By ROGER MOONEY
Eugene Monroe was finished with his work that afternoon. The running, the lifting, the crunching, done.
He would be back in the morning for more of the same. He would be back the following day, too. And the day after that. And almost every day leading up to the NFL scouting combine, which was just two weeks away.
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It was early February, and Monroe sat on a chair near the front of Athletic Edge Sports, which is up the road from Lakewood Ranch High.
The chair did its best to hold Monroe’s 6-foot-5, 309-pound body. He is massive, which is what you would expect a left tackle to be, especially one who could go early Saturday when the NFL kicks off its two-day draft in New York.
Monroe, who played at Virginia, is expected to be selected in the first three picks. Definitely in the top-5 if you believe the mock drafters.
Monroe fits the prototype of a left tackle. Big. Quick. Big.
He fits the prototype of what athletic trainer Mike Gough had in mind seven years ago when he rented space in an industrial park and opened Athletic Edge Sports. The idea was find NFL prospects and turned them into high picks.
It was a slow go.
The best of the lot ended up as free agents signed after the draft. None made it through training camps.
“I kind of took it a step at a time,” Gough said. “I didn’t get ahead of myself. I tried to keep the quality of training the same, the individual attention.”
Gough moved his facility to its current location in 2006. That was the year a running back from LSU showed up. Joseph Addai was projected to be a third-round pick. Maybe a second rounder with a good showing at the combine.
The Colts used their first-round pick on Addai, making him the 30th player taken.
A year later, Amobi Okoye came down from Louisville. He was 19 years old and considered a late first-round pick. The Texans made the defensive tackle the 10th pick.
“I had goals,” Gough said. “I wanted to get a first rounder. I got that with Joseph. My next goal was to get a guy drafted in the top-10. I got that with Amobi. The next goal was to get a guy who’s invited to New York.”
Monroe will be in New York on Saturday. So will Gough. Monroe invited his trainer to attend the biggest event of his life.
“That makes me feel really good, because we worked closely together,” Gough said. “We formed a bond. I think I helped him.”
On that day in February Monroe said the reason he decided to train with Gough was the reputation he’s building among the agents who handle the top NFL prospects.
The facility is small, but complete with state-of-the-art equipment. That Gough brings in no more than 10 or so prospects means there is more time for individual attention.
That’s what Monroe wanted. And that’s what Gough wanted when he started Athletic Edge Sports. That and a couple of top prospects.
“I don’t know if that was a vision,” Gough said. “I just worked my butt off.”