behind the hurdles, which stand about 2½ feet tall. The drill is to do standing jumps over all five hurdles without any pauses. We go down and back for a total of six times.
There is also a set of 1-foot hurdles next to them.
“You can do those,” Boone said.
I clear the five hurdles no problem.
“Forget that,” I said to myself.
The next time through, I go to the big-boy hurdles, not quite sure if I’m going to make it. But whatever. It’s go time.
Miracle upon miracles, I clear all five hurdles in succession, and can hear the gasps from my workout partners. They’re impressed.
My lungs are also on fire.
“Forget that,” I said to myself again. And I finish the drill on the mini hurdles.
Next we bust out the 20-pound medicine balls. We partner up, and one person takes a knee, while placing the other foot directly in front of the knee.
The partner tosses the medicine ball from the side, and the goal is to catch it, twist, and throw it back while staying as upright as possible. We do 10 reps from the left side, then 10 from the right, three sets on each side. This drill helps simulate getting hit by a defender from the side.
The next drill involves hopping on one leg. Boone stands in front of us with a machine with blinking arrows — left, right or straight ahead. We have to hop whichever way the machine tells us. After 8-10 hops, we switch legs, and we do three sets on each leg. This simulates the quick change-of-direction necessary in the NFL.
Next up is the sled, which has three 45-pound plates stacked on it. We take turns pushing it up and down the facility, maybe 80 yards in length.
I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m able to move the sled and complete the drill. At this point, my legs are a nine-alarm fire.
Then we put on belts, and clip the sled to our waist. The defensive backs — Bly, Gilmore and Stewart — crouch and run backward, to help strengthen their backpedal. The offensive players — Williams, Martin, and myself (I’m a slot receiver, obviously) — run forward to strengthen their burst off the line of scrimmage.
Boone increases the resistance in the middle of the run. It felt like someone was grabbing me by the shorts and yanking me back.
Between sets, Gilmore worked on his “punch” with resistance cables. The punch is essential for a press-man cornerback such as Gilmore.
Finally, we break out the mats and medicine balls for core work. Putting both feet in the air, one on top of the other, we hold the medicine ball up high and mimic a situp, doing three sets of 10 reps. Then a drill where we lay flat on our backs and slowly roll over onto our stomachs — to the right, then back to the middle, then to the left, and back to the middle.
I’m pouring sweat, taking extended breaks between sets, and Williams calls me out.
“Hey, you ain’t done yet!” he says.
Thanks, DeAngelo. Two more sets, just for you.
The workout ends just before noon. I get high-fives from my workout buddies, and we head our separate ways. When I wake up on Thursday, my legs are sore, but I’m noticeably tighter and stronger in my core.
Boone sends a text on Thursday.
“DeAngelo was asking when are you coming back, or if I ran you off for good?”
Hey, man, bring it on.