Is Boxing the next great cross training for NFL players

Of Sweet Science and Gridiron

About five years ago, I was approached by former Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos player Antwon Burton to see if I would teach him to box at my gym in Pueblo Colorado. A formidable giant of a man, his agility and movement belied that of a man well over six feet and 360 lbs.


We started off slowly at first, basics and footwork, mechanics and utilizing kinetic linking rather than the brute strength he was accustomed to. Pad work sessions proved especially challenging as most beginners need continual reminding that heavy punching is for the bag and not for the aging hands of their comparatively small 5’7 coach.

I remembered the words of my friend Master George Chung who was awarded a Superbowl ring for his work with the San Francisco 49r’s a decade before when he said, “Martial Arts can make big guys move like little ones.” I’d met Master Chung during a planning week in Canada for an MMA Media venture in 2011 and I had kept that Superbowl ring in mind while working with Antwon.

Gabe Charboneau and Antwon Burton
Gabe Charboneau and Antwon Burton

Not surprisingly in short time, Antwon not only progressed, but flourished with his array of hand speed, footwork and coordination, which drew much surprise on social media as well as the NFL athletes and hopefuls whom he trained at his well known S&C gym Next Level Performance.

We began to connect the dots between corresponding movements, common denominators and drills that were mutual to both, the sweet science and football, especially within the realm of creating angles, misdirection and footwork. Also, within the context of good pad-work lies increased cognitive thinking, response time and the ability to read subtle body cues, all of critical importance to a football player.

Notably, while I never let the combine guys spar hard, it amazed me that after two minutes these obviously well-conditioned athletes would be physically exhausted. This reinforced to me the adage of “There’s little than can prepare you for fighting, like fighting.”

Other benefits of cross training Boxing for football include:

  • Greater hand eye coordination, understanding of depth, distance and timing.
  • Freedom from the monotony of in-season workouts.
  • The “Alpha Factor” every man likes to feel and believe that he is a fighter and this confidence will transcend the boxing gym into weekly practice.

I enjoyed my time working with the football community and had the fortune of seeing many that I had trained like Morgan Fox go on to a career with The Los Angeles Rams and Derrick Gore added to the Chargers roster in 2019.

A good coach can teach you to play a sport. A good teacher can show how that sport applies to many.


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