Off the field, Anquan Boldin is a soft-spoken, humble, giving, family man. On the field, he is a competitive, forceful, hard-nosed, tackle-breaking beast for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are known traditionally as a loyal, intense, winning franchise. That’s why Anquan fits right in. When talking about the Ravens he says, “We have a great locker room. Organization is first class. The thing that I’m most proud about is that I came to an organization that has a chance to compete for a championship every year. No matter what year it is, the Ravens are gonna be a team to be reckoned with. We have a great core of guys on our team.”
Last season, his first in Baltimore for the Ravens, “Q” led the team with 64 catches, 837 yards and seven touchdowns. Prior to joining the Ravens, Anquan played for the Arizona Cardinals where he was an animal. As a rookie for the Cardinals in 2003, he had 101 catches for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns on his way to being named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
Over the next seven years, Boldin would become one of the premiere wide receivers in the game, racking up 650 catches for 8,357 yards and 51 touchdowns. He has averaged double-digit yards-per-catch every season and was named to the Pro Bowl again in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, he played just 12 games and had 89 catches for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns. He helped carry the Cardinals to the Super Bowl and came within one play of winning it all.
Hard to believe one of the best wide receivers in the league wasn’t always catching passes. Throughout high school and going into college, Anquan was a quarterback. After sitting on the sideline as the third-string quarterback his freshman year, he decided to talk to Florida State coach Bobby Bowden about getting some playing time. He switched to wide receiver and ended up contributing to the Seminoles in a big way, catching 21 TDs in 23 career games.
After the Cardinals drafted Boldin with the 54th overall pick, he has had a super successful career. But until he gets a Super Bowl ring, he will stay hungry. When asked about his competitive nature he says, “For me, I’m just a competitor. I hate to lose. I would do anything not to lose. I guess if you ask me, I’m not supposed to lose at anything and that was my attitude growing up. I would be mad, ready to fight if I lost anything growing up. And my mom was like “you can’t win everything” but in my mind, I’m like I’m supposed to so, that’s always been my mindset.”
Boldin isn’t your average pro athlete. When discussing what makes him different than other wide receivers, he says: “I think the thing that differentiates me from other receivers is just mentality-wise. In this league, the receivers are known as divas (he laughs) — guys that are soft and that’s a statement I really don’t want put on me. I tell a lot of people, ‘I’m not a receiver I’m a football player. Whatever I need to do to win the game I’m more than willing to do.’ ”
Every so often in professional sports, a special athlete comes along that encompasses every single attribute a team could possibly ask for. In this case, former Rutgers University cornerback Devin McCourty has been a dream come true for the New England Patriots.
Last year, the Patriots selected him with the 27th overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Patriots saw a lot of upside in Devin and decided he’d be a good fit for their young, revamped defense and storied franchise. When talking about being drafted, Devin says, “It’s a remarkable feeling, just to kind of see a team wanted you and they selected you in the NFL draft. You see everything you always wished for come true in one night.”
When asked about getting an opportunity to play as a rookie last season, he said, “Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to expect. We had a veteran corner who got hurt and he was placed on IR. Our corners coach came in and told me I would have to step up and maybe play sooner than I thought and sooner then everyone expected. One thing I was excited about is I knew that we had guys that were winners.”
McCourty instantly stepped into the starting line-up for the Pats and recorded 7 interceptions. Only 7-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed had more picks with 8. Devin helped the Patriots’ defense lead the league in interceptions with 25 and he played an integral role in leading the Patriots to a 14-2 regular season record.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl, where he had the AFC’s lone interception in the game. Devin speaks highly of guys like Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis, who he was teammates with in Honolulu. He grew up watching those guys win Super Bowls, so to be on the same field and same team as them was a special memory.
When it comes to Devin McCourty, it’s clear he is focused on being the best he can be. He’s not just an amazing player on the field but also carries himself well off the field. His competitive mindset, work ethic, freak athleticism, instincts and sheer ability all complement his capability to fit into a team and adapt to all situations. Off the field, Devin is a laid back, family-oriented guy. This is fitting, since his twin brother Jason also plays cornerback in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans. It’s evident by seeing Devin’s cleats that the brothers are extremely close: last year, Devin wrote his number and his brother’s number on his cleats for good luck.
There’s no doubt the Patriots hit a home run with their first round pick from last season. Devin came into the organization and put in the required time, effort and hard work, meshing well with his teammates and performing at the highest level. I look for Devin to continue to work hard and help the Patriots build a young defense to get back to the Super Bowl.
To keep up with Devin and Jason McCourty, check them out on Twitter and Facebook.
For those that are unaware, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas is known as the “Track Capital of the World.” It’s a city where legendary coach John McDonnell has assembled an amazing Track & Field program at the University of Arkansas. It’s home to a Razorback program that has produced several heralded track stars, including the incredibly fast Olympic sprinter Wallace Spearmon Jr. Wallace was raised in Fayetteville, where he played a ton of sports but admits he was a little bit of a troublemaker. Growing up, he played baseball, basketball, soccer, and football and ran track. He didn’t even make the track team in 7th or 10th grade, and told me he “wasn’t that fast.” He says, “I didn’t have a passion for track like I did for team sports like football, but track came naturally; it was easy for me. My dad ran track, and it was by far my best sport.”
He was part of a group of athletes that called themselves “Fayetteville’s Finest.” It included several talented athletes from different sports, including Wallace and now-pro basketball players Ronnie Brewer and Mike Conley Jr., among others. Conley’s father, Mike Sr., ran track at the University of Arkansas with Wallace’s dad, Wallace Spearmon Sr.
In high school, Wallace was focused on football, but won over 10 State titles in track and field. After high school he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and in his first year walked on at the University of Arkansas for Coach McDonnell. Wallace says, “I wanted to wipe (my dad’s) name clean off the record books, and I did it my first year at Arkansas.” As a Razorback in 2004, he won the 200 meter NCAA outdoor title and then, in 2005, won the 200 meter indoor and outdoor. He turned pro after that season.
Wallace’s best event is the 200 meter dash, where he has the fifth-fastest time ever at 19.65 seconds, behind only Usain Bolt’s 19.19, Michael Johnson’s 19.32, Tyson Gay’s 19.58 and Xavier Carter’s 19.63. As a professional sprinter, Wallace has several other feathers in his cap, including an indoor 300 meter world record time of 31.88 in February of 2006, a 100 meter finish where he clocked in at 9.96 in 2007, and multiple victories over his friend, Usain Bolt. Wallace would have won the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but was disqualified for stepping on the line. He won the bronze at the 2009 World Championships and, in April of 2010, posted a time of 19.98 in the 200 at a race in Jamaica to take second behind Bolt.
When talking to Wallace about track & field, I can hear the appreciation and respect in his voice when he discusses some of the greatest runners in history: Michael Johnson, Maurice Green, Donovan Bailey and the runner he compares himself to, Frankie Fredericks. He also talks about how Usain Bolt has taken the sport to another level. When talking to Wallace about Track & Field, there is no lack of knowledge. He admits he is a student of the sport.
Spearmon’s passion is also evident when it comes to talking about competing at the highest level. He says, “If you’re going to be great, you have to be confident in yourself that every time you step on the track, that you’re better than them.”
Wallace is healthy for the first time in a while and he is confident that his hard work will pay off. “I’m not training to get second, that’s all I’ll say. I’m healthy, so the sky is the limit,” Wallace told me “I’m just getting back to where I was and I’m gonna make the people that support me proud.” Wallace is very close with his family and seems to treat everyone around him with the utmost respect. His outgoing personality and work ethic are undoubtedly part of what has gotten him to this point in his career.
Wallace is working hard, training for the 2012 Olympics in London, and will be ready to shine on the big stage with the best in the world when the time comes. He says he was born with a ton of God-given natural ability and will never use illegal performance enhancers. He has a tattoo that reads “Naturally Gifted Naturally” as a statement to the world that he will always stay true and be clean.
In 2010, Wallace signed a shoe-and-apparel deal with Saucony to run in his own signature spike. He says, “At the time, I was just trying to switch things up in my life and my career and it was a good move to sign with Saucony. It’s beneficial to both sides and I am feeding off of their excitement.”
We caught up with Wallace where he trains in College Station, TX a few months ago for the Eastbay x Saucony cover shoot, then flew to his hometown of Fayetteville, AR to see how he’s living. It was great to see how focused and passionate Wallace is and to see his signature Saucony Showdown track spike in action.
To keep up with Wallace, follow him on Twitter, and be sure to check out his new signature Saucony Showdown on eastbay.com or in the latest issue of the Eastbay catalog.
If there is one thing that can make an athlete rise above the rest in the competitive world of professional sports, it is passion. Twelve-time Pro Bowler and future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis is one of the most passionate people in the world of sports, and his unparalleled success both on and off the field are a direct result of his passion.
With a list of records that will unquestionably land him in a post-career place amongst the other legends of the game in Canton, Ohio, Ray Lewis’ on-field abilities speak for themselves. The result of years of hard work and dedication is easy to see on the field, but when you’re as passionate about life and as personable as Ray Lewis is, life in the off-season is just as entertaining as the real deal.
If you follow Ray on Twitter, then you already know he keeps busy with a whirlwind of projects, including interviews, speaking to young adults about leadership, and the Ray Lewis Official Workout App. Ray’s obviously got the workout part of things down, as proven by 12 Pro Bowl Selections and 10 All-Pro selections (both of which are NFL records for a linebacker), and as the first pro athlete to offer his workout regimen to his fans, he’s constantly sharing his passion and helping make the future better for those aspiring athletes.
Like most of us, Ray remembers the first time he ordered up a pair of shoes from Eastbay as well. Check out Ray’s most exciting Eastbay moment below and download his official workout app from his website, http://www.raylewis52.com/
Last season, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips won his second Gold Glove award, received his first All Star selection and led the Reds to the Playoffs for the first time since 1995.
Brandon Phillips at the Eastbay shoot
After years of hard work and persistence, Brandon’s love of baseball is paying dividends. In 1999, Brandon signed with the Montreal Expos straight out of high school. After playing some minor league ball, Brandon was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2002. He won the starting second baseman job with the Indians in 2003 but, after some ups and downs, was dealt to the Reds in April of 2006. Going back to when he was a kid, Brandon speaks highly of his idol, former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin: “The only reason I really started playing baseball is because of Barry Larkin. If it wasn’t for him, I probably would be playing football right now.” For Phillips to look up to Larkin (the 1995 NL MVP) and then to have the opportunity to play for the Reds was huge.
Brandon Phillips' Player Exclusive Wilson gloves
After being sent to Cincy, Phillips made an instant impact with the Reds in 2006, batting .276 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs. He had a fielding percentage of .977 and seemed to have found a home in the Reds’ infield. In 2007, he set career highs in multiple categories, getting 187 hits, batting .288, slugging .485, hitting 30 dingers, scoring 107 runs and stealing 32 bases. He also recorded 94 RBIs and had a fielding percentage of .990. When we asked Brandon what advice he had for kids trying to play at the next level, he said, “You got to make sure you just work hard and you got to stay focused. It’s like what Sparky Anderson told me: ‘What you put in the game is what the game will give back to you.’” Brandon’s hard work and focus paid off in 2008, when he hit 21 homers, had 78 RBIs and won his first Gold Glove with a .990 fielding percentage, committing just 8 errors on the season. Brandon had another strong season in 2009, batting .276 with 20 homers and 98 RBIs while posting a .988 fielding percentage. Last season, he batted .275 with 18 dingers and 59 RBIs while picking up his second Gold Glove with a .996 fielding percentage.
Brandon with his Dad
You can tell from listening to the off-season drills Brandon talks about that he works extremely hard at his craft. It seems like he really enjoys putting in the work. When it comes to staying sharp in the field, Brandon says, “I do a lot of pick-up drills when it comes to defense, cause, like, defense is very important to me. A lot of people don’t really know how important defense is, because defense wins championships. I do a lot of quick feet drills. My dad rolls the balls to me and I try to make sure I get in front of the ball, make sure I get the ball in between my legs every time. And I do a lot of wall ball; there are many activities that I do to make sure my hands are golden. [laughs]”
Along with collecting his second Gold Glove award last year, he also helped the Reds win the NL Central Division, clinching a Playoff birth. Talking about what’s next for him, he says, “Just get better day in and day out. I still have a lot of things in my game I need to improve on. And you know I am going to improve on everything in my game when it comes to my speed, hitting, and just trying to be a five-tool player. When it comes to the Reds, I just feel like that we have something we have to go out there and prove again. We need to make it to the playoffs and get past the first round this time and try not to get no-hit. [laughs]”
Brandon’s passion and love of the game is what makes him a special player. “Baseball is America’s pastime and is the greatest sport ever. I love doing it. A lot of people think I’m cocky, but I just love playing baseball. I just love this game and would do anything to play this game. I just like to have fun; I’m just a big kid. If you’re not having fun playing this game, then why are you doing it? I don’t see baseball as a job; I see it as a hobby. It’s a hobby I get paid for.”