By Christina Watkins
Read in the Sun Sentinel
After struggling to become a professional athlete, former Florida International University football player and recent graduate Solomon Smith decided to create his own path to success.
In January, Smith opened his own training facility in Miramar, Grind Hard Athletics, with two others to train young athletes and help them make it to the college or professional level.
“I kind of weighed the NFL out,” said Smith, 22. “My career wasn’t going as expected, and that’s when I really started focusing on what I wanted to do outside of football.”
GHA uses hi-velocity physical conditioning programs to help prepare future athletes for college and professional careers.
“With each kid, we’re beginning with the general preparation phase, the introductory,” Smith said. “We kind of build a foundation so, as they progress, they don’t pick up bad habits.”
Smith graduated from FIU in May with a degree in sports and fitness. . He was the Golden Panthers’ quarterback until a recurring shoulder injury during his sophomore season made him re-evaluate his future in football.
“My plans were to have a sports training facility, but along the road, I ran into so many bumps, trials and tribulations,” Smith said. “I felt like I should be able to give back and teach these kids the way to go.”
Smith uses techniques he learned at FIU, and concentrates on exercises such as joint stability and shoulder, knee and ankle workouts. Those joints are where some of the most typical injuries in sports happen.
Yvette Lorenzo, mother of GHA client Rachel Lorenzo, 13, said she feels safer knowing her child is getting the proper training.
“For me as a mom, injury is my biggest concern, and anything we can do to prevent them or avoid them altogether, I’ll do it,” Lorenzo said. “These techniques through GHA are definitely a benefit.”
Smith’s partners at GHA are Bobby Seay Jr., 24, former defensive back for the Arena Football League’s Utah Blaze, and Joel McCleod, 23, former lineman for the University of Memphis.
The three say that passing on valuable skills and information learned from their own experiences will help prepare teenagers for a successful and less stressful academic and athletic path.
Smith, Seay and McCleod, all of whom grew up in Miami, say GHA is a way for them to give back to their community.
“There’s no such thing as a time machine,” McCleod said. “Since we can’t go back in time, why not help the kids that are in the area that I grew up at reach the goals that I’m trying to reach?”
GHA client, Larry Hope Jr., 18, who committed to the University of Miami in January, convinced his father that by training with GHA, he’d have a free ticket to the NFL.
“When Seay works out, it’s like he’s going in slow motion,” said Larry Hope Sr. “Since he’s played Division 1 football, he can look and see how he can help my son even more.”
But succeeding in the field is just part of the greater goals at GHA, where the owners also strive to educate their clients on the unspoken dangers and responsibilities that exist in a student athlete’s life.
“The hidden dangers that I faced on my first day at Central Michigan are alcohol, drugs and women,” Seay said, adding that time management was another major problem for him as a college athlete.
Seay created some core values to help himself, and now his clients at GHA: honesty, commitment, persistence, loyalty, family, accountability and focus.
“Those seven core values actually helped me get through,” Seay said. “They taught me how to persevere through the hard times.”
GHA now hopes to host football camps in different states, expand the franchise and eventually become a national training facility.
“Our football skills camp will eventually touch almost every region of the country,” McCleod said. “We’re only four months old, and we’re already in talks for camps here in South Florida, Tampa, Connecticut and North Florida. We will definitely go national.”