This past offseason, Boston College defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey dedicated himself to getting into the best shape of his life.
He did this in some pretty unconventional ways.
First, he started seeing stretching specialist Bob Cooley as a way to become more flexible and avoid many of the injuries that have hurt him in the past. Ramsey missed nearly all of 2011 as he recovered from plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and was granted a waiver to be able to play this season. After seeing the results punter Gerald Levano got in his sessions with Cooley, Ramsey decided to join up with offensive tackle Emmett Cleary.
"I’ve seen the improvement in his body and how flexibile he is, so I figured I’d give it a try," Ramsey said. "It's my last year, so I’m going to go all out for my body to make sure I can have the best season."
Before you read on, erase any notion you have of stretching. We are not talking about raising your arms into the sky and breathing deep. Cooley puts Ramsey and Cleary through some intense 2 to 3 hour workouts, and when they are done, they are drenched in sweat.
Much of the stretching focus is on resistance. Ramsey explains.
"[Cooley] puts your body in all different types of positions because your muscles aren’t used to working a certain way," Ramsey said. "So when you are put in those positions, you're able to handle it. He puts your legs all the way back and you have to go against somebody else to try to keep your legs from going back. The stretching, it’s not like casual stretching. It’s a good workout."
Ramsey already has felt a difference, saying, "I feel like I’ve changed my body. I'm in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Being hurt last year taught me a lesson -- not to take anything for granted."
As for improving his technique, Ramsey said defensive line coach Jeff Comissiong brought in a sensei to work with every lineman on his hand work. It was not the first time Ramsey worked with a sensei -- he took karate two years ago -- but he did get a lot out of the drills.
"It’s definitely beneficial because you get used to using your hands, which on the D-line that’s all you do -- it’s a hand battle with the offensive lineman in front of you," Ramsey said. "[The sensei] teaches us to use offensive linemen against them for leverage, where he’s most vulnerable, where to strike to make sure it inflicts the most pain, so he’s a little bit weary of putting your hands on you again. It helps you be more precise with where you put your hands."
Ramsey said the defensive linemen practiced their new skills against the Boston College offensive linemen all summer, and noticed an improvement. Boston College has put a huge emphasis on playing better up front, particularly on pass rush. The Eagles only had 11 total sacks last year.
Having Ramsey back helps. He also is expected to provide leadership, after being selected one of the four team captains for this season by his teammates, who clearly have seen how hard he has worked after sitting out last year.
"It wasn’t easy seeing my team out there every weekend, knowing I should be out there to help them win," Ramsey said. "But it definitely humbled me, made me more appreciative of the game because I realized any second the game can be taken away. It made me more hungry for this season coming up. I’m ready to go."