UPPER MARLBORO, Maryland – It’s a Saturday morning, and the new A&M Sports and Fitness is jam-packed with high school and college football players banging their bodies against dummies and doing agility exercises to work up a sweat .
Defensive trainer Aaron Wallace wears protective clothing to maintain handshakes on his stomach and shoulders as young athletes sprint around bags and run towards him. All of the action takes place at the gym that Wallace and NFL veteran Marcus Smith II opened on May 22nd in Upper Marlboro, Maryland – a gym that focuses on strengthening the mind, spirit and body for those playing soccer.
“Today we are A&M Sports and Fitness, where success begins in the morning,” said Smith, who used the initials of his and Wallace’s first names for his new company. Smith told the crowd as he was cutting the tape that it came from Wallace, his brother-in-law, “It started with Aaron training me when I was playing for the NFL. Aaron was passionate about training D-linemen and external linebackers. “
Smith, a former outside linebacker at the University of Louisville, was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. He played three years with the Philadelphia Eagles, then two years with the Seattle Seahawks and one year with the Washington Redskins, now known as the Washington Football Team.
Geovonie Irvine and Aaron Wallace work with young athletes. (Hamil Harris / Zenger News)
In addition to training athletes, Smith said, their facility has another component.
“I would like to teach your child not only sport, but also the mental wellness part. That includes setting goals and helping them with the anxiety and depression we all deal with, ”said Smith.
“When I was in Seattle, I was thinking about suicide. It was anxiety and depression. It was something I’ve been dealing with all my life. I dealt with fear because I wanted to perform at a certain level and everything went as planned, but every year it was fear because I felt that every year things were always at stake. “
But Smith, a native of Columbus, Georgia, eventually brought his life together. He and his wife and two children live in Maryland, and in 2018 he and Wallace began training linemen. Now they are working with children ages 8 and up, as well as potential NFL conscripts.
Start with a prayer
Around 40 young men and women took part on the opening day. Before the ribbon was cut, Wallace’s mother, Linda Wallace, a minister, said a prayer: “Lord, give them the vision of innovative ideas that will take them to the next level. We give you the fame and honor for everything you do in your life. “
“Aaron and Marcus have lived the mental pressures of college and have firsthand knowledge of the mental skills required,” said Rev. Wallace. “They came together to build a brand, market their business, and put these young blacks on the run.”
Wallace, a former defense attorney at North Carolina Central University, said college and high school coaches don’t have time to stop every move required to play football, and this is where he and the others come in.
“We focus on small things in detail,” he said. “I like to focus on each rep, break them down and tell them what they’re doing wrong.”
Geovonie Irvine first met Wallace while they were playing Central soccer together in North Carolina. Now the two are working together again in Maryland.
In addition to strength and conditioning, as well as psychological counseling, A&M offers life coaching, ”said Irvine, who was the second largest recipient in NCCU history with 171 catches for 2,322 yards and 16 touchdowns. He went to an NFL combine but was not drafted.
“We just don’t want life to be about football because when the game is over some kids will be out and others will have killed themselves because they don’t think about other things,” he said. “That’s why we have career advice.”
Phillip Reynolds, a mental health consultant for more than 15 years, works in the gym on “all the things that are off the field, all the higher-level things you see when they have problems with the team, the league and The schools have joined the team because their thoughts are incorrect. “
Regarding working with linemen, Reynolds said, “It’s even more important with the big guys because they see all these sizes out of the field. If they lose their cool at this size, that’s a completely different scenario. You can be a gentle giant off the field, but channel their aggressions on the field. “
The gym also offers Zumba sessions for all members with instructor Nicole Littlejohn.
“Mental health is important to everyone, men and women alike, because a lot of people don’t like to talk about it,” she said.
Marcus Smith (left) and Aaron Wallace cut the ribbon on May 22nd at their new facility in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. (Hamil Harris / Zenger News)
In addition to the training facilities, the center houses a sanctuary for Way of the Word Ministries run by Pastor Edward Holloway along with Ministers Wallace and Cornelius Rouse.
“This program gives these young men structure, as many leisure centers are currently closed [due to COVID-19 restrictions]”Said Holloway.” It teaches them character and how to plan their time. In times like these, this place is vital and shows that there are places where people take care of their minds, bodies and spirits. “
A&M chief operating officer Cornelius Rouse said that when he and his friends played soccer in high school, they often got into trouble because they didn’t have father figures in their lives to build them up.
“I understand the psychological distress our young black men often go through when their athleticism is recognized,” said Rouse. “The environment can often be extremely toxic. They stripped you naked of everything you were before, hoping to bring them success and financial stability through football. “
After high school, Rouse joined the army and served two tours in Iraq. He later suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and Reynolds became his advisor. “I’ve hit rock bottom. I was on a couch one day with a bottle of vodka and a shotgun, ”Rouse said.
“At A&M,” he said, “we want to remove this pressure on young men to develop them holistically.”
(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)