Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
With home gyms, virtual workouts and more, athletes country-wide have found ways to stay in shape during the Coronavirus pandemic.
But how does a serious athlete actually complete in the middle of a pandemic?
Trevor Knight got in his Audi Q5 every Friday afternoon and drove two plus hours from his New Hampshire home to Providence … all summer long!
“I put a lot of miles on my car this summer,” laughed Knight.
It was worth it.
The former University of New Hampshire quarterback who was a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Canadian Football League 2019 Grey Cup champions, was one of 30 college players and professional hopefuls who showed up faithfully each week to participate in the competitive one-on-one sessions. The sessions were held at various football fields in Providence, including Hope High and Brown University.
In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, football’s immediate future this season is uncertain for all levels. Still, players want to be in top form when the season begins. At that point, they need to be ready for NFL tryouts or invitations to workout for a pro team.
Stanley Dunbar is making sure the college players and professional hopefuls have a way to put the work in and make certain they are ready for a shot at the next level.
“I was in their shoes and had nowhere to go,” said Dunbar, the former St. Raphael and URI star and current Coventry High head football coach. “I wanted to give something back and give these guys a chance to compete.”
Dunbar has always wanted to use his talents to help others. He recently launched Breakthrough Football Academy. In just two years Breakthrough, which includes clinics, individual instruction and group workouts primarily for high school players, has ballooned from 15-50 participants.football
“Breakthrough Football Academy isn’t for everybody,” said Dunbar. “It’s for the serious high school player who wants to get to the next level.”
The same holds true for this summer’s weekly one-on-one sessions, an invitation-only program for elite college players and pro hopefuls working to get to the next level. Dunbar didn’t charge for the sessions. Each one was free.
“I just wanted to give players of the same skill level a chance to work together and get better,” said Dunbar.
Early in the summer, he started contacting players and inviting them to join competitive sessions on Friday evenings. The word got out. Videos from the sessions were posted on social media platforms and the news spread like wildfire. Players from throughout New England and beyond began to reach out to Dunbar, messaging him on social media, requesting an invite to the one-on-one sessions.
“This has taken off,” said Dunbar.
It certainly has. The more Dunbar posted video from the one-on-one sessions on Breakthrough Football Academy’s social media platforms, the more interest he had from players looking to compete.
“I was gaining a lot of traction when I posted on social media. Guys were reaching out and saying, ‘Coach can I come? I watched their films and checked out profiles before I invited anyone,” said Dunbar. “There were a lot of talented guys. We ended up having guys come from all over; New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts. It blew up.”
Dallas Cowboys’ rookie receiver Aaron Parker pulled up to a one on one session on a Friday night. The former URI standout had earned second team FCS All-American honors his senior year after catching more than 80 passes for 1224 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was joined by former URI captain and Shea High star Momodou Mbye; University of Florida and Mt. Pleasant star Joseph Putu, URI wide receiver John Erby and UNH receiver Nick Lorden, among other notables.
Mbye showed up every night. The pro prospect embraced the opportunity to compete against others with similar skill levels and goals.
“Once I saw the first video of all the guys together and working out I instantly wanted to be a part of it all,” said Mbye. “There were so many players from all different cities and even states who came out with the simple desire of getting better. The best part about it was that you could compete with people from all levels. You could see where your skill level was easily through these workouts and know what you needed to do to get better.
“Personally these 1-on-1 sessions helped me because I didn’t know everyone who attended. I was able to adjust my technique and skills to players I’ve never even seen play before. That can easily boost anyone’s confidence because football is about knowing what you’re going up against. However, if you can hold your own against skill you haven’t seen before or played against, then that says and shows a lot about the type of player you are and can show your potential.”
“Momodo Mbye is a pro,” said Dunbar. “He can literally play every position in the defensive secondary. With that kind of versatility, his athleticism, height and length, it’s only a matter of time.”
Until the time comes, Dunbar will continue to provide an opportunity for Mbye and others looking to get to the next level to compete.
“We’re just getting started. I want to hold this every summer. I just want to continue to provide a place for guys to compete and get better.,” said Dunbar.
Former Bryant university and Portsmouth Matt Sewall, the one-time RI Gatorade Player of the Year, was among those competing on Friday nights.
“When Covid shut the CFL down I started doing one-on-one with Stanley and working out with all the guys he got together who are in similar situations that I’m in,” said Sewall. “That opened the door with the NFL.”
Video from Sewall’s one-on-one sessions has received more than 20,000 views on Breaktrhough’s social media platforms. Sewall shared his videos with his agent, who subsequently sent his highlights out to several NFL teams and led to a workout with the Arizona Cardinals.
“That is awesome,” said Dunbar. “That’s what we want to do…give opportunities to kids to compete and show their talents to others.”
The players showed up in masks, had their temperature taken and then headed out to the field.
“It was great to see some of the guys I competed against in college,” said Knight. “There was no hoopla. Once you got there it was all business.”
“It was a great thing to have because it literally opened doors for college players and also pro eligible players or free agents like myself,” said Mbye. His workout video was posted on Breakthrough Academy’s Instagram and has amassed nearly 85,000 views.
“These competitive sessions are crucial for the development of college athletes,” said Dunbar. “Sometimes when college players come home in the summer they don’t have a lot of kids of the same caliber around them to compete against and work together to get better. Bringing everybody together is helping everyone get better. Iron sharpens iron. That’s the approach.”
Pandemic college campus closures created a larger than usual demand for this type of workout. “I wouldn’t say (competitive sessions) are more important this year. But guys not being able to go on college campuses presented the opportunity for us to create something for them and we took advantage of it,” said Dunbar.
“I didn’t have that opportunity to compete with others when I was home for the summer. With social media the world is much smaller. It’s easier to get in touch with people. This was a great summer. We had three guys that are going to play professionally, Division 1 guys and a guy driving all the way from New Hampshire to compete with us. With the caliber of athletes we are attracting, we can only grow.”
Dunbar has found his niche.
“A lot of successful people move away from Rhode Island. I have had the opportunity to leave, but there has always been a tug to stay here and help kids here in Rhode Island. There is a lot of talent here. I want to continue to help these kids get better and have a place to work together. Nothing like this was ever done in Rhode Island. We’re just getting started.”