Rhodes prepares for the tackle
Eric Mangini employed a unique method to fire up his Jets prior to a big football game – show a boxing match. The pre-game ritual captured the hearts and minds of his young team during the season, but for at least one Jets player, the sport continues to resonate.
"I actually do box. That is the big off-season thing I like to do," said Jets Safety Kerry Rhodes. "I did it last off-season. It really helped me out because I came into camp stronger. Boxing really helped my upper body strength a lot."
Fortunately for Rhodes, he doesn't live far from Randy Gordon, the former Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission from 1988-1995. Gordon still trains a number of fighters in Melville, Long Island.
"My neighbor – Randy Gordon – was actually a boxing commissioner, so he has always been a boxing guy and he trains a lot of fighters," Rhodes said. "I met him, we talked, and he has been training me for a while. He probably would have trained me in the season. I was like, 'Hey Randy leave me alone. I'm tired. I can't be training during the year.'"
When Rhodes reaches a more desirable physical level, he will pick up the boxing gloves and resume training. The Jets became synonymous with "The Sweet Science" during the season as Mangini, a self-professed boxing fan, frequently drew parallels between boxing and football.
Considering Rhodes' tremendous physical ability, it's not surprising he would excel in another sport. Playing safety, Rhodes' four interceptions tied for the team lead (Andre Dyson), and he also led the club with 13 passes defensed. His 92 tackles were the fifth-highest total on the team. After a long season, Rhodes is taking time for a little R&R.
"I haven't done anything. I have some free weights that I play with sometimes, but I haven't done anything with my legs," Rhodes said in a recent phone interview. "My legs are still kind of shot actually. I haven't done anything as far as running and things like that."
Needless to say, football is a physically demanding sport. The 6'3", 210-pound Rhodes, who now has started all 32 regular season games he has played, was involved in a number of violent collisions between training camp and the first week of January.
"Last year as a rookie, my body recuperated a little bit faster," Rhodes said of the recovery process. "Around this time, I was pretty much back in the swing of things. But it was a tough season this year. We played an extra game, which is good. But my body hasn't caught up just yet."
When it mattered most, Rhodes' body worked just fine, wreaking havoc on opposition offenses. He began the season with an interception in Tennessee and then registered 11 tackles – including a strip-sack of New England quarterback Tom Brady – in the home opener. In week three, Rhodes set his sights on Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman and notched two more strip-sacks. Both fumbles were recovered by Jets' linebackers and Victor Hobson's 32-yard touchdown return in the third quarter broke open a close contest.
Rhodes only progressed throughout the season, but he still has his eyes set on improvement.
"I will attempt to get out of my transition a little better," he said, when asked about upcoming goals. "I am usually pretty quick with my reads, but it would be good to get that quick-twitch fiber muscle to work a little faster for me."
There were times Rhodes got to the ball so fast that he surprised himself. During the Wild Card game at New England, Rhodes dove for a Tom Brady pass instead of attempting to run through the ball and possibly taking it to the house.
The postseason experience Rhodes and some of his young teammates gained should only help them down the road.
"It was definitely a unique experience for us as a young team," said Rhodes, a Communications major at Louisville. "Most of us are young and we have some veteran guys mixed in. It was good for us to get a taste of it and see how the intensity steps up. We had a chance, we were there in the fourth quarter, but they made more plays than us down the stretch. We couldn't capitalize on things we had going for us, but it was a good experience for us and definitely a building block for the younger guys."
Rhodes is a player the Jets can build their defensive backfield around. He will turn 25 in August and his best football promises to be ahead of him. Rhodes has all the natural tools and he continues to develop as a core leader.
"I am still learning how to lead – learning how to lead grown men is different," he says. "People might be established in this league and players may be older than you, but I think the biggest thing with leadership is the way you play. If you make plays on the field, players will follow you and you can be a leader. That is the kind of approach I take. I try to play hard and try to do as many things right as I can and make plays."
Football followers across the nation were surprised Rhodes didn't receive a Pro Bowl invitation. But the good-natured Rhodes handled it with class and appreciated the well-wishes from his peers. He is an overlooked star who will enjoy some rest before getting back in the ring – literally.