AWP Alumni Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals), Jaylon Smith (Dallas Cowboys), Jessie Bates III (Bengals), Rod Smith (Cowboys), and Jared Murphy (Bengals) | Location: Dallas Cowboy Stadium [PHOTO: MICHAEL LEDO]
AWP CEO Michael Ledo Reminisces About the Portrait of his #AWFam in the NFL
On August 19, 2018 the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals played the most meaningful preseason game in the history of AWP Sports, the Fort Wayne-based athletic development and training company that was founded 15 years ago.
Childhood friends and co-founders, AWP CEO Michael Ledo and Chief Clinical Educator Bryan Bourcier, have seen over 250 of their charges land college scholarships, over 100 play Division 1 (D-1) athletics, and watched 15 of their number play a sport professionally.
August 19 marked the first time five of its alumni played against each other in an NFL (albeit preseason) game; the occasion was crystalized with said digital artifact.
Bishop Dwenger’s Tyler Eifert, Snider’s Jesse Bates III, and Columbia City’s Jared Murphy played for the Cincinnati Bengals; the Dallas Cowboys boasted Bishop Luers graduates and brothers Jaylon and Rod Smith.
“The picture of five of our athletes, [having played] against each other at the Mecca of the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys stadium (Jerry’s World), on different spectrums [individually], is really awesome,” Ledo said. The picture is the manifestation of their process, Ledo said, to develop their athletes mentally, physically, and spiritually.
“They all subscribed to those values,” Ledo said. And “they all went their different ways to get there.”
Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals)
NFL Pro Bowler Eifert is being eased back into the Bengals’ offense after an injury-sidelined 2017 season. Eifert comes from an elite athletic family, according to Ledo. Greg Eifert was “an amazing basketball player at Purdue.” Tyler though was a late-bloomer who “got big” quick and late. Ledo trained Eifert early in the mornings at the Golf Dome for the Army All-American combine; dad Greg was there too. At the Notre Dame camp, Eifert competed against big name Jake Golic, ESPN’s Mike Golic’s son. “Tyler went up there and just wow-ed them. He wound up being an all-American tight end.” Eifert loves the outdoors, loves “to get on the water,” Ledo said.
Jaylon Smith (Dallas Cowboys)
“Jay’s one of my closet friends,” Ledo said of comeback-kid Smith who is set to start his first full season for the Cowboys after spending 2017 rehabbing his knee injured at Notre Dame. Smith’s slogan, “Clear Eye View,” is a way of life for the “future pro bowler,” Ledo said. And, “he’s arguably the fastest learner and one of the most teachable people I’ve ever met.” Ledo recalled how once driving back from a 7-on-7 tournament, Smith sat close and attentive while Ledo and then AWP trainer Aaron Lane discussed leadership. The other athletes sat back with headphones adorned. “They didn’t want to listen to our [Christian] music,” Ledo said. But Smith sat quiet, all up in their conversation about leadership, and only spoke to ask questions.
Jessie Bates III (Bengals)
Ledo told high schooler Bates, whose work ethic and commitment were not strong, that he could be a pro. “Long story short, he goes to Wake Forrest University and became an all-American,” Ledo said. His football IQ is “through the roof,” Ledo said. “He was the best safety that AWP’s 7-on-7 ever had.” Bates could start as a rookie for the Bengals. Ledo recalled how Bates frustrated an offensive coordinator for a nationally ranked 7-on-7 team out of Chicago, who could not beat AWP’s team because of Bates. The coordinator complained how the safety could read everything and anticipation anything. “Jessie is like a quarterback on defense.”
Rod Smith (Cowboys)
Smith was suspended from Urban Meyer’s Ohio State program in 2014, the year when the Buckeyes won the national championship. “To see Rod go through all of that, and to see him balling for the Cowboys now…I think he’s going to be a starter in the NFL,” Ledo said. The “lonely” kid who everybody wrote off stayed on AWP’s campus at The Summit on Rudisill where AWP’s mentors Ledo and AWP’s Geoff King did leadership training with him. Ledo then trained him as a running back. Ledo saw Smith at his lowest and saw him rise. “He’s a throwback. 1990s R and B music,” Ledo said. “He’s just a really good soul.”
Jared Murphy (Bengals)
“One of my favorites of all time,” Ledo said, who didn’t mince words about his size and his little-boy face. “5’9’’, 155 pounds. Looks like Justin Beiber.” Again, at a 7-on-7 tournament, wide-receiver Murphy schooled the nation’s top ranked safety and corner on the top ranked team; they almost threw hands because the other one was letting a “white boy” clown ‘em. (Ha!) Ledo also recalled how Murphy limped through a Miami of Ohio football camp from a pulled muscle in his gluteus maximus. He wasn’t 100%, but the coaches filmed the camp. On the way home with a dejected Murphy and his parents, Ledo received a call from the Miami coach, who had watched the tape, and took special notice of how Murphy endured and scrapped. “He said that Jarrod was the kind of guy they want to build their program with.” Murphy, who hadn’t received one D-1 scholarship offer before that, was awarded one from Miami of Ohio on the phone.
Tyler Eifert, the oldest, was a high school junior when he started at AWP. Bates and Murphy, the youngest, started as sophomores. AWP’s recent rep as an all-sports training company has taken the shine off their football accomplishments, Ledo said, who is directing AWP to embrace their football roots again. They got to tell that story.