Step into the boxing ring with Stanford's Solomon Thomas

Stanford forces sack, returns fumble to punctuate win over UCLA (1:09)

Up 16-13, Stanford sacks UCLA QB Joey Alfieri and Stanford's Solomon Thomas goes 42 yards for the touchdown to seal the Cardinals' 22-13 win. (1:09)

Ask almost any Stanford player about the program's rigorous offseason physical training regimen, and the usual response is a cringe mixed with a deep breath.

But ask defensive lineman Solomon Thomas about the work, and it's hard to detect more than a shrug.

"It was fun," Thomas said. "How can you not enjoy grinding with your teammates at 6 a.m.?"

Those early-morning human tug-of-wars, sprints, John Deere cart pulls, and muscle-searing slow-release pull-ups -- some of the hallmarks of the program that sports performance director Shannon Turley has used to build the foundation of Stanford's celebrated trench strength - -- that's Thomas' version of "fun."

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, to learn that the junior sought out additional work -- in the form of boxing -- to prepare for what has already been a disruptive 2016 season. Through three games, Thomas has recorded 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and a touchdown off a fumble recovery at the end of Stanford's recent 22-13 win at UCLA.

Thomas traces some of his success back to a simple YouTube search, where he saw videos of NFL defensive linemen logging training time in the boxing ring.

"I wanted to make my hands more active, more violent and more quick," Thomas said. "I wanted to better understand my weight distribution and body language."

Through some online research, Thomas found Stan Martyniouk -- an accomplished boxer esteemed by legend Manny Pacquiao for his explosiveness. Pacquiao picked Martyniouk as his training partner to help him ready for his 2014 fight against Chris Algieri, and Thomas picked Martyniouk to be the trainer who would introduce him to the sport of boxing this past summer.

"I wasn't just going to go through the motions," Thomas said. "I was going to respect Stan and his time, and give him all I had. Because everything we were doing -- hips, hands, hand-eye coordination and hand coordination -- I knew it would all translate to the D-line. Everything made sense to me."

Martyniouk and Thomas began work at the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos, located in a nondescript strip mall about 20 minutes north of Stanford's campus. An autographed Frank Gore jersey is on display near the gym's ring. The Indianapolis Colts running back boxed there when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, while Oakland Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson are still offseason regulars.

Thomas became the next star athlete to throw his name into that mix. His 6-foot-3, 273-pound frame was one of the biggest to ever step into the boxing gym, but it had a way of flying under the radar. At first, Martyniouk didn't know Thomas was one of the best defensive players in college football.

"All I knew was that Solomon played football," Martyniouk said. "But he was quiet and he didn't say much. He just came to work."

It didn't take long for Martyniouk and the Undisputed Boxing Gym to witness what Stanford coaches have seen since Thomas' early days on campus: a muscle-laden specimen who can reach 11 feet into the air on his vertical jumps -- even while weighing 273 pounds.

"I was amazed at how quick and explosive he was, for how big he was," Martinyouk said. "He's just super muscular, super strong and fit."

But even in peak physical condition for football, Thomas initially struggled. Martinyouk had him repeatedly slam a tire with a 12-pound hammer before stepping into the boxing ring for long sessions that demanded ferocious punching power and nimble footwork.

"I was dying in our workouts," Thomas said.

Martyniouk then had the lineman emulate videos of heavyweights such as Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson so that he could settle into a boxing style that suited his big lineman's frame. The two sparred in training fashion, though Thomas never entered a full-fledged fight to avoid risking injury that would jeopardize his upcoming football season.

"Honestly, he'd probably do really well if we put him into the ring right now," Martyniouk said. "From day one, Solomon just pushed himself to the limit. He would not stop until I told him to stop. Some clients have to take breaks, but he doesn't take breaks. When I told him to do something, he did it. He's a machine."

Thomas shrugs off Martyniouk's compliments just as nonchalantly as he dismisses talk about the difficulty of Stanford's brutal offseason training regimen. Thomas doesn't avoid physical grinds; he seeks them out.

"I liked boxing so much this summer that I was already planning on coming back this winter," he said. "It's a new world to find myself in."

And although Thomas doubts he'll ever go the amateur fighting route after his football career is over, he can't completely rule it out, and hopes to take the entire Stanford football team to see one of Martyniouk's fights in the future.

"Maybe my competitive nature will make me try one fight when football is over," Thomas smiled.

That would be one scary fight for a potential opponent. Stanford defensive line coach Diron Reynolds says that "Solomon is the one kid you want to grow up and look like." That means that Thomas is not the guy you'd want to see on the opposite side of a boxing ring -- or the line of scrimmage, for that matter.