Matt James teaches his charges to reach for that extra burst
If it's true that speed kills, then Matt James is training an army of assassins.
From Terrell Owens and LeBron James to the neighbor kid trying to make the freshman or junior varsity team, Matt James has become a household name in the quest for speed.
James runs the speed, agility and quickness training center at the Hoop, a Beaverton athletic club. His coaching has become so sought after that the second floor of the Hoop was gutted and turned into a training facility specifically for his legion of prep and college athletes.
He travels the country coaching high school, college and pro athletes, but his basic commitment is to young athletes in the Portland area.
'I'm truly lucky in that I've gotten to work with some big-name people, especially this last summer,' says James, a former standout receiver at Portland State. 'But I'm always going to try to remain committed to the kids of the area, those guys who just want to be better and make whatever team they're trying to make Ñ get a shot at varsity.'
James' clients Ñ some of whom pay up to $300 per month for unlimited workouts Ñ are looking for a quicker jab step on the basketball court, a faster three-step drop and pass release in football, or the ability to reach a corner lob and fire off a return shot on the tennis court.
'Speed transcends sports,' James says. 'The more speed you have, the better you're going to be at your sport and the more opportunities you're going to have come at you.
'Everyone has skills in their particular sport, but if you can develop speed, too, then you have one more asset that may make the difference when a coach is selecting a team.'
A step too slow
James, 32, was a three-sport standout at Hillsboro High (Class of 1990) and moved on to Portland State, where he initially played quarterback. After an injury and the arrival of QB John Charles in 1991, James moved to wide receiver. In four seasons, he caught passes for nearly 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns.
At 5-11, though, he impressed few professional scouts, and his dream of playing pro football was dashed.
'I was a good athlete and a good wide receiver,' James says. 'I ran 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, but that just wasn't good enough.
'I thought about going into coaching, but being a graduate assistant doesn't pay much. And then I kind of fell into a career.'
While trying to make the pros, James trained and worked at a Tigard club called Speed City. There, he learned the basics of speed, agility and quickness training from Randy Smythe, the one-time speed trainer for the Dallas Cowboys. Speed City has since relocated to Biloxi, Miss.
Much of what Smythe taught, and still teaches through the Web site www.speedexplosion.com, was gleaned by studying workouts from former Soviet Bloc athletes.
James developed his own program in 1996. It focuses on flexibility, the physical accumulation of potential and explosion. James encourages his athletes to work on speed training three or four times a week in addition to their regular practices.
'A lot of what I teach hasn't really changed over the years,' James says. 'Speed City had the right idea, but it was maybe 10 years ahead of its time.'
His first clients were Tony and Alex Salazar, the sons of distance running great Alberto Salazar. Tony developed into a top football player at Central Catholic and now plays at the University of Oregon. Alex was an excellent soccer player at Jesuit and now plays for the University of Portland.
Nike, where Alberto Salazar works, has been a supporter of James since 1996.
James says he looks at every athlete as a potential client, regardless of their sport.
'Distance runners need speed, too,' he says. 'They need that little burst at the end of a race to win, so they certainly can use what we teach them.'
Building a business
Jimmy Smith, a junior guard on Lakeridge High's basketball team, says the workouts with James are helping him recover from a knee injury and potentially will help him reach a college program or higher.
'I want to play in the NBA someday,' Smith says. 'I'm working with weights a lot now to get bigger so I can push people around on the court. And all the speed work has definitely helped my rehabilitation.'
Jimmy's brother, Jarrel Smith, a 6-5 sophomore forward at Lakeridge, says his workouts are mostly for strength.
'Once I get stronger, that will transfer into speed,' says the younger Smith, who has been working with James for three years. 'Those things will really help my team.'
James, who works seven days most weeks, is the color commentator for PSU football radio broadcasts and consults with numerous PSU teams.
Along with Tom Shaw, the strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots, James also operates Nike's NFL-style football combines for prep players. The combines are held at 12 sites throughout the nation, including Seattle and Eugene.
All the daily activity doesn't leave much time for a social life, James says, so he soaks up as much socializing as he can with the athletes.
'My body's starting to feel it Ñ all the work I'm doing Ñbut I love it,' he says. 'I get to help out at PSU, I get to help kids in the area excel at what they're doing and I'm building a business that, hopefully, will allow me to take some time off myself.'