San Francisco emerged as one of pro football's most exciting stories in 2011, as they shook off a disastrous 6-10 season in 2010 to go 13-3, win their division, and come within one overtime score of advancing to the Super Bowl. After years in the sub-.500 doldrums, the Niners now have a bright future linked to high-impact young pros like Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, and Alex Smith. Better yet, in an era of hyperdrive offenses, the Team by the Bay did it the old-school way--with a smashmouth defense and one of football's most cohesive and dominating special teams units.
Anchoring San Francisco's newly revitalized special teams is a 2011 free agent pick-up from Baltimore, Tavares Gooden. Gooden, who had started at linebacker opposite the legendary Ray Lewis, has been known around the league for his rare blend of size, strength, and speed ever since his days as a blue-chip prospect (and 3rd-round pick) out of the University of Miami. But in 2011, coming off a severely dislocated shoulder, Gooden felt he had a lot to prove to his new team and happily assumed a lead role on special teams. Gooden flourished in that capacity, regularly making huge hits and creating chaos in the midst of opposing teams' punt and kickoff returns, while also contributing on defense.
The Ideal Special Teams Ace is a Rare Athlete
It takes a very unique set of physical tools and an equally unusual mindset to succeed at special teams coverage. During kickoff and punt returns, a player must fly down the field at top speed, take on two or three blockers, and zero in on the other team's return guy amidst a confusing scrum of players. The hits this specialist must give and take are often the most bone-jarring, highlight-reel-quality hits seen on the field. More than any other player, he must give up his body for the good of the team. When we at ProSource sat down with Tavares, we knew what we wanted to ask him first.
Tavares Gooden: I take pride in being the most physical person on the field. I feel that I have been blessed to be a big, strong and fast human being. God has given me the tools. On special teams, I always want to be able to physically dominate my opponent, and that starts in the weight room. I know as long as I'm pushing myself harder than everyone else, then I will be able to go that extra mile on game day. A lot of it comes down to Mind over Body. You have to teach your body how to be strong when you're tired. If you can achieve that, the game becomes easy because you are physically and mentally stronger than everyone else.
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Tavares Gooden: Here's the thing about injuries. If you're giving your all on every play, you're exposing yourself to injury risk. That's the way it is. I would get injured because I was fearless and just wanted to run as fast as I could with my head down through my opponent. I'll always play that way. That's who I am. But I've also learned what the offseason is for, and how to build muscle and strength everywhere. I don't just work a muscle that was injured. I work every body part, because if you focus just on one specific body part, your body will overcompensate and you will injure something else. After working out your body to the max, you have to take care of it. The best resource I use after such hard training is seeing a chiropractor and massage therapist two times a week. If you treat the body right. it will treat you right.
PS: Is there an athlete who is a particular inspiration to you? What about his preparation/discipline/business sense/outlook inspires you?
Tavares Gooden: I look to myself as my own inspiration. I don't think anyone has been through as much as I have. Battling the injuries from the past and trying to prove to everyone that I'm ready. I came out of the University of Miami as one of the top LBs that played there. I led the team in tackles and was an impact player when I was there. Every year I go hard because I have something to prove. The NFL has not seen me at my best. I've shown some glimpses, but believe me, the best is yet to come.
PS: The Niners emerged as a huge success story in 2011. What do you think was your most important contribution to the team's success?
Tavares Gooden: Almost every game we played last year, we won the field position battle. That starts with high-level special teams play. I believe that you have to excel in two out of the three team phases to compete for a championship, and in our case we had a great defense and a great special teams, plus an efficient offense that controlled the ball and scored enough points to win. We had a bunch of guys who were hungry and really wanted to win. Guys like myself who were on other teams that came to San Francisco, we had a chip on our shoulders because we believed we had something to prove.
PS: As far as your physique is concerned, what do you regard as your greatest strength or feature? What part or parts need work or are the hardest to train?
Tavares Gooden: My lower body is insane. If I were a car, my horse power would be similar to a Dodge Challenger SRT8 with a chip and a cool air intake. My upper body needs the most work, but I'm not weak in that category either. This year, my goal is to make my upper body strength equal to my lower body, and I have the whole offseason to work injury-free. In the game of football, leg strength is the foundation, and I'm set there. Additional upper body will help me separate from defenders and make more plays.
PS: What foods did you rely on most during training? What were the staples of your meal plan?
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Tavares Gooden: Well I pretty much eat whatever my beautiful fiancee cooks. I eat a ton of protein, including chicken or steak, and we have a juicer, so I consume a lot of raw vegetable content that way. And then of course at work, we have a great meal plan to choose from in the cafeteria. I'm usually happy with a meal of brown rice, turkey, some salad, and some fruit.
PS: What role does cardio/running/aerobic exercise play in your regimen?
Tavares Gooden: Cardio is the key. A lot of athletes don't want to hear it, but it's true. I usually do different things to boost that cardio up. I do more than just running. I also box in the offseason. I play basketball. I do things that are continuous movements and high velocity, so I can train my mind. Once you have your mind trained, your heart will follow, and good things will happen. Also, I never get out of shape. Every season and every off-season, I have physical goals I'm striving for.
PS: What supplements did you use? Did you use them daily? How have the supplements helped?
Tavares Gooden: Usually, I'll just drink a protein shake after I finish a workout to try to keep my muscle mass up. I notice that when I take additional protein, it helps me keep weight on. That's important to me because in my profession we burn so many calories. If I don't get those calories back then I start losing muscle mass and then strength. I can't have that.
PS: You are using NytroWhey Ultra Elite from ProSource. What is it about this protein powder that separates it from others you have used in the past?
Tavares Gooden: NytroWhey Ultra Elite is miles ahead of any other protein I've tried. There's really no comparison. I've never seen any protein that ramps up muscle growth like NytroWhey Ultra Elite. First off, I should say, the taste is sensational. I like all the flavors, especially the Chocolate, and it's easy to mix, which helps. With most other proteins, you have to take them 3 to 4 times a day for best results, but they don't taste good, so it gets to be a chore. With NytroWhey Ultra Elite, I'm always looking forward to my next shake. Since I've added NytroWhey to my regimen, I have more energy and I feel my body recovering faster. I used to be sore the day after hard workouts, but that's over now. I'm in the best shape I've ever been in--bigger, stronger, faster--and NytroWhey's a big part of that.
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PS: Glad to hear it, Tavares. Thanks for sharing with our readers. And best of luck in the 2012 season!
Tavares Gooden: My pleasure.
Tavares Gooden's Workout Regimen
Exercises can differ everyday, but here's a basic sample workout.
Dumbbell bench, 5 sets of 10, starting with 80s and working up to 120 lbs, increasing my weight by 10 Pounds each set. In between reps I do what we call a superset. I do another exercise instead of resting. I usually do a pull up or lat low row exercise. With the pull up I strap a 25 pound weight to my weight belt and do 6 sets of 5. With the Lats I use a hammer machine and I usually put three 45 pound weights on each end of the machine. (6 in total). And I do 8 to 10 reps with a double pump at the top of the squeeze. I do abs with a med ball. I do around a total of 100 to 300 abs depending on how I'm feeling.
Lower body lifting:
I'm an olympic style lifter. I love to power clean. I do 5 sets of 3 then I do 4 sets of 2 as the weight gets heavier. I usual start with 15 kelos on each side then I usually end with 55 kelos on each side. Then I go from there to back squat or front squat. Usually do 5 sets of 3 then 4 sets of 2. Starting with 185 and ending with some times weight up to 465. Lounges with 40 pound kettle bells in each hand. 6 each leg.