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He hails from Beaver Falls, Pa. Screams football, doesn't it? Which makes B.J. McBryde's story, finding his football salvation on the mean streets of Mystic, all the more entertaining.
Meet B.J. McBryde. No. 97 for the UConn Huskies. Starting defensive tackle Friday night at Rentschler Field during the season opener. Bigger than a Buick. And educated, in part, by a local personal trainer and former defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers, here in our corner of the world.
It turns out that McBryde's girlfriend is Stonington High grad Molly Rathbun, whose family works out with former Fitch football player Greg Drab, co-owner of Advantage Personal Training in Mystic. And suddenly, this big young fella from the sticks who never knew how good he was, got the experience of a lifetime.
"I met Jacques there," McBryde was saying recently, alluding to Jacques Cesaire, a Southern Connecticut State alum and former lineman for the Chargers. "He saw something in me. Those guys that have coaching ability, and I believe Jacques has that, looked at me and said 'you've got to get your confidence up. Become a smarter player. You can do it.' Jacques was a huge influence, helping break the mental barriers I built for myself."
Cesaire, also a client at Advantage, met Drab several years ago during the offseason. Cesaire's girlfriend at the time - now his wife, Jill - is a Fitch graduate. Who knew Mystic was such a happening place for mountainous football players?
"After I was able to pick my jaw up after seeing an actual NFL player there, I could see myself doing this," McBryde said. "Jacques kept telling he how he had to grind, grind, grind. I was blown away."
Their workouts forced the jaws of a few other clients (mine included) to drop. It's not necessarily throwing around absurd amounts of weight. It's the pace and tempo. Cesaire, who rarely leaves home minus his sense of humor, loved to remind his protégé, "I'm 10 years older!" when he was kicking McBryde's behind, whether lifting, pushing, pulling, jumping or bench-pressing a school bus.
"B.J. would get a little nauseous sometimes," Drab said. "But the best part of what happened with him is that it was just us. In a larger group setting, you can just get by. But when it's more of a one-on-one thing, you do more than you're asked. Plus, it was an NFL player telling him."
And now McBryde enters his senior season as a believer. His size alone - wing span of 7 feet, 3 inches - might merit a look from the guys who play on Sundays.
"When I first met Greg, he knew me just like that. We worked out one time," McBryde said. "He said, 'B.J., you've got that country boy strength.' And I do. I'm from Beaver Falls, Pa. I'm not even two or three miles away from a farm. Greg said to get some technique. Then I fed in to their whole belief system.
"If I could say one thing that's different, it's my mental strength. I was one of those guys, freshman year, I didn't have lot of faith in myself. The coaches kept telling me, 'B.J., you have ability people would kill for.' I never got that. Something coming into this season clicked. Now I feel like, in my mind, I'm an unstoppable force."
Which would be lyrical to new coach Bob Diaco, who radiates positive energy around his players.
"The biggest difference with coach Diaco, I'd call him the ultimate players' coach," McBryde said. "I have nothing bad to say about coach Pasqualoni. The man was a teacher. He knew what he was doing. My technique went through the roof with him. But coach Diaco … like the day he surprised us (with a trip to) Six Flags. He blows us away. When you think something is going to go one way, he says, 'I got you.' Plus, he's a younger guy. That helps. His energy and his spirit, I feel like he knows each and every one of us."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.