WESTFIELD, Ind. – This is where Robert Mathis belongs, when he’s not with his family, that is.
He’s sitting on a bench inside the soon-to-be-completed Pro X training facility at Grand Park, surrounded by turf-covered practice fields. A weight room lurks a few yards away and unbridled optimism is in the air.
He’s the Indianapolis Colts’ career sack leader and former assistant coach – pass-rush specialist, of course – who’s dealing with yet another veer in his career arc.
Mathis, 38, has left his official role as Colts assistant and joined forces with another former Colt, Dan Muir, to spearhead the football phase of Pro X and offer position-specific training to individuals ranging from middle school athletes to NFL players gearing up for the upcoming season.
“I can’t get away from football,’’ Mathis said Tuesday. “Football is the reason I have so much. All of my friendships are from football . . . every single one of them.
“Football has given me a lot, but it doesn’t define who I am. I’m Robert Mathis, father of five, husband of Brandi Mathis. That’s who I am.’’
But football still is what keeps Mathis busy when he’s not doting over his kids.
“Football is what I did,’’ he said. “Now it’s what I’m teaching. I can’t get away from it . . . cannot get away from it.
“To get up every day and know I get to teach somebody or show somebody how to hate quarterbacks, that’s absolutely the best.’’
Mathis paused, then continued for emphasis.
“Yeah, I still hate ‘em,’’ he said with a smile, repeating his signature phrase.
Mathis’ decorated playing career with the Colts began in 2003 as an unheralded fifth-round draft pick and ended following the 2016 season after he racked up a franchise-record 123 sacks – 17th-most in NFL history – and a league-record 47 sack-forced fumbles on the strength of his devastating tomahawk chop maneuver. He and Dwight Freeney formed a dynamic pass-rush tandem that contributed to two trips to the Super Bowl and one world championship.
He transitioned from player to coach/consultant in ’17, and now is transitioning yet again.
To be clear, Mathis has hardly cut ties with the Colts.
“I’m still partners with them. We’re elbow-to-elbow, lockstep,’’ he said. “It’s a great situation.
“I’m not a coach anymore. I’m a consultant.’’
Mathis and general manager Chris Ballard have made certain they’re in compliance with NFL rules dealing with the offseason, a time coaches are not allowed to interact with their players on football-related matters. That restrictive period includes the time between the end of OTAs in mid-June and the start of training camp in late July.
“That period after OTAs is very critical,’’ Mathis said. “It can make or break seasons for the younger guys. They can’t have contact with coaches.
“Here, everything’s legal. We’ve checked and double-checked. Me and Chris Ballard have been dotting I’s and crossing T’s on this to make sure everything was A-OK.’’
The Colts open their offseason program April 15, which has kept Mathis, Muir and other Pro X consultants/ex-Colts – Marlin Jackson, Donald Thomas, Dylan Gandy, Justin Snow; the list figures to expand – busy.
Nearly half of the Colts’ returning defensive line has been working with Mathis and Muir, including Kemoko Turay, Jihad Ward, Carroll Phillips and Al-Quadin Muhammad.
“This is more my calling,’’ Mathis said of aligning himself with Muir and Pro X. “Just to teach fundamentals personally with the pass rush and things of that nature as well as having my own entrepreneurial experience, cutting my chops on it.
“I love it.’’
Pro X’s long-term objective includes being a destination for NFL players seeking specialized, hands-on training during the offseason, and an alternative to training sites in Florida, Arizona and California.
“There’s a whole lot of talent in the Midwest and it’s important to offer them a place to be able to do what they’re doing down South, in Florida, out West,’’ Muir said. “We have a year-long football program. They can stay here or come here and do everything in the biggest sports park in the country.’’
Grand Park sits on 400 acres and features 31 multipurpose fields for football, soccer and lacrosse, 26 baseball/softball fields and a 400,000-square foot indoor event facility. It has become the summer home of the Colts, who used the campus for training camp for the first time last July-August.
The grand opening for the 70,000-square foot Pro X facility is April 19. It will specialize in baseball, football, softball, soccer and golf, and include a 4,000-square foot weight room, 30,000-square feet of turf and rehab area led by Dr. Jamey Gordon, Pro X’s director of sports performance.
“It’s really one-stop shopping for athletes of any age – sports nutrition, sports psychology, sports-specific training,’’ said Pro X president Joe Thatcher. “We’re fighting the stigma that we’re a baseball facility.
“The heart and soul of what we do is sports performance. It’s getting bigger, stronger and faster in a healthy way.’’
“This is serious,’’ insisted Muir, whose seven-year NFL career included four seasons as Mathis’ teammate with the Colts. “We’re teaching something we know. We’ve been privileged to be around in my opinion the greatest defensive line coach to ever coach – John Teerlinck – and Howard Mudd’s back in the area.
“To be able to teach guys in the league now and guys in high school some of the techniques they taught us, certain little twists that can excel a player and take him to the next level, is really, really key.’’
Mathis looked around at the on-going construction, considered what soon will be and his part in it, and smiled.
Life is good.
“This is kinda the blueprint,’’ he said. “To be able to check off every box – the needs and the wants – this is it.
“We just don’t have sand and water (relaxing on the beach). We have professionalism, we have experience and we have ambition.’’
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