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Training for a cause
Eastside coach uses past experiences to mentor young athletes
Eastside assistant football and baseball coach Bryce Smith has found an opportunity with U48 Fitness to mentor young athletes in Newton County. - photo by Submitted Photo

If balancing the roles of high school teacher and assistant football/baseball coach weren't already hard enough, try doing it along with training athletes across the region.

That’s the goal Eastside coach Bryce Smith is trying to accomplish, as the 25-year-old special education teacher leaves his day job behind at night to train some of Georgia’s top athletes.

Smith is a member of Ultimate 48 Fitness, an organization that provides athletic and weight training to adolescents and adults. While it's still a young program, Smith has had the opportunity to watch U48 grow from a dream to a reality.

Athletic background
For Smith, the ability to help young athletes in Newton County and beyond doesn’t come lightly. The former Samford University linebacker recognized the impact his mentors had on him growing up in Chicago as a child and later in Lawrenceville, where he attended Central Gwinnett High School.

“When I was younger, I played a lot of different sports in high school – baseball, basketball, football and tennis – and I had a lot of different mentors that helped me through,” Smith said. “I was born in Chicago and moved to Georgia and then my parents divorced. I stayed with my mother, who had two other boys.

“A lot of the time I didn’t always have a male role model around the house,” he said. “My dad was a great father and I saw him a lot and he was very involved, but it’s not the same when you don’t get to see him every single day.”

Smith said his coaches played a big role in shaping his future, keeping his mind open to new opportunities and challenges.

“In fifth grade I almost quit playing football,” Smith said. “In those days, a lot of kids didn’t specialize in a sport, but I felt like football was impeding me from baseball. I wanted to play in the Majors and I thought I should specialize in baseball only.

“One of my coaches told me not to limit myself,” he said. “He showed me the value of keeping my eyes open and accepting whatever opportunities came my way. If I hadn’t had that one person, I don’t know where I would be today. Football set up the rest of my life, and I almost quit it before it even started.”

Smith went on to earn all-conference honors three times at Samford while leading the nation in solo tackles in two different seasons. But, Smith said that even with success, his journey wasn’t always an easy one.

“My first year at Sanford I wanted to come home,” he said. “I called up my high school coach and I told him I wanted to come back. Here was this great school, but football was terrible – we sucked. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a part of that.

“My coach gave me a piece of advice I have always kept with me,” he said. “He told me to not look at what the situation is right now … look ahead to what it could be. Now, I want to share that with others. I want to help kids reach their goals and give them guidance along the way.”

The second-team All-American stuck with the Bulldogs and has been a member of the Eagles’ coaching staff for the last three seasons. Not satisfied, Smith wants to do more.

Joining the team
Along with his teaching and coaching duties, Smith wanted to branch out and begin training others. The exercise and sports science major knew he wanted to help people live more active, more healthy lives, but he wasn’t quite sure how.

Smith started dabbling in personal training last summer and got a call from U48, which is based in Gwinnett County. The two met and Smith joined the team, giving him the connection he needed to begin achieving his dream.

The U48 name comes from a Bible verse from 1 Timothy 4:8, which states, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Now, Smith is starting to see the fruits of his labor come to fruition in Newton County.

“We have a training aspect and a wellness aspect in everything we do,” Smith said. “We’re like a family. We’re not world beaters by any means and we stay humble. We just want to be there to mentor others on their path to a healthy life. We’ve all had mentors outside of our families that have helped us; now we want to give that guidance.”

The U48 model features two distinct divisions – one for athletes and another for young adults who are looking to enhance their active lifestyles.

Smith said that so far he has found success in helping young athletes in and around Newton County.

“A lot of our kids right now are primarily from Eastside,” Smith said. “We work with some football, baseball, basketball and soccer players. We want to be here to help them perfect their craft, and they have a chance to work on their skills here at home instead of having to go into Atlanta or another bigger county. We can give them specialized training that they can’t find anywhere else in the region."

Smith said that the type of training he provides varies by sport, and workouts are tailored to each individual athlete.

“While we vary, one thing we always do is work on our core and our breathing,” he said. “We tell that that if you’re in the fourth quarter or second half and your core isn’t right and you can’t control your body, you’ll never be as good as you could be. Breathing is really important, too. A lot of people don’t understand how important it is to breathe under pressure, and we help athletes put together all the individual pieces of their game that can make them better.”

Seeing a need
Smith and U48 identified the Newton and Rockdale County areas as a place that could benefit from their services because of the abundance of talent flowing through the region.

“Newton County is a hot bed of talent,” Smith said. “There are so many athletes here … we felt like we needed to be here. The kids are really buying into the program and they’re excited about competing with, and against, other kids in their area instead of having to drive to Gwinnett County or Loganville or Atlanta.”

Smith said his program has found a niche by bringing its approach to the athlete instead of the athlete coming to it.

“We travel a lot,” he said. “Other places have brick and mortar buildings, but we bring the program to you. We’ll find a local park and work with individual schedules. Our versatility is through the roof.”

For adults, Smith said U48 offers training boot camps to help jump-start exercise.

“It’s about making them feel better every day about their lives,” Smith said. “Whether it’s at work, at home, being out at a social event – it could even be just cooking dinner for your family, our ultimate goal is to help you becoming happier.”

Smith said he hopes to continue to impact athletes in Newton County, while reaching out to others in Rockdale County, Social Circle and Monroe Area.

“We want to help put people in better situations,” Smith said. “I just want to give others the same opportunities I had.”

So far, nothing has stopped Smith yet.

“I feel like we’re the best at what we do,” he said. “We want to make our athletes the best that they can be.”