NEW PORT RICHEY — A year ago, speed coach Rob Oppedisano was working with high school students looking to catch a scout's eye. As it turns out, the athletes weren't the only ones getting noticed.
Oppedisano started years ago as a speed coach and personal trainer for kids. He worked his way up to high school athletes and was successful enough in getting them exposure that agents, coaches and players at the collegiate and pro level are seeking him out now.
"My teammates Mo Plancher and George Selvey told me about Rob (Oppedisano), so I knew he was legitimate," said University of South Florida fullback Richard Kelly, 23 who trains with Oppedisano three times a week at Jack Mitchell Park. "He's completely changed some of the things I do diet-wise, as well as on the field, and it's working."
Oppedisano is also training former Buffalo Bills' European team wide receiver Daunta Peterson, ex-USF standout Mike Ford, former Florida Gator Mon Williams, University of Arkansas defensive lineman Damario Ambrose and former Pasco-Hernando Community College basketball player Japan Ruise. The goal for all these players is to take their game to the next level, with a real chance at getting into the professional ranks, either through the draft or as a free agent.
Getting in the game
Peterson is a Tampa native who played wide receiver at the University of Dubuque and went undrafted. Unwilling to give up on his dream, he attended a combine and was noticed by the Buffalo Bills. He never suited up for the team, but was a part of their NFL Europa program playing for the Rhein Fire (Germany), where he sustained a knee injury in the final game of the season. Now, Peterson hopes Oppedisano can help him get back on the field.
"After that I kind of just got lazy and started teaching physical education in Tampa," the 26-year old Peterson said. "Now I have to come back and get in shape. I noticed that Rob focuses on your weaknesses and makes them stronger. It's different than a lot of the combines and speed training that they traditionally do in the league. My confidence has gotten better since I started working with him, so I'm just hoping I get the chance to catch the eye of somebody."
In the case of Ruise, Oppedisano's workouts are actually helping him make the transition from basketball to football, in order for him to attempt playing in the Canadian Football League.
"I'm crossing over now to football and coaches have told me I have to work on my feet," said Ruise, 23. "It's all up for grabs because I have a lot of growing to do, but this is helping me develop. I'm looking at the CFL and I think this could help my quickness to maybe get in the NFL."
Others, like Arkansas' Ambrose, are there simply to develop specialty areas and polish themselves into their best possible shape. Everything from the athletes' diet to their push-off foot when running sprints is under Oppedisano's scrutiny.
"I feel like I'm the strongest I've ever been after a few weeks of working with Rob," said Ambrose, 21. "Rob designs a workout specifically for muscles you need to work on and the diet to go with it. There's no doubt this is going to make me better, so I'm looking forward to the start of this year. I wish I would have met him sooner — maybe that Sugar Bowl game against Ohio State would have ended differently."
The workouts are unorthodox and often target specific muscles that may go undeveloped in traditional gym practices. Oppedisano also focuses on speed by teaching athletes the mechanics of quickness, such as a good first step or proper arm movement.
For the coach, it's been a journey at fast speed. It all started so simply by working with kids on their first step for the 40-yard dash and has morphed into an entire business with athletes and agents calling him from around the country to come to New Port Richey.
Oppedisano said the exercises aren't as complicated as they sound, and he's been lucky that word of mouth has served him well.
"I'm really blessed because it's not like I'm inventing all these workouts," Oppedisano said. "I've done a lot of research to devise a certain type of workout plan that these guys have found effective. It's movement-specific workouts because the same movements for speed are used in a lot of sports."