By Sam Donnellon / The Associated Press
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A blur. Tom Anderson remembers it clear as yesterday.
When Anderson began training Michael Vick last February, Vick was a plodding, doubting, former starting quarterback, unable to shake off 17 months of prison life and natural aging, unsure he ever would. For most of their time together, Vick saw Anderson as a nice and well-meaning guy – “very spiritual,” Vick said – but with wacky exercise ideas.
And then it happened.
“The cone drill,” Vick said. “All of a sudden, it was there again. That’s when I got myself back.”
“It was a Sunday,” said Anderson. “He comes toward me and I pushed the pads to my right. He went by me and I looked to see where he was and it was like 10 yards down. Literally, a blur.
“I turned to my wife, who knew nothing about sports. And I said, ‘Did you see that?’
“And she said, ‘Did you see that?’
“He walked back and said, ‘Coach, I’m starting to feel like me now.’
“And I said, ‘Pow pow. Gotcha.'”
Tom Anderson is a “pow, pow, gotcha” kind of guy. Wiry and well-fit, sentences dart from his mouth as if part of his workouts, as if you could work on ballistics and plyometrics and all of his other training concepts through cadence, too.
Originally from Ardmore, Pa., he is 48 and a highly successful high school track coach at Landstown High School in Virginia Beach. He’s also an assistant to head football coach Tom Reamon, who was once Vick’s high school coach in nearby Newport News.
A former NFL player and, briefly, a coach, Reamon runs a successful football camp that has, over the years, attracted some big names. But when Vick’s agent, Joel Segal, called looking for names after last season had ended, Reamon aimed him toward Anderson rather than better known – and more expensive – trainers.
“I’ve been around all those guys,” Reamon said. “I’ve seen talented people. None better than Tom. He comes right at you. And he’s got a tremendous work ethic.”
Anderson had a resume. It just wasn’t lengthy or full of big names. The biggest was Percy Harvin, the Vikings wide receiver and last year’s NFL rookie of the year. Harvin played and ran for Anderson at Landstown, and it was Anderson who helped the oft-injured receiver strengthen himself into a running back during his years at the University of Florida.
A Baptist deacon, Anderson also has helped Harvin grow up. Raised by his mother and sister, Harvin had anger-management issues in high school, incurring suspensions in football and technicals in basketball until he was finally barred from competing in track his senior year. Then came the positive marijuana test at the NFL combines, which dropped Harvin down in the draft, all the way to 22nd overall.
He’s been trouble-free since.
“Not a bad kid,” Anderson said. “He just needed to control his emotions. And make better decisions.”
Anderson came to a similar conclusion about Vick. A self-described “dog lover” who owns a Labrador retriever, he, like many, was grossed out reading about the torture of dogs by Vick and others at the Bad Newz Kennels.
Anderson said his own mother at first was angry with him when she learned he would be working with him.
“My concern was this,” he said. “If you did these kind of things to animals, what kind of human being are you?”
Anderson said he found out: Vick’s regret is genuine, he believes, as is his resolve toward the future.
“I wasn’t a great kid either,” Anderson said. “My upbringing was full of mistakes that just weren’t made public. And I told him that. I told him, ‘Mike, everyone has made bad decisions.’ The Bible is full of those people. But God is using you now. The gifts that you have, you can reach an audience of people that other people can’t.”
At first, Vick said, he wasn’t quite sure about Anderson. He had never seen some of these exercises, and at least some of them seemed silly and unproductive. “We had to learn to trust in each other,” Vick said. But really, he had to learn to trust Anderson.
Anderson spent much of the first session calling him out. And the next and the next and the next. There were between 15 and 20 sessions over a three-month period. Vick also worked out on his own, but when he and Anderson got together, the workouts became increasingly exhausting, designed to mimic the rigors of a 65-play football game, in which Vick had not participated in more than three years.
“The thing that I respect about Tom is that he wasn’t afraid,” said Vick. “Wasn’t afraid to tell me what to do and what not to do. You know, a lot of people I’ve worked with in the past kind of felt intimidated and wouldn’t tell me what they really thought.”
Anderson explained every exercise, or tried to. He had designed what he called “a salad,” a program that tried to increase balance and strength as it increased speed. In one, Vick high-stepped through sand, repeatedly threw a medicine ball over his head, then finished by repeatedly banging on a truck tire with a sledgehammer.
“Then do plyometrics, then a donkey kick back and forth,” Anderson said. “And it’s grueling. I would see him and he would want to stop and I would say, ‘This isn’t about you. This is about your kids. This is about that next contract.’
“I remember we were doing hurdle work. And working on his hip flexors, which were tight in their mobility. He struggled. He would hit hurdles. At first I had to make him go back and do it again. But it got to the point where he would tell me, ‘I’m going back to do it again.'”
Some exercises were given names. Some became fodder to lighten the mood. When Anderson attached bands from one leg to another for a core drill, one day Vick feigned fear, joked that they felt too much like prison shackles.
“We got close,” Anderson said. “So we could kid around like that.”
“He understood the big picture,” Vick said. “And that was making me a better player. Restoring my strength, my speed, my abilities and bringing them back to the surface. He had a game plan.”
It worked, of course. Vick is again squirting out of trouble and creating it for opponents. He’s never been smarter, more accurate, or more resilient.
Anderson said he could see the difference right from the beginning. But he admits his jaw dropped a few times when the Eagles pounded Washington in mid-November, and his texts to his pupil and friend have become shorter and less analytical as this off-the-charts season has progressed.
“Everything we did pretty much was efficient, effective and still helps me,” Vick said. “I really look forward to working with him this offseason.”