HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — When Jeremy “Troll” Subin hears from famous athletes who want to train at his world-renowned gym by the sand, he usually speaks with an agent or a handler instead of the star, whose coy representative declines to name him or her just yet. It can be a process.
The call Subin received nine months ago was different. “Russell introduced himself and laid out his plan for what he wanted to do and asked me to send him some pictures of The Yard so that when they landed they could jump right into it,” Subin said. It was vintage Wilson: no pretense, just focused action and a Midas touch of earnestness that turns people he has never met into fans for life.
The fruit of that phone call was a six-day working vacay last April for Wilson and 22 of his Seattle Seahawks teammates on offense — “everyone who touches the ball,” as he put it. The site was The Yard, a converted 1940s post office whose innovative training equipment and old-school aura has attracted the likes of Maria Sharapova and Kobe Bryant to the town best known as the mecca of beach volleyball.
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Neither Subin nor the Seahawks thought their week together would include standup paddleboarding in the Pacific, or a flag football game on the sand on their last day of training — a highly competitive affair, as it turned out, that left shirtless torsos with angry sand burns and fingernail scratches. Wilson and Subin mapped out daily lifts at The Yard and passing sessions at a nearby high school. Those were the constants. Wilson mentioned going to a Lakers game one night, and the guys ended up taking in an Angels game, too.
“I also didn’t expect every player, without exception, to be on time for every workout,” added Subin, a jaded sort who has trained dozens of NFL athletes over the years and isn’t often impressed. “I was taken aback by how positive their energy was. Everything was self-effacing, everything was about putting the team before the individual. There was lots of laughing, but when it was time to work the training was done with laser focus.” This is also vintage Wilson. “It’s a special, unspoken thing with those guys that they all follow his lead,” added Subin, who — it should be noted — didn’t envision 20 players crooning “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell as soon as it came on the Yard’s stereo.
Wilson, it seems, expected all of this, because he created the space for it. And things that Russell Wilson builds — trust with his coaches, an elastic fireplug body seemingly designed for making plays, a six-day boot camp intended to give his offense a head start on the 13 defenses on their schedule — are not usually built in vain. If you believe the predictions Wilson shared with his teammates between sets that week, he also knew that what they were building would come to fruition in the freezing crucible of New Jersey nine months later.
They flew to LAX from all over the country and got started by lunging, sprinting and skipping across Hermosa’s notoriously soft sand, which challenged the players’ lower bodies in ways many of them hadn’t experienced. Each day included weight training circuits designed by Subin and tweaked based on feedback from the players. Meals were catered by a health food shop up the street. Lunch was followed by a two-minute drive to the field-turf at Mira Costa High, where Wilson threw and 20 receivers, backs and tight ends caught. “There was zero foolishness,” said Mira Costa head coach Don Morrow, who donated his field in exchange for Wilson and friends hanging out with Mira Costa’s special needs students. “It was clear that Russell had a precise plan in terms of the work he wanted to get done. And when he said they’d get there at 12:30 and leave by 2, he meant it. No one was late. No one was lagging behind.”
There were no camera crews, no TV vans, no magazine stories offering “exclusive access” to one of the hottest young teams in the league. As their quarterback and leader, Wilson insisted on footing the entire bill — training, bodywork, food, lodging — until Subin pointed out his modest rookie contract. Judging from the videos and photos that were shot that week, the experience transcended any price tag.
To be clear: NFL offenses don’t usually work out together in April on a beach hundreds of miles from the team facility. And if they do, they aren’t led there by undersized, 24-year-old, third-round picks. Lots of things the Seahawks do are unusual, like their stroll through the kitchen at My Fit Foods on Pacific Coast Highway, where each player personally thanked the cooks who fed them all week.
To commemorate what felt more and more like a special occasion for both the players and the small beach town they loved and would soon leave, Subin ordered a banner in blue and green and hung it over the Yard’s front door. “ALL IN,” it read. It’s still there (albeit dusted with nine months of ocean salt) as the Seahawks’ Super Bowl date with Denver approaches.
“Hermosa Beach exceeded my expectations,” Wilson told SI.com this week. “I already knew I had great teammates, but the time in California allowed us to bond away from the distractions of everyday life. No cameras, no coaches, no pressure. Just a bunch of teammates accountable to each other and no one else. … We went there as teammates, we came back as fraternity brothers.”
“It was impossible to be around these guys day after day and not see how much they care about each other and how seriously they take their mission of being the best team they can possibly be,” Subin said. “All week their mantra was, ‘Let’s be more prepared than everybody else before we start OTAs. Let’s take this togetherness and unleash it on our opponents.’ It was like their bosses [coaches] were there. But with all due respect, it wouldn’t have happened the way it did if their bosses were there.”
“Make no mistake about it,” Wilson added, “the road to the Super Bowl began in Hermosa Beach.”