When Jimmy Gaines first showed up at Proformance Sports Training in Amherst as a Canisius High School junior, his raw numbers were "off the chart," trainer John Opfer said.
He could get A to B as fast as anybody Opfer has seen at that size, be it at the high school, college or pro level.
"But his body control," Opfer said, "was absolutely atrocious. As soon as he had to change direction on somebody, he had so much momentum going one way and no body control of a first, second and third gear in his engine. He was like a missile. If he hits you, watch out. But if he misses, he might take somebody else.”
Fast forward to today and Opfer sees an explosive athlete who starred at Miami (Fla.) and is now ready for Sundays.
As he detailed in Friday's paper, Gaines believes his smarts, his ability to take total control of a defense could be the difference. The second-year undrafted linebacker will try to make his hometown team this training camp.
And here at Northtown Center in Amherst, with Opfer, is where he transformed his body to reach this point.
“I told him he was a like a Ferrari engine with one flat tire," said Opfer, who also works with former UB stars Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver. "What an unbelievable raw ability and desire to be great. Those are the two things I can say about Jimmy Gaines. Raw talent, his God-given talent was through the roof. But his willingness to work compared to guys I’ve had, and their talent, it’s just not even close.
“I would honestly rank Jimmy’s work ethic up there with any of those guys. Bo Oliver, probably, in my mind as far as work ethic is hand in hand with Jimmy. ... Those guys realize how close they are to exploding in the NFL, so they refuse to let it slip through their hands.”
While Gaines' pre-draft workout numbers didn't dazzle, Opfer believes the 4.70 time in the 40-yard dash can be deceiving.
For his job, moving in 10-yard spurts, Gaines is as fast as Mack, who pulled a 4.47 at his pro day.
"When you put that into perspective — the ground he’s covering — four, five steps it’s insurmountable," Opfer said. "The problem is when you deal with guys who have that kind of stature, if you look at the frame on him, he’s packed. He’s dense. So when you deal with guys like that, typically they break apart after 12-15 yards, they’re not strong enough in their little muscles to keep up with what their big muscles are generating. So that’s the secret with Jimmy we’ve been working on in the off-season. We’re trying to get all those small muscles that haven’t had to do anything to support these muscles so that the power output is as efficient as possible."
A strong core has always been a focus with these two. That helped him control his explosion.
And this off-season, Opfer is making Gaines use his mind during drills.
Between exhausting reps in the weight room, on the field, wherever, the trainer will ask "What are you thinking on third and 4?" It's all part of playing fast in what promises to be a complicated Rex Ryan defense. Soon, Gaines will be gunning for a spot on the 53-man roster.
"I want him to be able to understand that game," Opfer said. "It’s so fast. So he has to think as fast as he’s able to move. Above and beyond that, we’re fine-tuning his speed for not just forward but multi-directional as possible. I’m trying to help him be a stop-start guy at any angle and absolutely shut down an offense.”
"Sometimes guys go and you say they’re a perfect fit and they get there and they’ve got two other guys they got in free agency that play another position and you’re now a practice dummy, a guy who won’t make it out of camp. So my thing with Jimmy is, ‘as long as you get a fair handshake, we’re going to be prepared to make a splash.’ I don’t think any different.”