Manny Rodriguez and Justin “J.T.” Taylor became friends when they were kids, just Central Gwinnett students who loved high school football.
They wore the same black and yellow uniforms and shared identical hopes of a future in football, but neither knew where that path would lead or how they would get there. Both played college football after Central, and both were steered into athletic training and coaching, first Taylor and then Rodriguez.
“(Rodriguez) took one route and I took a completely different route, but I feel like we had the same vision and met in the middle,” Taylor said. “While he was getting his MBA, I was down here coaching.”
When the two got back together, U48 Fitness was born.
The duo’s business endeavor, with Rodriguez as president and Taylor as vice president, has boomed in recent years, providing athletic and personal training at three Gwinnett facilities — DASH Fitness and Revolution Fitness in Lawrenceville, along with Jack City Sports Center in Dacula — for hundreds of locals, young and old. They are heavily involved with training themselves, and their considerable staff currently has a Central flair with former Black Knights, including Kaycee Ike and Bryce Smith.
They have trained pro athletes, local prep players who have fared well (Buford’s Austin Smith, now at Tennessee, and Mountain View’s Kielan Whitner, now at Syracuse, among them) and adults, but one of their biggest niches is working with youth players and teams, in a variety of sports.
“The kids really look up to us,” said Ike, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman who heads to training camp soon with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “That’s kind of what I’ve taken in (working with U48), getting closer to kids. I was in their spot and now they look up to us. You have to lead by example in everything you do, inside and outside of training.”
That love of working with young people and love of football led to one of the company’s marquee events, the U48 Football Camp. This year’s version figures to attract 150 youth football players from the area for a camp that will be June 6-8 at Duncan Creek Park in Dacula. The camp grew in each of its first two years, when it was held at Jack City, prompting the expansion to a local park.
U48's camp features three days of intensive training for youngsters ages 6 to 14.
“We love our kids,” said Rodriguez, who also leaves soon for training camp with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks. “We started training the kids from Dacula who were 7 and 8, and they’ve won championships the last two years. We train a Mountain View team, Buford team, a Collins Hill team. What we’re putting our campers through is like a mini-camp. We train them like pro athletes. We’re really taking it to the next level. Yeah, we do this for a living, but it’s passion thing. We do this because we love it and because we love working with kids.”
Working with kids also reminds the U48 founders about their own playing days back at Central. They didn’t get the kind of detailed athletic training back then that their company now offers.
“We feel like with the knowledge we have and the passion we bring to the table, we have something to offer to everybody,” Taylor said. “It would be selfish of us to be blessed with that knowledge and not share it with these kids.”
What: U48 Football Camp
When: June 6-8
Where: Duncan Creek Park, Dacula
Details: Open to ages 6 to 14
Registration/more information: http://ultimate48fitness.com/classes/2016-u48-football-camp/ or 770-450-6136
Fundamentals and testing
Agility and position drills
Speed and position competition drills