It's a rare rainy morning in Santa Ana, California, but the competition inside Proactive Sports Performance is heating up.
Owner Ryan Capretta is surrounded by a group of elite NFL Draft prospects. They've come here to train for the "draft process," an exhausting months-long stretch that kicks off with the NFL Combine, moves onto Pro Days and private workouts and culminates in the selection of 253 players during Draft weekend.
Today's challenge—a competition on the Keiser Air Squat, a pneumatic machine that uses pressurized air to provide resistance. Capretta lays out the ground rules: Each prospect will use a load roughly equivalent to twice their body weight. They get one warm-up set, then they'll have three consecutive reps to produce as much power as possible. The machine calculates an athlete's power output using an algorithm that includes the amount of weight used and how fast it's moved.
The contestants feature a plethora of athletic freaks, such as Missouri's Charles Harris, Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, Oklahoma's Samaje Perine and Michigan's Chris Wormley. They all post impressive numbers, yet they pale in comparison to what Montravius Adams, a soft-spoken defensive tackle from Auburn University, accomplishes. His peak power output of 5,032 watts wins by a landslide:
— STACK (@STACKMedia) February 7, 2017
For those unfamiliar with Montravius Adams, allow me to make an introduction. At the 2017 NFL Combine, Adams ran a 4.87 40-Yard Dash at 6-foot-4, 304 pounds. No other player over 300 pounds ran below 4.96. At Dooly County High School in Vienna, Georgia, Adams played basketball, football, baseball, tennis and threw the shot put. But his athletic versatility was never more obvious than during football games, when he took snaps at defensive tackle, outside linebacker, defensive end, offensive line, fullback, tight end, kicker and punter. That outrageous athleticism helped him go on to become a first-team All-SEC and a second-team All-America selection at Auburn. Now, he's ready to unleash his eye-popping combo of speed, size and quickness on the NFL.
"I've been fortunate enough to train a lot of great pass rushers, a lot of great D-linemen," Capretta told STACK. "One thing I can see with him—and I'm not specifically comparing him to Dwight Freeney—but Dwight had the best get-off of anyone I've ever worked with at that position. He's one of the best of all time. I'm kinda messing with Montravius a little bit, calling him 'Baby Dwight.' Watching him come off the ball is pretty exciting."
Freeney was more lithe than Adams. He played both defensive end and outside linebacker during his NFL career. But the two share an uncanny ability to time up the snap count and get into the backfield in a hurry. Freeney's incredible first-step quickness helped him accrue 112.5 sacks over his 15-year NFL career.
"Montravius is going to be a great pro. With the work ethic and the talent he has, we're excited about him," Capretta said.
All of this doesn't come as much of a surprise to Adams, considering he's been telling his mother, Debbie Young, that he was going to the NFL since he was 7 years old. Growing up in Vienna (population: 4,011), Adams saw football's potential to give himself and his family a better life. Debbie, a single mother, has long worked nights at the Tyson chicken plant in Vienna to support her children. Adams often told his mom that once he made it to the NFL, she'd finally be able to quit that gig.
"She's the best mother in the world. She did everything she could to get me where I am today. She made all kind of sacrifices for me and my sisters," Adams told STACK. "I remember telling her, 'one day, you ain't gonna have to work there.' As a kid—not that people don't believe you—but they expect what they've seen in life, what they've gotten used to. But she believed me. That's been my dream since I was 7, and I knew what I wanted in life. I knew I was going to take the right path."
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Coming out of a tiny town like Vienna, Adams might've seemed like a long shot. After all, Dooly County plays in the smallest classification of Georgia high school football. But by his junior season, Adams had begun flashing signs of something special. He had grown up playing running back, but his body had matured into that of a defensive tackle. And at a small school like Dooly, the coaches weren't afraid to deploy one of their best athletes all over the field. "I was able to play all those positions because I went to a small school. [It allowed] people to see my athletic ability," Adams said. "That's what I think set me apart from other players. Running the ball, kicking the ball, punting the ball, catching the ball, blocking—it was something I had always wanted to do. I wanted to show I could do more than one thing."
Although his versatility was impressive, Adams' dominant performance on the defensive line left little doubt about where he'd play at the next level. During his senior season at Dooly, he recorded 127 tackles and 34 tackles for loss. Rivals.com rated him the third-best defensive tackle in his class, and he became one of the most sought-after recruits in the state of Georgia. One day, Derek Dooley, Nick Saban, Gene Chizik, Mark Richt and Dabo Swinney were all in Vienna to meet Montravius. Adams often tried to sell college coaches on the talents of his high school teammates, as he wanted them to live out their dreams, too. "A lot of people don't really make it out of Vienna. So I was trying to put other people on, help them be the best they can be. Get them offers—if not by a big D-I school, at least from a JUCO or a smaller school. Because at the end of the day, I just want to see everyone make it and everyone try to live their dream," Adams said.
When National Signing Day rolled around, Adams announced his decision with a flourish. After telling the assembled crowd that he'd be taking his talents to Auburn, he ripped off a collared shirt to reveal a custom Auburn Tigers t-shirt with his own face on it. "It was a crazy experience, and I was blessed to have it," Adams said.
He made a quick impact at Auburn, recording 20 tackles during his true freshman season. However, he had to learn how to hone his technique and adjust to SEC competition. In high school, he could pretty much just plow through whomever lined up across from him. Adams says Rodney Garner, his position coach at Auburn, was a tremendous help in his transition to college. "I feel like he's a great father-type role model to me. I see him as a father. I'm just so happy he took the time to help me mature as a person and as a player," Adams said.
Adams solidified his future as an NFL player during his junior season, when he recorded 44 tackles and was named a third-team All-SEC performer. He could've declared for the 2016 NFL Draft and been a draft pick, but Adams felt like he hadn't yet achieved everything he wanted at Auburn.
"I talked to a lot of people before I made that decision. The last person I talked to was my momma. She thought it would be best for me to come back and get my degree," Adams said. "Knowing myself as a person and as a player, I didn't feel like I was ready to go out and make that big transition in life. So I took that all into consideration and went back and got my degree."
The decision turned out to be a fruitful one, as Adams recorded 44 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception during a senior season that earned him AP All-America Second Team honors. He also earned his degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Shortly after Auburn's win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl, Adams packed his bags for the Senior Bowl. He was a one-man wrecking machine during the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl and in the game itself. "Adams proved one thing during three days of Senior Bowl practice—when he wants to play, he's unstoppable. He offers the size, growth potential and power to be a dominant force on Sundays," wrote Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com.
Shortly after his authoritative performance in the Senior Bowl, Adams began training for the NFL Draft process (Combine, Pro Days, private workouts, etc.) at Proactive. "A guy like Montravius, he's very goal-oriented. He wanted a goal sheet. He wanted to know what was required of him and what I thought the best he could do was, and he wanted to prove us wrong," Capretta said.
Consistently raising expectations is something Adams prides himself on. He rarely feels satisfied with his performance. "I have no limits. It's a slogan I've always gone by. Even if I had 100 tackles in a game, after the game, I'd be like, 'dang, I should've had 101. I stepped wrong on that play.' I just always want to be better," Adams said.
While he's driven to improve every day, Adams is excited by the fact he's on the precipice of finally making it to the NFL. He's also enthusiastic about using his platform as an NFL player to give back. He told us he plans to start a non-profit organization whose goal is to help single mothers.
"I feel like I've known my purpose in life—I know why God put me here. He blessed me with talents, and he wanted me to come out and use those, and then give back. That's why I really want to have a non-profit for single mothers and their kids," Adams said. "[My mother] raised four kids by herself. She managed to give four kids food, clothes, all that stuff. It's a big responsibility. It's just me trying to give back to my mother, letting her know I really appreciate everything she did."
Though a number of defensive players are expected to be drafted before Adams, he's motivated to prove wrong anyone who passes on him. Getting to the NFL has been a dream 14 years in the making, but his next goal could be achieved a whole lot quicker than that. "You can't be complacent. When you complete one goal, you just have to go to the next," Adams said. "The next goal is winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year."