One of the men that I developed huge respect for as a rookie and then as a teammate lining up next to him is an all-time super Steeler, offensive tackle Jon Kolb. Besides his tremendous play as a starter in all four 70’s Super Bowls over a 13-year career and maybe the best “unknown” left tackle to ever have played the game, Jon was one of the legitimate pioneers of strength training in the NFL. He truly was one of the strongest men to ever have played in the league. And if you follow this blog at all you know what a fan of anything strength related i am.
A bunch of us offensive linemen used to participate and host a football camp at Geneva College in the hometown of Joe Namath in Beaver Falls Pa. each summer in the 80’s. We had kids from many age groups there over 3-4 days. In addition to sharing our faith in Jesus, one of the highlights of that camp was a strength exhibition on the last night of camp put on by players for the kids to encourage them to lift weights.
The afternoon of the planned evening exhibition, Jon ran 2 miles followed by running stairs in the stands of the football field at Geneva. Knowing Kolby was scheduled to go for a heavy squat (think barbell on shoulders while doing a deep knee bend) that night at the lifting exhibition, I was curious as to why he would run that afternoon as it surely would zap his leg strength. Jon reminded me that football is first, and if you were not in Chuck Noll condition for camp, you were a dead man walking. All the strength training in the world couldn’t help you then.
That night in a hot sweaty gym full of cheering high school football players, Jon calmly unracked 715 pounds and stepped backward, pausing before starting his descent. In my mind as i stood to the side watching Jon, spotting him, ready to take the bar if he missed with 2 other players also at the ready, I fully expected to have to jump in and help Kolby up. Nobody runs 2 miles, then stairs and squats 715 pounds in one day. Unless you happen to be Jon Kolb.
Slowly with absolute control and mastery over the barbell Jon descended deep into the bottom position.of the squat.
When Jon started his ascent the cacophony in the musty old gymnasium reached ear splitting decibels while the bleachers shook with the reverberation of the young players urging Jon on. Slowly Jon continued climbing out of the hole, veins in his neck stood out like steel cables as he kept grinding through the last phase and finished with an explosive effort.
When Jon safely racked the weight, and waved to the kids, a thunderous roar shook the place. Despite the gargantuan effort, Jon seemed non-plussed, as if this was something he did all the time. Then i realized, it was just that.
“Your a football player first, and a weight lifter second. Don’t confuse the two.” Good advice from an all-time great.