Entrepreneur changing shoulder pad industry

What you are about to watch is literally painful, making you wince and turn away in horror. Yet there is something metaphorically beautiful in it too.

And that's sort of the point.

Here stands Bob Broderick, right hand sandwiched between two small slices of foam and set flush against the work bench inside this East Hanover, N.J., warehouse. His left hand, raised high above his head, holds a football helmet. With a lightning strike, Broderick slams the helmet down on his sandwiched hand, the thud echoing off the cinder block walls of the industrial space. He pulls his right hand free, wiggles his fingers, and smiles.

No pain. But so much gain.

Here sits Bob Broderick, steering wheel in his grip, America's roads in his sights. Business partner Ted Monica is at his side, and together, the founders of XTECH Protective Equipment are revolutionizing the world of football equipment, one shoulder pad at a time. And one road trip at a time. In five years together, the traveling road show featuring Monica's know-how and Broderick's business acumen has re-enacted that helmet-slam routine in more football stops than you can count. But if they appear an odd pair — the 61-year-old Monica is all blue-collar wisecracks; the 34-year-old Broderick all white collar polish — their sales pitch is anything but.

"Bob did the demonstration for myself and Urban Meyer, and honestly, it was first I'd ever heard of their product," said Rutgers coach Chris Ash, recalling the meeting during the satellite camp he ran last summer at FDU in Madison, also attended by his friend and mentor from Ohio State. "When I watched that demonstration of basically putting the pad over his hand, hitting his hand with the helmet and it was fine, then covering a cell phone with the pad and hitting it with a hammer, and nothing happened to the cell phone, I was sold. If it can protect those things, it can protect my player."

It all starts with the foam, with the military-grade XRD product at the heart of that eye-opening routine. But if that makes the initial impression, it is the quality of the product resulting from that foam, from Monica's design and Broderick's marketing that has begun to take root in the football world. Across years of mapped out road trips that would make overnight truckers blush, years of driving roads from the bottom of the East Coast to the top of the West and criss-crossing every highway across the middle, from late-night motel stops for a few hours of sleep to near-daily appointments with football coaches and equipment managers in every corner of the land, Broderick is authoring of one of our most enduring American stories, an entrepreneurial success sprouting from the little-town streets of Waldwick, N.J., into nearly every locker room in the NFL.

What XTECH has created is a state of the art shoulder pad, one entirely U.S. made, hand measured and personally crafted by Monica and his two sons, designed as the lightest weight, most protective product on the market, built around a new five-year exclusive partnership with XRD, the same foam used by U.S. military, one Broderick discovered by literally typing the words "world's best foam" into his Google search engine. The pads are worn by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., by Muhammad Wilkerson and Mohamed Sanu, by Khalil Mack and Victor Cruz, by players on 27 different NFL teams, more than 225 college teams, including Ohio State, Michigan, UCLA, Oregon and Rutgers to name a few, and by countless high school programs all over the country.

"They wear it because they prefer the product," Broderick said.

Broderick has become an unexpected expert in this new language, learning from the master in his own warehouse, listening as the meaty-fingered, cigarette-inhaling Monica can describe every detail of the materials used to make his pads, every aspect of his design, and every manufacturing step along the way. The two came together thanks to a mutual friendship with Giants' equipment director Joe Skiba, Broderick by way a high school soccer and basketball career but most formatively by his work in the Giants equipment room and PR staff from the age of 14 through college graduation. Monica's roots were laid at his father's football side, not in following his dad's prowess for coaching players for years at Madison High School, but in an abiding and enduring fascination with what those players wore.

"I was told he was the Steve Jobs of shoulder pads," Broderick said, quoting Skiba, who had worked with Monica for years when the latter was employed by industry heavyweight Riddell and later when he started his own company. But when the absence of a clear business plan forced that personal venture to close, Monica was left back at his Pennsylvania home, driving a cab to support his family, tinkering with his shoulder pad design in every spare minute, waiting for his next opportunity. Skiba, along with the highly respected Giants' trainer Ronnie Barnes, helped facilitate his latest return, so eager were they for the opportunity to purchase his products once again.

"Right now is the most excited I've ever been to make the hour drive to work," Monica says, surveying the bounty all around him, stacks of shoulder pads in various states of production, other stacks of ones in current use back in to be cleaned and reconditioned. "This is nice. I've put in a lot of hard work, over 30 years in the industry. I've just always been fascinated with it. My dad was a high school coach at Madison for twentysomething years, he'd bring me to work and drop me in the locker room to get the equipment ready. I'd be in there ripping stuff apart to figure it out."

Now, with Broderick at his side, with the backing of investors like Super Bowl winning coach Brian Billick, with the interest of players at every level of the sport creating immense online buzz through sites like Twitter and Instagram, the football world is starting to figure it out too.

"At the end of the day, this has been my entire career, I have two grandsons and I love the sport," Billick said. "I know it's under siege a bit, and it's understandable, with concerns about concussions. We want to take the head out of the game, well then we have to put it on the shoulder pad. They haven't changed in 30 years. I very much believe in the product, and I very much believe in Bob."

Just a few years back, Broderick, who had left his job with FOX Sports to start his own PR firm — Manhattan-based RTB Media was founded in 2010 — remembers being at an event with Witten, the Cowboys All Pro tight end.

"I said, let me ask you a question, 'What kind of shoulder pads do you wear?" Broderick said, knowing full well the NFL has long left the specifications on shoulder pads up to individual equipment staffs or players, unlike their requirements for say, knee and thigh pads, helmets or cleats. "He had no clue. He could name his gloves, of course his shoes. But he'd never thought about the shoulder pads."

One pad at a time, one road trip at a time, Broderick is out to change that.

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