As a youngster Michael played soccer and Little League baseball, but he was too big to play youth league football. "They'd hand out the sign-up sheets in school, and I'd see the weight limits and just laugh because I wasn't even close," says Michael, who was 6 feet, 200 pounds by the sixth grade. When he joined Moeller's freshman team in 1996, he asked his father to teach him the finer points of playing offensive tackle. Delighted, Anthony shoved aside the coffee table in the family room and showed, Michael the foot slides and hand drills that separate offensive linemen who are merely big from those who are skilled. "It's almost like Anthony has passed along a trade to his son," says Tennessee offensive line coach Mike Barry, who helped recruit Michael.
The father-son tutorials continued. In fact, Anthony worked as a volunteer coach at Moeller from 1997 through '99. (He was an analyst-reporter for ESPN on NFL broadcasts in '98, as he had been for other networks from '93 to '96.) Anthony is also a spokesman for a Cincinnati-based furniture store, a bank and an auto dealership, and last December he sold his share in a successful Italian restaurant, but he doesn't plan to resume his broadcasting career or other full-time business commitments while Michael and Michelle are playing college ball.
By the summer before his sophomore year, Michael had grown to 6'4" and nearly 300 pounds. Anthony took him to California to visit Esther and enrolled him in USC's four-day football camp. Barry, who was then coaching under Robinson, threw Michael into a one-on-one drill against a high school senior, and Michael, after getting beaten once, dominated the older kid. "He just tigered up and handled him," says Anthony. "That's when I knew he had the attitude to play."
Two months ago Moeller coach Steve Klonne sat in a tiny film room and zipped through tape of his team's 1999 victory over Harding. He pointed out that when Mu�oz was across from John Lumpkin, a quick, 255-pound pass rusher who would sign with Indiana, he neutralized Lumpkin with fast, powerful hands and quick feet, and when Mu�oz was left uncovered, he fired out and hit smaller people. "Watch him emulsify this linebacker," Klonne said as Mu�oz ran over an opponent. He plays every down to the whistle.
Later that day, Anthony drove Michael, Moeller teammate and Virginia Tech-bound tight end Mike Jackson, and a friend of Michael's, Joe Ashbrook, to the home of Bengals strength coach Kim Wood. In his basement was a dungeon of weightlifting contraptions. If Edgar Allan Poe had been a personal trainer, his gym would have looked like this. Wood teaches what he calls "combat sports training," a form of puke-inducing, high-intensity lifts and creative exercises designed, in Wood's words, "to teach these young men to get the most out of their bodies." Among the exercises they perform are curls with 90-pound duffel bags, in which the stress is not essentially in the biceps but on the fingertips that grip the bags.
Michael moves quickly from station to station in these cramped quarters, from the hip and back machine to the hulking decline press, screaming his way through the last several reps. Curls with huge, rusting metal plates follow. Anthony sits on a bench and watches impassively. A fierce worker in his prime, Mu�oz doesn't usually come to these workouts, but when he does, he is quiet.
After the workout, father and son drop off Jackson and Ashbrook and then drive home. As soon as Anthony pulls his Jeep Grand Cherokee into the driveway, Michael is out the door and on a search-and-destroy mission, seeking sustenance. He knows his parents and Michelle will be attending a banquet that night, so food is a major concern. Michael finds a full Crock-Pot steaming in the kitchen and sighs with relief. Still concerned about his second course, he flings open the freezer door and hauls out a frozen pizza. There are precious few days left in his senior year and on July 7 he will start the second session of summer school and preseason workouts in Knoxville, getting a jump on his college career. "I'm looking forward to helping out down there next year," he says. Barry diplomatically says that Michael will be given a chance to compete for a starting spot. Truth is, Tennessee fully expects him to win one.
In the meantime, father and son will continue to work together, in anticipation of Michael's quest for greatness. Michael will study tapes of Anthony's NFL games. They will work out in the Mu�oz's basement gym. Anthony will lift weights alongside Michael until his shoulders and pecs burn, and he'll stop and ask himself, Why am I doing this? Then he'll look at his son, veins about to burst as Michael pounds through 40 reps on the leg press, and he'll smile. Later they will wrestle on the living room rug, dad reminding son to go easy, that he is 41 years old now. Or they will pass each other in a hallway and Michael will try to pin his hands on Anthony's chest and Anthony, like a defensive end, will try to slap them away. Then they will laugh, and the walls will shake.