Thirty-five years ago, a little-known 30-year-old schoolteacher scored a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles. One huge special-teams play, one inspirational NFL career and one blockbuster based on his life later, it worked out pretty well.
Funny enough, a story parallel to that of Invincible’s Vince Papale is bubbling up in the league right now. This time, the setting is Kansas City, Mo., where a little-known 25-year-old Canadian is climbing the Chiefs’ depth chart. His name is Cory Greenwood, he hails from Kingston, Ontario, and thanks to focus, commitment and an unbeatable fitness regimen, he may just be writing the sequel to the 2006 Disney flick. Hey, it’s cheaper to shoot in Canada anyway, right?
Of course, like most Great White Northerners, Greenwood hardly dreamed of gridiron glory as a kid. “I grew up playing triple-A hockey,” he recalls. “But it was one or the other in high school, and I wanted to play football, so I hung up the skates. Looking back, I’m glad I did.” And why wouldn’t he be? He grew into a 6-foot-2-inch, 235-pound linebacker who idolized Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis — and dominated Canadian college football at Concordia University, averaging nearly eight tackles a game and winning the President’s Trophy as the top defensive player in 2009. (Fun fact: The U.S. equivalent, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, is named for the Chicago Bears legend, himself an Ontario native.)
Despite the accolades, the NFL wasn’t exactly licking its chops. According to nflcanada.com, there are fewer than a dozen NFLers from up north — the most famous being Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie — and most went to U.S. universities. Basically, you are better off attending, say, South Dakota State than you are playing your college ball in Canada. So the NFL Draft came and went with no mention of Greenwood, and in May, the Toronto Argonauts made him the Canadian Football League’s No. 3 overall draft pick.
Before he signed, though, Greenwood heard the Chiefs were in the market for a hungry young linebacker. He sent them a video of himself doing a bunch of combine-style drills. They flew him in for a workout, and within weeks, he was a pro football player. In America! “I was real excited — who’d have thought a linebacker from Canada could make it to NFL camp?” he says. “Hopefully, I can crack the door for some other guys.” More than halfway through the season, the Chiefs are a surprising 5-4, and Greenwood is a special-teams stud.
He’s also surprisingly candid about his intro to the NFL: “My first game was on Monday Night Football against the [San Diego] Chargers — that was pretty cool. I was nervous, but it’s a good nervous. If you’re not nervous, there’s something wrong.”
Just don’t call him lucky. Because there’s one aspect of this underdog’s tale we have yet to mention. Knowing he needed an edge, Greenwood boosted his already impressive fitness level by spending last winter at the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J. Founded by former track All-American Bill Parisi in 1992, the outfit has helped some 130 NFL hopefuls get drafted over the past 10 years with a comprehensive workout and nutrition and supplement program.
“We train two times a day, six times a week,” says Martin Rooney, Parisi’s chief operating officer. “You wake up, you train, you eat, you rest, you train, you eat, you rest. Cory made a huge physical transformation.” Along with the program’s progressive techniques — for example, many drills and exercises are done with bare feet — other hallmarks include a protein-packed diet supplied by In Motion Meals and performance-fueling supplements supplied by Inner Armour. “I got leaner, stronger and more powerful,” Greenwood raves. “It was perfect for me.” (For the full scoop on how Parisi and Inner Armour team up to mold future NFL pros, see the sidebar.)
Even with a dialed-in physique, Greenwood faced a unique challenge because, frankly, Canadian football has some weird freakin’ rules. In addition to 12 men per side and a 110-yard field, defenders have to be a yard off the line of scrimmage, the offense is allowed almost unlimited backfield motion, and on kicks, would-be tacklers have to give the returner a 5-yard cushion. Also, get this, if your team misses a field goal but the ball goes through the end zone, you get one point. Like we said, weird. But Greenwood looks on the bright side, pointing out that because these rules tend to favor the offense, he has an advantage. “It’s easier with only one guy in motion,” he explains. “You kind of know what you’re getting before the snap, so it’s easier to dissect plays.”
With that in mind, Greenwood aims to be a three-down linebacker one day. Till then, he’s enjoying his role as a Renaissance man. “I can be the gunner, I can be on the line, I can long snap — I can pretty much do everything but punt the ball,” he says. “It gives my special-teams coach some freedom — I’m wherever they need me that week.”
He’s handling his adjustment to a country he had visited a handful of times with similar aplomb. Greenwood loves the passion and volume of the Kansas City fans. He says only the stores are different and laughs when teammates call him “Canuck.” “During training camp, I did a slide show on Canada, making fun of Canadians and Americans,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, as long as you can produce.”
Early in Invincible, one of Papale’s friends tries to convince him to try out for the Eagles. “Even if you’re down there for one hour,” he says, “you’re down there.” Well, Greenwood’s been down here for a lot more than an hour. And if his Papale-like humility, heart and hustle have anything to do with it, we should be seeing him — on our TV screens at least — for a long time to come.
SIDEBAR: Star System
The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t pick up Cory Greenwood because he’s a really nice guy. Martin Rooney explains how Parisi Speed School and Inner Armour prep players to impress NFL scouts.
TEACH TO THE TEST
No matter how much they’ve seen you play, teams won’t sign you till they’ve seen how you perform on arbitrary NFL Combine metrics: “Ultimately, you’re measured for things like vertical jump and 40-yard dash, so we prepare these guys to be incredible testers and to pass the look test,” Rooney says. “We got Cory tanning. It’s the dead of winter — when you’re ghost white, you just don’t look as good. These are things you gotta do.”
DITCH THE SHOES
“We train everybody in their bare feet,” Rooney says. “They sprint barefoot, do lunges and deadlifts barefoot. You want that contact with the ground. It takes athletes a long time to get used to it, but it strengthens the feet, increases speed and improves proprioception. We’ve had a lot of success with it.”
SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE
“A lot of getting faster is technical work,” he says. “We work on the technique of every joint — the knee, the ankle. We do high-speed video analysis. They immediately see, ‘Oh, that one felt good, let me see what that looks like. That’s why it was my best one.’ Also, guys are often carrying too much body fat. Ten pounds of body fat is going to slow you down. We manipulate the diet over a three-month span to lose that weight.”
The Parisi nutritional principles are straightforward — high protein-to-carb ratio, healthy fats, six meals a day. “Each week, all the guys’ food comes from In Motion Meals, designed by a bodybuilding chef,” Rooney says. “Lots of dark-green leafy veggies and fibers. Chicken and fish, not a ton of red meat. Eggs in the morning, cottage cheese, turkey breast. That takes out the guesswork.”
Inner Armour designed an entire line around Parisi’s needs — it was beta-tested with its NFL hopefuls, features creatine and beta-alanine, and is, of course, banned-substance free. “In the morning, the guys take Nitro-Peak protein plus Training-Peak and a pack of multivitamins,” Rooney says. “Preworkout, they drink Power-Peak. After the workout, it’s a shake called Mass-Peak. Throughout the day, they take different shots of protein. And before they go to bed, it’s casein protein. It’s all designed to increase strength and muscle mass, decrease body fat and increase performance.” Note: Once the games start, players focus more on keeping what they’ve built in the offseason. “I have such a fast metabolism, I need supplements to keep weight on, keep from breaking down and keep my muscles going strong,” Greenwood says. “Inner Armour’s helping a lot, that’s for sure.”
BEAT THE BENCH
Yes, you can improve your 225-pound bench press — a crucial NFL test — by benching, but it’s better to trick your muscles. “We do a lot of triceps work, floor presses, different grips, different arm positions, add 80-pound chains or bands to the bar, just to confuse the body to make it stronger,” Rooney says. “Cory in particular went from 15 or 16 reps to 26. He did close to 30 in training. That’s impressive no matter who you are.”
ADD SPECIAL SKILLS
Lesser-known players can boost their stock by rounding out their game. Greenwood learned how to long snap. “That made him more attractive,” Rooney says. “He could play special teams and be a backup long snapper. When a guy comes here, we do everything we can to get him in there. He worked his tail off on a skill he had never learned.”
SIDEBAR: Get the Gridiron Goods
Even if you’re not aiming to make the NFL Draft this year, wouldn’t you like to look like you were? These are the supplements that the Parisi Speed School gives its hopefuls.
Inner Armour Mass-Peak
Inner Armour Nitro-Peak
Inner Armour Training-Peak
Inner Armour Power-Peak