First impressions are everything.

When I made the trip down to Chantilly, VA to check out the Sport and Speed Institute (SSI) to start my mid-winter break from school, I knew I was going to see how a real sports performance facility was run before I even parked my car.

I arrived at 14290-A Sullyfield Circle at about 9 p.m. and the lot was pretty dark except for the lights shining outside of the huge glass walls on the side of SSI. As I passed by to park my car, I could see Coach Justin Kavanaugh and Dylan Seely working overtime with Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain of Navy in preparation for their NFL Pro Days. Once I made it inside, I watched Justin oversee and coach each rep of their speed drills, while also recording each sprint with a camera for further review.

Justin gave me the opportunity to check out his place and see how a real sports performance center is run and I was hooked right away. This was my first time at this type of facility and that moment confirmed my beliefs that this is something I want to do. I could have left after they closed shop an hour later and been satisfied. But, little did I know, this was just the beginning.

I came while their NFL Combine prep was underway so SSI was very busy over the weekend. All I’ve known about is the training aspect, but I learned there are so many other aspects that go into developing athletes. SSI takes a holistic approach in dealing with its athletes and virtually everything is covered – nutrition, recovery, physical therapy, off-the-field coaching, skill-specific work and, of course, the training.

The design of SSI let’s you know as soon as you walk in the door that you’re not in your typical commercial

Brett McMakin, a member of SSI's NFL Combine Class and now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, signs the Pro Wall.

Brett McMakin, a member of SSI’s NFL Combine Class and now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, signs the Pro Wall.

gym. The second I walked in I just got this vibe of success and hard work and it just put me in a positive mindset for the whole day. The first thing I saw was the SSI Pro Wall and all the signatures of top athletes that have come here to train. It was just so motivating to me and makes me want to have my own gym that could churn out stud athletes.

Next, I saw the athlete’s lounge and it was littered with framed newspaper and magazine articles of clients. Down the hallway leading into the gym I saw framed pictures of all the athletes in this year’s NFL Combine program and passed the conference room. The room has inspirational quotes on the wall and I saw everything take place in there from meetings, film and play breakdown on the white board and mock interviews. Also, on the table were binders for each member of the draft class which were filled with everything from workouts, warm-up routines, food journals and journals for how the players were feeling throughout the training.

Finally, the gym itself is huge. There’s a spacious turf area that’s more than 40 yards long where you could not only run sprints, but have enough room to actually go through position-specific drills. The weight room has all the necessities with multi-purpose Keiser racks, kettlebells, glute ham raises, medicine balls and plyo boxes. The physical therapy area is top of the line with all sorts of gadgets I’ve never seen before, from vibrating foam rollers to the Fusionetics software. The software allows coaches perform various assessments and the athletes also use it to check in each day with how they’re feeling mentally and physically.

I pretty much got to see everything they do inside the gym at SSI. Coach Josh Schroeder led a busy morning of classes filled with high school and youth athletes. I got to see how they broke down and organized a training session comprised of speed and strength work flawlessly. The SSI high school training is far-reaching because it’s also where the Nike Epic7 team trains. I got to see some of the best football players in the area get coached up by a stellar group of coaches in former NFL defensive back Shawn Springs, Schroeder, Brandon Randolph, Lorenzo Hoff, Drew Amuwave and the head coach of the team Elite 11, Paul Troth.

Coach Justin Kavanaugh watching Navy's Keenan Reynolds and UCLA's Devin Fuller perform pushup-start sprints.

Coach Justin Kavanaugh watching Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and UCLA’s Devin Fuller perform pushup-start sprints.

There’s more to the training than the workouts themselves, as I got to see Coach Kav counsel a promising high school football player on what he needs to do to get more scholarship offers. They went through everything from social media presence, how to put together and send out film and how he needs to plot out his next few months in the recruiting process. I’ve never heard of recruiting training as part of a gym package.

But, Coach Kav isn’t your typical trainer. He has a wide-ranging network in the football world at all levels, from high school all the way to the pros. He offers things you can’t get anywhere else. With his pro guys, he covers every detail of Pro Day and gives them a full itinerary on what they need to do that day to maximize their results. Every off-the-field aspect is covered. SSI provides its athletes with the right supplementation, they get catered meals from Justin’s private chef Ed Mays and the physical therapy is high quality. The physical therapy is headed by Megan Rogers, one of the top physical therapists in the country, Seely, an injury specialist and Justin, who’s also well-versed in physical therapy.

I spent most of my time with Justin and Dylan and they couldn’t have been more helpful to me whenever I had a question. Justin drew up a diagram for me and went point-for-point on teaching me why he has his athletes train their core to start a workout. Dylan is one of the smartest trainers I’ve ever met and he took me through their assessment process and how they are able to spot possible injuries and stop them before they happen.


Overall, this was an educational, motivating and fun trip. This gave me a glimpse of what it takes to run a successful training business geared for athletes. I learned how to properly run a group training session for younger athletes and all the little details that go into running a program for the pros. I also got to throw a football with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Reynolds and watched Devin Fuller, a player I covered when I worked at the Newark Star-Ledger while he was in high school, prepare for his Pro Day.

This was one of the best experiences of my life and only motivated me even more to pursue and reach my goals as a trainer. I can’t wait to see what the next trip to SSI will bring me over the summer.