Blue White Illustrated

May 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 31 of 67

3 2 M A Y 2 0 2 3 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M B ruce Lombard's relationship with the Penn State football program was entirely accidental. Lombard had intended to get out of the sports business altogether after years of train- ing and coaching mixed martial arts. But after deciding to get a master's de- gree in school counseling, he found him- self in State College for an internship. His advisor, a local high school football coach, had attended a clinic featuring former Nittany Lion defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. In his presentation at the clinic, John- son detailed the importance of hand fighting in the trenches. Lombard's advi- sor had a video of the talk, and it sparked an idea. "I was like, 'I recognize this stuff. And I think I can do a little bit better, I can evolve it even a little bit more,'" Lombard recalled. "That's how it started, with a fluke." He went on to develop MMAFx, a cross-training program for hand fight- ing and hand-speed conditioning aimed specifically at football players. Since experiencing his lightbulb moment, Lombard has had a significant impact on some of the Nittany Lions' bigger names via his off-campus training. Over the past decade, he has welcomed some of the most prominent players in the Penn State program to his downtown gym, LombardMMA. Among the players who have trained with him are defensive line- men DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib and Evan Schwan, offensive line- man John Urschel, receivers Chris God- win, DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan John- son, and quarterback Trace McSorley. Making An Impression Lombard's first objective was to de- velop a training program that was geared primarily toward linemen — defensive linemen first, and later their offensive counterparts. The program was built around sport-specific movements that were applicable on the field. At the same time, Lombard was de- termined to gain an audience with some of the nation's top college football play- ers. Thanks to Penn State's proximity, there was no shortage of such players, but reaching them required persistence. After working initially with high school teams in the region, Lombard connected with Bill O'Brien, the Nit- tany Lions' head coach at the time, and O'Brien's strength coordinator, Craig Fitzgerald. He also pitched his work to players via Facebook and found a willing participant in veteran defensive end Sean Stanley. The initial sessions with Stanley went well, and after Johnson learned about the work they were doing, he ended up visiting with Lombard to enhance the program's offerings. Unfortunately for Lombard, the con- nection with Penn State's staff came undone when O'Brien was hired by the Houston Texans in January 2014. Fitzgerald left with him, while Johnson headed to Ohio State to take charge of the Buckeyes' defensive line. But what might have appeared to be a setback ended up proving beneficial to MMAFx. The Nittany Lions' new head coach, James Franklin, was open toward the unconventional training regimen, as was then-defensive line coach Sean Spencer. Among Spencer's players was Anthony Zettel, a rising star on the Nit- tany Lions' defensive front and a natural and exuberant student for the kind of training that Lombard was offering. "Anthony Zettel was my main guy. He's in my instructional videos and ev- erything," Lombard said. "He was amaz- ing. He was a freak athlete, and he loved martial arts and mixed martial arts, so we engaged. "He was training four or five times a week. He got really good. At that point, a lot more guys started to come down." Defensive Alignment The players who take part in Lombard's training program are taught position-specific tech- niques. For defensive linemen, A FIGHTING CHANCE Using his MMA-based training program, Bruce Lombard helps Penn State football players reach their full potential N A T E B A U E R | N A T E . B A U E R @ O N 3 . C O M J u n i o r o f fe n s i ve t a c k le O lu m u y i wa F a s h a n u h a s b e e n t r a i n i n g w i t h Lombard since last summer. "He feels that it's helping him with his footwork, his hand quickness, his timing, his explo- sion," Lombard said. PHOTO BY THOMAS FRANK CARR

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