You’ve come to the campus of a Jewish Community Center in north Miami-Dade County. Upstairs, a dozen retirees are fighting to keep up with their treadmills. Outside are a hundred school kids, some tethered together as they walk to a classroom, others playing kickball.
But look beyond right field. Look hard, because what’s there isn’t what anybody expects to discover in the shadow of the Aventura Mall.
Bommarito Performance Systems is the formal name. A better way to put it is if the Super Bowl represents the pot of gold, this is the other end of the rainbow, where NFL dreams begin, end or, more often, are refined. This is where hundreds of pros — big names such as Anquan Boldin, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte and Frank Gore — come each off-season to prepare for training camp. Not only do some Dolphins train here, but Patrick Surtain, former Pro Bowl cornerback for Miami, coaches here.
What these athletes do on fall Sundays, when the pads and the lights are on, everybody knows.
How they get there is what this is all about. And while what happens here can be tedious, it’s no less intriguing.
Start with the young guy who just arrived for limbering-up work in the physical therapy room. He’s Lamar Miller, who is expected to carry the Dolphins’ running game this season.
Miller gained only 250 yards in limited duty as a rookie last season but is the talk of the place this summer. When founder Pete Bommarito is asked who comes to mind when the term “freak of nature” is mentioned, he says, “I keep coming back to Lamar. I might be getting myself in a little bit of trouble here because it’s gotten so much national attention, but it’s very rare, that much speed but at the same time, that much ability. He’s seriously something special.”
Another endorsement comes from Gore, the Pro Bowl bulldozer for the 49ers who has mentored Miller, a fellow UM alum.
“As long as that Cane gets that opportunity, he’ll be great,” Gore says.
With training camps including the Dolphins’ opening Sunday, this is taper-down time at Bommarito. Laymen might be hard pressed to recognize that this is the easy part. Take Gore, whose black 49ers cut-off shirt may as well have been painted on, it’s so sweat-soaked after only 20 minutes of drills.
“Trying to compete with the other guys to get in shape,” Gore says. “I look like I’m in shape, right?”
Everybody here does. Up in the weight room, coach Joe Ferrer is informing Darnell Dockett, Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the Cardinals, they’re about to work on his core.
Ferrer: “Core is challenging.”
Dockett: “Core is always challenging.”
Ferrer: “This one is EXTRA challenging.”
Dockett (mumbling, rolling his eyes): “Doesn’t surprise me.”
Pain lives in the weight room. If it’s true these guys have rock-hard biceps, it’s also true they have rock-hard skulls when pride enters the picture.
“It’s very competitive,” Dockett says. “A lot of testosterone in this.”
The drill sergeant is Bommarito, a curious sight amid 300-pounders. Bommarito, 38, is a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder who summarizes his athletic accomplishments by putting himself “on the ‘attempted’ list, not the ‘succeeding’ list.”
Bommarito, pacing, barks instructions in his lingo (“Lateral shifts! Tube walks!”). He has gum in his mouth, but to say he’s chewing it would be incorrect. He’s chomping it. Everything the man does, he does with intensity.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 15,” he says. “You’ve got to be. It’s just my personality. I was actually mentored by people who had more laid-back personalities. … The more I started being me and not trying to emulate my mentors, the better success I had. Intensity is the name of my game, for sure.”
Bommarito trained a young Boldin when he was breaking into the NFL. When Boldin began having success as a then-member of the Cardinals, word spread. Boldin recorded a YouTube video endorsing Bommarito.
“It’s a very, very specialized, unique situation,” Bommarito says of his operation. “We’re asking guys to give up guaranteed money to work out with their teams (and thus earn off-season bonuses) and come pay us to do this.”
Amid the NFL scouting combine, draft and free agents waiting for calls, it’s a year-round operation. Bommarito, who has a second location near Dolphins training camp in Davie, supplies housing for out-of-towners, a chef and physical therapy. He also has trained baseball players (including Miguel Cabrera), tennis players (Sloane Stephens) and hockey players (John LeClair), although the majority of his clients are middle school and high school athletes including Kelvin Taylor when he was at Glades Day.
The pros come, citing the camaraderie that cuts across organizational allegiances.
“The NFL is bigger than us players,” Dockett says. “As individuals we want to have successful careers, so it’s all about trying to help each other excel and do the best they can. On game day it’s all personal, all business, but friendships last after football.”
It’s 10:30 a.m. Dockett has been here since 7:15 and, thanks to Ferrer, won’t leave for another hour. Multiply that by five workouts per week. Does he ever leave hurting?
“I’m hurtin’ all the time,” he says. “It’s a beast.”