Eagles fans were on the edge of their seats when Tom Brady dropped back to pass on February 5, 2018. The Eagles were lined up in their “NASCAR” package, with 2 minutes and 16 seconds showing on the clock.
The defensive alignment gave Brandon Graham the option to move inside and rush Brady. The sneaky fast defensive end completely overmatched Patriots guard Shaq Mason, stripping the ball loose in 2.8 seconds, from snap to fumble. The turning-point play was unexpected to all but one man.
“I called it the play before,” Mike Barwis, who has served as Graham’s personal strength and conditioning coach for 12 years, told Heavy.com. “My buddy said, ‘Oh gosh, here comes Brady’ — I coached at Michigan and Tom is a wonderful man — and I turned and looked at him and said, ‘I bet Brandon Graham turns around and gets a sack.’”
Barwis runs the human performance company he founded in 2011, one that focuses on all aspects of athletic training from injury recovery to diet and nutrition. He runs 37 companies worldwide and has worked with thousands of gifted athletes across all sports after teaching at West Virginia University’s School of Physical Education for 10 years. His Barwis Methods designs specialized programs based on the art of cellular adaptation, instructing each athlete on how to train their cells to respond to the specific situations they may face in a game, like pure speed versus endurance speed.
“I’m kind of a dork that likes to be involved in a lot of things,” Barwis said. “I’m a 100 hour a week guy. I feel like 80-100 hours is a good pace.”
His prized pupil has been keeping up with that pace, too. Graham spends roughly four hours a day in the gym, doing a range of things from weight training to plyometrics to massage therapy. And diet, the most important part of the equation. Barwis’ workouts start with breakfast and end with prepped meals to take home.
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“You can train all you want but you need to put the right things in your body,” Barwis said. “Think of it this way: If you went to the desert and I gave you a choice of a Volkswagen Bug or a Lamborghini, and if I put gas in the Volkswagen Bug and none in the Lamborghini, which car do you want? You’re going to take the Bug and then go back and get the Lamborghini.”
Graham has risen to the top of a high-profile client list that includes NFL stars Jarvis Landry, T.J. Lang, Larry Foote, along with Olympic wrestlers and MMA fighters. Earlier this week, he was working out with UFC champion Robbie Lawler in Boca Raton, Florida. At one point during his training, Graham executed a one-handed backflip and landed squarely on his feet — the Herculean move came after a grueling two-hour workout, according to Barwis.
The hardest part of a Barwis session is something called hypertrophy. It’s a phase for building muscle mass by doing higher repetitions at lesser weight, with little or no rest. It’s so fatiguing that some professional athletes have been known to vomit. Some, not Graham.
“People talk about greatness, about finding it in a place or in a thing, but you find it in you,” Barwis said. “Brandon Graham consistently does what it takes to find it in you. His potential is limitless and he’s always going to give you all he’s got.”
Mike Barwis Says Brandon Graham is a ‘Nemesis and Nightmare’
Barwis may not want to go on record by naming his favorite client, but spend five minutes with the trainer and it’s evident. The hyperbole about Graham’s greatness never ends, from his insane work ethic in the gym to his outstanding job as a husband and father.
“There’s one every million years that is everything you want to see in an athlete and that’s Brandon Graham,” Barwis said. “He’s a monster, just a different guy – with his power and speed and his explosiveness, it’s an incredibly rare combination of skills and then combine that with his passion and desire and mega-watt smile.”
The two like-minded souls first met at the University of Michigan where Barwis served as strength and conditioning coach from 2007 until 2011. An 18-year-old Graham entered college as an overweight freshman at 315 pounds, barely able to bench his own body weight. Now, the 31-year-old version is a svelte 275 and benches 525 like it’s nothing.
Barwis, who grew up in a family of diehard Eagles fans from Northeast Philly, expects Graham to be both a “nemesis” and “nightmare” for offensive linemen in 2019. In fact, he remains shocked it took the world this long to realize how good the Eagles’ defensive end is. Pro Football Focus just ranked Graham No. 41 on their list of the NFL’s 50 best players.
“To be frank, I have no idea how he is not a four-time Pro Bowler,” Barwis said. “Show me someone that outproduces him. You’re not going to find it. He’s not a media darling, just a great player. He’s faster than a lot of defensive backs, probably a few running backs.”
Back to that game-winning strip-sack on Brady in Super Bowl LII. Barwis wanted to remind everyone that Graham was playing on a hurt ankle, an injury that required surgery after the season ended. He still got to the game’s best quarterback in 2.8 seconds. Flat.
“He came off the edge and there was no way in the world anyone was going stop him,” Barwis said. “The uncomfortable was comfortable for Brandon Graham. This is where I live, I live in discomfort, and he went out and got it. That’s who he is.”
Barwis also can’t help but crack a smile when discussing that play, arguably the greatest in Eagles franchise history.
“The city deserved that championship and no one deserved it more than Brandon Graham,” Barwis said. “It’s righteous to see that to come from a man that has given so much and worked so hard and wanted so badly to know that Philadelphia was a force to be reckoned with.”