When Spring Grove-based trainer Chris Leathers met Robert Tonyan two years ago, Tonyan was a 217-pound Indiana State wide receiver.
NFL teams had shown interest, and the McHenry grad certainly had the receiving talent, but Leathers felt Tonyan’s frame could support plenty more weight as he turned into more of a blocker.
Leathers – who runs Your World Fitness – then wanted to introduce Tonyan to another friend and client, C.J. Fiedorowicz. As it turns out, they already knew each other.
Which brings us to about a year ago, when Tonyan was cut by the Detroit Lions.
He didn’t mope; he worked out every day. He ate right, avoiding processed food and fast food and instead eating things such as red meat, chicken, fish and vegetables. And he kept to his goal of making an NFL roster.
“We basically taught him a healthy lifestyle,” Leathers said. “If you want to be in the NFL, you want to live your life around this.”
In December, Tonyan was signed to the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad.
And this offseason, he took that training to another level.
Fiedorowicz, who retired in the spring from the Houston Texans, took time away from his work at the Boca Raton, Florida, real estate company that his sister, Paige, operates to live with Leathers and train with Tonyan.
“C.J. specifically came home and treated it like it was his offseason for Rob,” Leathers said.
They worked on blocking, they worked on eating right – Fiedorowicz cooked for Tonyan and taught him to cook for himself – and they kept each other motivated.
“He’s got me ahead of the game on how to act and how to be a pro,” Tonyan said.
One day, while Leathers trained on the track, Fiedorowicz and Tonyan battled it out in blocking drills on the field. That continued for more than an hour. Both left sore. And, for one of the few times during the summer, both ignored Leathers’ text about a workout the next morning.
Now, Tonyan is about 250 pounds and still in top shape to move around with the added size – something he’s shown throughout the Packers’ training camp as he fights for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Late in the first half of Thursday night’s preseason game against Pittsburgh, Tonyan leaped up to catch a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone above Steelers first-round pick Terrell Edmunds. Then he took his shot at his first Lambeau Leap.
It was a big moment for Tonyan. But don’t forget the process it took to get here.
“This is Rob being coachable, wanting it,” said Leathers, who regularly sends Tonyan motivational texts, including Thursday morning. “He’s just a great guy to work with.”
During last week’s preseason opener, Tonyan went into motion and blocked on the left side of the line during a Packers goal line touchdown run late in the first half, jumping into the pile late as running back Joel Bouagnon, who played his first three high school seasons at Burlington Central and later played at Northern Illinois, scored.
The progress led new Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to say this week, “When you go to [organized team activities], you say, ‘Wow, this guy can really move. This guy has a nice frame,’ – all of those attributes that you like to throw around. But he has not backed down from the physical aspect of the game. I think he’s made the most out of his opportunities.”
Not too bad for a guy who now has switched positions twice since heading to Indiana State as a quarterback.