How I Prepare is a season-long series about what specificDetroit Lionsplayers do each week to get ready for Sundays.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He wakes up in his hotel room at 7:30 on Sunday morning, gets dressed, eats breakfast and then Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola heads for a car.
By 8 a.m., he and safety Glover Quin head to the stadium -- they got a car on their own in London, for instance -- and try to arrive by 8:15 a.m. either on their own or with a driver for road games. Teammates are sometimes two hours from arriving. The game is almost five hours away. Raiola wants nothing rushed. Wants to make sure his pads are in his pants, his supplements are lined up, his tape organized. Everything in its place.
“Everything is ready to go, and I can just take it all in and enjoy myself leading up to the game,” Raiola said. “Maybe catch some last-minute film or whatever and about 11:30 getting ready, put the pads on, final meetings and motivational whatever tactics and final tape jobs.”
This has been Raiola’s routine for his 14-year career with the Lions. It has evolved because he knows the end is closer than the middle or the beginning. A lot of his preparation has been the basis of his longevity and the focus of this week’s How I Prepare.
After games, Raiola heads back to his Union Lake, Michigan, home and watches that day’s game. A lot of his teammates wait until Monday morning, but he can’t.
“For peace of mind,” Raiola said. “I want to see what happened, and that’s something I’ve always done.”
This is one of his most important lifts, employing a heavy lower body workout to eliminate some of the soreness his body has. Squats are a big on Mondays.
“I’ll try to get a minimum 405 on the bar,” Raiola said. “Some days, if I’m feeling good, I’ll get to 500. I’ll try to get 500. Mentally, that’s where I want to be.”
After lifting, he views Sunday’s game with his teammates to finish off corrections or issues from the day before. Then he does hot tub and cold tub treatment before the team’s walkthrough.
Players are off, but Raiola is not. Raiola either does yoga at a studio in Northville or pilates in West Bloomfield before heading to the team’s facility. Initially, he tried to do this Thursday mornings, but the 4 a.m. wakeup call for the 5 a.m. class before work was too early.
When he arrives in Allen Park, he lifts upper body, often shoulders to get blood back in the muscles. Then he’ll use an elliptical or rowing machine for 45 minutes that morning.
“Something easy on the knees,” Raiola said.
Tuesday afternoons, an Active Release Technique specialist comes to his home for up to two hours using massage, acupuncture and active release. He started this three years ago and uses the same specialist as some Detroit Red Wings.
Film-wise, he is watching his opponent: Personnel first, then fronts, front recognition and scheme. Another key has been watching other centers against that week’s opponent.
When Olin Kreutz was in the league, Raiola often watched his games a player and picked from them. The former high school teammates spoke often, sometimes about common opponents but never about their own teams.
“How they are playing the guy I am playing and what success they had,” Raiola said. “Always done that. Always watched, especially watched Olin Kreutz when I was younger. He’s the best center in the NFC and NFL at one point in time. I had a connection with him. I grew up with him. It was easy for me, look no further. To me, it’s a disservice when guys don’t do that. That’s free, man.”
When Raiola arrives, he already has a good foundation on his opponent. The morning is heavy on offensive installation. During practice, he is working off soreness still, something he tries to fully flush with another upper body lift Wednesdays.
“The older I get,” Raiola said. “The longer the soreness sets in.”
Between Wednesday and Thursday, he converses with quarterback Matthew Stafford about what they’ve seen on film and plans for Sunday. Film work and the reaction to it has been critical for both of them.
“That’s the biggest part of our game, watching film,” Raiola said. “Especially for my position. I like to be on the same page as Matthew. I try to be on the same page in some capacity. We’ll talk about it. We’ll discuss it. What’s awesome about the iPad is we can watch it where ever we go.”
Soreness is gone. Raiola does another morning workout, mostly shoulders and working on mobility, including rotator cuff and presses.
During practice, he’s fine-tuning his plan for the week. This is where getting ahead Sunday nights helps.
“People wait until Friday to really perfect what they are doing,” Raiola said. “I really like to get our game plan down and really try to detail what’s going to happen on Sundays on Thursdays. When Friday comes, it should be second-nature by then.”
A faster day. He’s smoothing out small game plan corrections and reviewing things again. Friday night brings a lot of rest.
A final morning walkthrough and then either with a home or away game, he’s watching college football in the afternoon and then grabbing some dinner before heading to the hotel for home games.
“Sit on the couch and chill and get to the hotel,” Raiola said. “And we’re into meetings and get our final orders and off to Sunday.”
Because Sunday, that wakeup call comes early. For Raiola, it always has.