When the Baltimore Ravens opened their training camp last week, it was the first time in 10 years that Jeff Friday wasn't with the team. Friday was the Ravens' strength and conditioning coach under Brian Billick. When the team let Billick go, Friday went with him.
With a severance package and time to think, "I had to make a decision. 'What road do I want to go on?'" Friday said. "I came to the realization that I wanted to stay in sports training."
Friday, who lives in Ellicott City with his wife and two children, has founded ProShape Sports Training, a personal-training business focusing on young athletes. Last week, he signed a deal with the local YMCA. Beginning in September at the Ellicott City facility, Friday will offer one-on-one and group training classes through the Y. He has three programs - one for athletes, one for general fitness and another for people recovering from injuries.
Friday is "going to be doing classes for young athletes to help prepare them to meet their health and wellness goals," said Troy Weaver, vice president of health and wellness operations for the Y of Central Maryland. Eventually, Friday's program will be offered at all seven facilities in the area.
Friday, 41, did not begin his career with football in mind. He played basketball at his Wisconsin high school and earned a degree in physical education from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
After completing a master's degree in exercise science at Illinois State, Friday took an assistant strength coach position at Northwestern University. He assisted with football, but Friday primarily worked with the basketball program.
"Whatever town or city or campus I went to [with the basketball team] I would always try to meet a strength coach in that place. My intent was to learn and take good information back" to Northwestern, he said.
On one of these trips, Friday met with the strength coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Later, the Vikings, who relied on part-time help - put him to work. Friday worked at Vikings training camp for two years before the team hired him as assistant strength coach in 1996, when Billick was the offensive coordinator.
Strength coaches are responsible for the year-round conditioning of players and work with athletic trainers to rehabilitate injured athletes. When the Ravens hired Billick as head coach, Friday came to Baltimore with a promotion and a new challenge.
Not long after Friday and his wife, Jen, arrived in Maryland, their daughter, Hailey, was identified as having special needs. Hailey, 8, who attends public school, works with several local health professionals.
Said Friday: "We really enjoy the school district that we're in." He and his wife decided "it would be important to stay in Howard County to take advantage of excellent support services available for children with special needs. The Fridays - who also have a son, Aidan, 5, - agreed not to pursue jobs outside the area.
"For him to be willing to stay in the community and not go out and seek an NFL job, he really is a family guy," said Matt Stover, the Ravens' kicker.
Stover credits Friday with helping him become one of the NFL's top kickers, and the two have become friends. "He's very good with developing relationships," Stover said.
One of Friday's clients is Maddie Henry, a rising sophomore at Glenelg High School. Maddie has been playing lacrosse for three years and wanted to improve her game.
With every client, Friday first conducts an evaluation, looking for areas of weakness. "It gives me a road map" of what state the body is in, where muscles are tight and where they are strong, Friday said.
Maddie, who plays in a summer lacrosse league, said that Friday "encourages me a lot. He'll have me push myself to the limit and really push myself in general" to do well.
Friday also trains Ricky Racks, 15. Ricky plays several sports at Western School of Technology in Baltimore.
At first, Ricky was unaware that Friday is a former NFL strength coach. "I was surprised," Ricky said. "Too many people don't get this opportunity that I have - to work with somebody that actually knows what they're talking about."
Ricky and Maddie have been working with Friday at a Columbia Association facility this summer, but by fall his classes and one-on-one sessions will be offered only at the Y of Central Maryland.
Although he is open to the possibility of returning to the NFL, Friday has been too busy to miss training camp.
"A month from now, when the season gets going, I don't know," he said. "Right now, I'm preoccupied with my other facts of life."