As a teenager and
high school football player in the blue-collar outskirts of New Orleans,
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor didn't have access to cutting-edge workout
equipment or techniques. He and his uncle Herman Francois with whom Taylor went
to live in seventh grade, had to improvise. Most days--summer and school
year-- Taylor and Francois woke at midnight to work six hours for a janitorial
and construction firm run by Taylor's aunt Judy. Around dawn they gathered
whatever equipment they could find and headed to a nearby field.
flour, ropes, tires--and even a live rabbit--Francois devised a fitness regime.
Soon, says Taylor, "I started noticing that in the fourth quarter of games,
guys were taking deep breaths, but I felt great. He trained me into who I am,
especially mentally. I realized if I could do [Francois's workout], I could do
6'1", 191-pound Taylor, now 26, kept that mind-set while on his unlikely
path from walk-on at Louisiana-Lafayette to shut-down NFL cornerback who earns
nearly $6 million a year. While he now employs more conventional training
methods, Taylor still feels Francois's impact. After last February's Super Bowl
win they celebrated on the field in Detroit. Says Francois, "I kept saying,
'Boy, you didn't have to go to any gym, and it all finally paid off.'"
In place of the
weight sleds football players use, Taylor tugged the heaviest thing around: his
150-pound uncle. Francois sat on an old tire, and Taylor, attached to the tire
by a rope tied around his waist, pulled him down the field as fast as he could,
100 yards at a time. "In high school I only weighed about a
buck-sixty," says Taylor. "It really worked my whole lower body."
Recalls Francois, "Cars would stop and see a guy sitting in a tire with a
water bottle and a kid pulling him. The drivers would say, 'What the heck are
you doing?' I'd say, 'I'm trying to get this young man into the best shape of
chased a chicken to improve his agility; Taylor turned to an even quicker
beast. "When I was 14 or 15, I saw a rabbit in the woods," recalls
Taylor. "I told myself, I bet you can catch one of those. I told my uncle
about it, and he said, 'Let's go.'" Francois began picking up rabbits from
the local pet shop and releasing them on the fenced-in field, one at a time.
Ike would chase them until he couldn't run any more. "The rabbits helped
with his initial burst," says Francois. "The zigging and zagging also
taught him to swivel his hips." Says Taylor, who had an AFC-high 24 passes
defended last year, "A rabbit makes sudden moves--when it would cut, I
would cut. I came close, but I never caught one."
yards apart and each holding a brick, Taylor and Francois would simultaneously
lob the bricks to each other for 20 to 25 minutes without rest. The drill
helped Taylor develop the strength in his hands, wrists and shoulders that he
needs to make arm tackles and also to improve concentration and catching
skills. (He had interceptions in the AFC title game and the Super Bowl last
season.) Francois says the exercise took the place of a JUGS machine--which
Taylor now jacks up to 40 mph in practice.
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