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A new kind of pulling: Kent State football alum Brian Winters prepares for season by pulling truck

By ALLEN MOFF Staff Writer Published: July 14, 2017 4:00 AM
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Professional football players build strength, speed and stamina during the offseason in unique ways these days.

Stories of NFL players spending their "off" months training with boxers and mixed martial arts fighters, swinging sledgehammers at huge tires and running sprints with parachute vests strapped to their chests have become relatively run-of-the-mill over the past several years. Anything that legally provides an edge over the guy lined up across from you is fair game, and originality is always well-received.

Last month current New York Jets starting right guard and former Kent State star left tackle Brian Winters unveiled the drill he entitles the "Fourth-Quarter Game Changer," which turned heads once posted on Twitter.

Following an intense one-hour workout in the M.A.C. Center weight room, the Hudson native drove his 3,800-pound Ford F350 Lariat Super Duty pickup truck to the KSU Field House parking lot so he could pull it and push it under the watchful eye of personal trainer Rhen Vail.

Yes, you read that right.

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Winters purchased a special harness with straps that attached him to hooks on his truck's front bumper, then pulled it across the parking lot -- first while facing the massive vehicle, then with his back to it. He then pushed his mechanical foe back across the lot while Vail steered and shouted encouragement when Winters' pace slowed slightly on a few occasions.

"Works every muscle," said Winters, sweat dripping off his face, while taking a quick breather from tugging his truck on a warm late June Northeast Ohio morning. "I probably won't be able to walk tomorrow."

When you're as physically fit as Winters, finding ways to push your limits can be difficult.

"I actually used to push my truck when I played at Kent State," he said. "(His current truck) is smaller, but it's heavier. This one has six wheels."

Taking on trucks in the offseason has long prepared Winters to pummel defenders on the gridiron.

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The former Hudson High School All-Ohio lineman started a school-record 50 games for the Golden Flashes, earning All-Mid-American Conference honors three times. He was a bona fide force at left tackle during his senior season, when the Flashes compiled a school-record 11 wins and captured the MAC East Division title before falling to Northern Illinois in a double-overtime MAC Championship Game classic.

Winters and left guard Josh Kline, who started last season at right guard for the Tennessee Titans, paved holes for a Kent State rushing attack that amassed 3,475 yards and 36 touchdowns while averaging 5.45 yards per carry in 2012.

After his KSU career ended with the program's first bowl game appearance in 40 years, Winters was snagged by the New York Jets in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He started 12 games as a rookie for the Jets but struggled somewhat, then tore his ACL midway through the 2014 season.

Winters recovered in time to start 10 games in 2015, then entrenched himself as the starter by playing the best football of his NFL career last year.

"It's day and night from my rookie year until now. Now I'm established," said Winters. "Coming in it's one of those things where you're feeling it out and trying to get to where you need to be. Year by year you learn, you age, you progress, and everything starts to slow down. Now it's good."

The Jets rewarded Winters last January with a four-year contract extension worth $29 million that ranks 10th in the NFL among guards, with $15 million guaranteed. He will make $8 million during the 2017 season at the tender age of 26.

"He earned his contract through his play and the lifestyle he lives," said Vail. "The NFL means not for long if you're not taking care of your body. Brian understands that as well as anyone."

ROOTED TO NORTHEAST OHIO

After signing his current contract, Winters could be pulling trucks across any parking lot in the country. But he has built a house in Wadsworth, and chooses to work out with Vail at Kent State during the offseason.

"I always like coming back home, being able to be around family," said Winters. "We don't have much time off, so the time we do have off I like to spend around here."

Winters recently married Jenny Harvey of Willoughby, who also attended Kent State but didn't meet Winters until she moved to New York after school. She's a fitness buff as well, and routinely works out with Winters.

"We both love Ohio and wanted to stick around," said Winters. "Being (able to work out) at the university is awesome too. It's nice, convenient, everything's easy. Once you know something's easy, you don't want to change it."

Winters built a relationship with Vail after he joined the Kent State football strength and conditioning staff as a graduate assistant under head coach Darrell Hazell during Winters' junior season. Vail was eventually promoted to head basketball sports performance coach, a position Kent State created before the start of the 2016-17 season.

"After (Winters) was drafted by the Jets, he would text me when he was in town, wanting to get a workout in and asking me to help him out. Eventually it became a full-time thing in the offseason," said Vail. "(KSU head athletic trainer Trent Stratton) and I developed his trust. To us it's like helping out a friend. He knows we're looking out for him. We hang out when he's here, and we go see him in New York a few times a year. It's great fun."

STILL THE SAME

Professional success has not changed Winters in the least as a person. He actually found a spot to live close to Jets headquarters that's similar to home.

"We don't live in the city. We live in New Jersey. It's more suburby. It's nice," said Winters. "Our (Jets training) facility is in Florham Park, New Jersey. We're actually never in New York. It's a lot better fit for me."

The passion for football and building strength Winters first developed at Hudson and Kent State has been amped up several notches since he turned pro.

"Brian's always been into weights. He always had the frame," said Vail. "When I was here, he was always the guy coming in after practice, always in the weight room. Sometimes it was like, 'OK Brian, go home so we can go home.' He's always been a freak in terms of strength. The only difference now is he's a professional, so he works out with a purpose."

Winters received his huge contract from the Jets despite suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 15 of last season. Surgery was performed on his rotator cuff last December.

Jets fans who caught the video of Winters having his way with his truck on Twitter were thrilled to see their prized offensive lineman healthy enough to perform the feat.

"I use him as a prime example with our injured guys (at Kent State), basketball or whatever sport it is. He was injured, but every day he was here," said Vail. "In the winter we didn't train a whole lot because he was limited, especially when he first came back. But Brian was still here every single day, working with Trent. He's been way ahead of where (the Jets doctors) thought he would be. In six months (after surgery), he's doing more than most athletes can do in a year."

Winters works out five to six days per week with Vail during the offseason, and enjoys trying new methods of muscle-building and recovery. He employs the same acupuncturist as another former Kent State star, veteran Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, and has his home stocked with various tools to help his body.

"We do the (offseason) workout the Jets give him. Their strength coach does an awesome job with the offseason program," said Vail. "Usually on the extra days, we'll add some things in or see some things that Brian may need or may want. He likes to change things up. He has a whole room in his house that's got foam rollers, massage bands. If he's too sore, we may not train, but he'll get in cold tub, the hot tub, call in the acupuncturist, go do a massage. It's his fuel. He eats really well. That's probably changed (since college). He's trying to be the best at what he does, so everything he does on a daily basis is geared toward accomplishing that goal."

Winters will work out at Kent State until July 23, then take a few days off before reporting to Jets camp on July 28. If he happens to blow a tire or run out of gas on the way to Florham Park, rest assured that pushing his 3,800-pound vehicle to safety will not be an issue.

Pushing around 300-pound NFL defenders is actually a much more difficult chore, but one Winters is proving that he can handle as well as virtually anyone.

"He got to that second contract, and that was a big focus for last year, keeping him healthy for that," said Vail. "Now if you're Brian, you want to sustain that and reach new goals -- play in the Pro Bowl, get to the top of the league."

The Jets will visit the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 8.


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