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.
Using bricks, 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 anything."
The speedy, 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.'"
PULL THE UNCLE
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 his life.'"
CHASE THE RABBIT
Rocky Balboa 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."
CATCH THE BRICK
Standing five 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.
RUN THE LINES