By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2006
The truck rolled down a quiet residential street, while Adam Archuleta clung to a jury-rigged handle affixed to its rear, running for dear life to keep up. Of all the crazy things Archuleta's trainer, Jay Schroeder, had concocted in the name of improving his fitness, this was surely the most bizarre. But Archuleta, then a wide-eyed teenager, went along willingly.
These were the early days of the Archuleta-Schroeder relationship. Archuleta was a junior at Chandler High School in Arizona. That he would soon dominate the Pacific-10 as a linebacker at Arizona State, then get drafted 20th overall by the St. Louis Rams, convert to a defensive back and become the highest-paid safety in NFL history when the Washington Redskins signed him in March was unimaginable at the time.
To Archuleta, Schroeder and his unconventional tactics provided his best -- if not only -- chance of playing pro football, so he turned over his mind, body and soul to the trainer. No task was refused, no command ignored, even when it came to running 100-yard bursts while clenching a moving automobile for up to a half-mile at a time.
"From Day One, Jay has had me do some wild stuff," said Archuleta, who signed a six-year, $30 million contract with Washington. "And from Day One, for whatever reason, I did everything he told me to, when he told me to do it, in the way he told me to do it. There was complete faith and trust in what he was saying, and I don't think there was ever a point where I doubted anything. It was always, 'Okay, cool, whatever I have to do. Sometimes it kind of looks crazy, but let's do it.' "
Twelve years after his relationship with Schroeder began, Archuleta, 28, is the newest cog in Redskins assistant head coach Gregg Williams's defense. He is tough, yet unassuming off the field. He has the skills to attack the football, and with the study habits and smarts to master Williams's playbook.
One of Williams's sons is a devotee of Archuleta's workout video, "Freak of Training," and spoke about the safety's prowess to his father for years. Archuleta, meantime, was tired of playing for St. Louis, a finesse, offense-oriented franchise, a close friend said. He wanted a new team that stressed defense.
"He kind of has a chip on his shoulder coming in here," Williams said. "I love those guys. Those are the kinds of guys that are easy to coach because there's an automatic match for a blend. The mentality that he's been raised on in his offseason program, the toughness of his trainer, and the toughness of paying the price in peace so you don't bleed as much in war, he sees that's already a unified part of our defense, so it was really a quick sell."
Finding common ground with Schroeder was more challenging for Archuleta.
Archuleta initially approached him at a gym near his home after reading an article about his training techniques. Schroeder, 50, found the 175-pound high school junior cocky -- and made it clear that he was not to set foot in the gym again.
He wrote up a workout routine for Archuleta to follow anyway.
"From the day I met him he basically tore me up for a couple of hours verbally," Archuleta said. "I got home and my mother said, 'How did it go?' And I said, 'He pretty much cussed me out the whole time.' "
Archuleta was told to keep a detailed journal, tracking the technique he used for each weight lifting exercise, how much time it took to complete the drill, how his muscles felt after a workout, what he ate, how long he slept. Finally, when there could be no denying his dedication, he was allowed to work out with Schroeder in Mesa, Ariz. Archuleta began training with Schroeder daily.
"Adam has a tremendous desire to achieve. That's what sets him apart from everyone else," Schroeder said. "Lot's of people talk about it, but he actually has it. He's an intelligent, freethinking human being who doesn't know any boundaries or limits; he doesn't realize there might be limits on what he can do, and that's pretty cool."
Schroeder made Archuleta work six to seven hours a day on both upper and lower body. A routine session would include Archuleta doing a bench press, but allowing the weight to fall near his chest and then catching it before hoisting it back up. He would extend one arm and hold a heavy bar in a set position for as long as possible, then do it again.
Today, they still drop and catch barbells and dumbbells, with a precise series of techniques required for each motion. Archuleta does bench presses while trainers and spotters provide strong resistance, keeping the bar pressed against his chest, before immediately hitting the ground to do "rebound push-ups." That entails thrusting his body in the air, maintaining a straight back, and landing on the fingertips before springing back up for another push-up.
There is no stretching in Schroeder's program; it is built into the exercises. The entire body is trained in every session with no days devoted to particular muscle groups.
"The exercises look pretty eccentric," said Dave Shapiro, the athletic director at Chandler High School, who hired Schroeder three years ago to train the school's athletic teams. "But there's no doubt in my mind that what Jay is doing now everybody will be doing in 10 years."
Everything Schroeder devised for Archuleta in high school was for long-term gain, so he could begin peaking physically in four to five years. Their focus was on the 2001 NFL draft.
"Jay told me right away that he's not trying to make me Superman in my senior year of high school," Archuleta said. "He said, 'This is my goal, this is my vision for you, and it's all going to really start happening when you're 23, 24 years old.' "
Archuleta was a walk-on at Arizona State, redshirting as a freshman, playing as a reserve as a sophomore, then starting for three years and earning Pac-10 defensive player of the year honors as a senior. He became friends with Pat Tillman, another undersized linebacker and fitness fanatic who became an NFL star, then quit to join the U.S. Army. Tillman, who became a Ranger, was killed two years ago in Afghanistan.
It was a few months after his senior season, during the 2001 NFL draft combine, that the mythology of "Adam Archuleta -- Workout Warrior" was born. He arrived at the combine a lean 6 feet, 210 pounds, and bench-pressed 225 pounds 31 times, a record for a defensive back. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. He's listed today at 6 feet, 223 pounds.
"A lot of guys who pressure from the defensive secondary figure out a way not to get to the quarterback," said Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders. "But Adam will get there. He can also be a deep defender, and it gives you some problems. You've got to account for a guy like him, because he'll make himself accountable to the players when he hits them, and he makes himself accountable to his coaches with the way he disguises his coverages."
Archuleta was named to several all-rookie teams in 2001 as St. Louis lost to New England in the Super Bowl. In 2002, he posted a 14-tackle game, and in 2003 registered five sacks, an interception, one forced fumble and again topped the 100-tackle mark.
The following season brought the first significant setback of his career, however. He suffered a herniated disk, but still played in every game, including two in the postseason. Team doctors recommended surgery and Archuleta began to hear the whispers that his intense training with Schroeder had caught up with him.
He chose to spend the offseason recovering on his own, assembling what he refers to as "my team," a group of experts in rehabilitation, Pilates, holistic medicine and body purification. Four months after the herniated disc was discovered, Archuleta was back with the Rams for spring workouts. He played all 16 games in 2005.
"When I was hurt I heard a lot of detractors who said my injury was the result of what I had been doing to my body with Jay," Archuleta said. "But that couldn't be more wrong. Sticking with my team was the best decision I ever made."
Schroeder said: "Adam knows what got him to where he was, and he understood the real source of his injury and how it occurred."
Archuleta has spent much of this offseason in Arizona, as Williams excused him from the opening weeks of Washington's training program to stay with Schroeder. "We have an understanding that as long as I show up in shape and work hard and play hard, everything is fine," Archuleta said.
When the Redskins complete their minicamp, Archuleta will resume training with Schroeder in Arizona.
"Adam is a very special individual because he has used all the tools that God gave him," Schroeder said. "His spirit, emotion, intellect, psychology -- he uses every aspect of what makes him human to his advantage, and that's what other teams should fear."