NFL players spend the entire offseason training for the next season and you can really tell who put their work in, come training camp. However, they don’t all train together during the offseason instead, each player picks where and who they’ll put their trust in to better them. For Falcons’ running back Todd Gurley, it’s Coach J. Aggabao.
Aggabao wasn’t always helping professional athletes be the best they can be, he was once a kid on the run.
The high school dropout shared his rollercoaster journey with Heavy.com and how he ended up coaching athletes at the top.
A Troubled Young Man
Originally from Guam, Aggabao was consistently getting into any kind of trouble he could think of as a child. His terrible decisions resulted in him bouncing around from school to school.
“I was a troubled young man. I couldn’t stick or find a way. The first high school I was expelled, the second high school I left on my own and the third high school I was kicked out.”
His family then migrated to Colorado for his senior year in which Aggabao left in the middle of.
“It just wasn’t for me anymore. I went to four high schools in four years. So let’s just say I was never a fit, I could never really find my way in high school.”
Getting His Ducks in a Row
According to buildOn, a non-profit organization empowering education systems across the U.S., 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year. Afterward, many fall into a cycle of poverty, unemployment, and violence.
Aggabao refused to be just another statistic. Instead, he received his GED a few months after dropping out and attended Pacific Union College as a freshman.
While in college, the tragic 9/11 terrorist attack happened. Aggabao, once again, left school but for a better reason this time. He joined the military in December of 2001.
“The reality is, the best choice for me was instead of staying in school for four years was to go to the military and get a little bit more discipline and open my eyes to a different world,” he said.
In a span of just two and a half years, Aggabao advanced quickly in leadership skills. He went from a Seaman (E-1), which is the beginning rank to a Petty Officer 2nd Class (E-5).
“At some point during boot camp I saw that being disciplined and being locked in and paying attention to detail brought me success and that lead me to having a successful military career.”
Aggabao was on track to advance even further, but it was time to look for another challenge after five years in the Navy.
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Back to School
This time, Aggabao stayed in school and finished. He started at Washington State with dreams of becoming a sports agent. He soon realized he wasn’t cut out to wear a suit and tie every single day, so he made the transition to Kinesiology.
At that point he started volunteering in the weight room under late WSU’s director of strength and conditioning, David Lang. Lang was one of Aggabao’s original mentors who helped him get to where he is today.
After graduating from WSU, Aggabao went to school again! This time, it was for his masters at Illinois State. Just before graduating, Aggabao applied to nearly 50 different positions and was turned down by all of them. He didn’t give up.
At that point he called around and got ahold of Rock Gullickson who was the head strength and conditioning coach for the (then) St. Louis Rams. Nothing came about except that they stayed in touch and met at the 2013 NFL Combine, which was Coach J.’s first time going. Once again, nothing was available but they were able to make a face-to-face connection.
A couple of weeks later, Aggabao got a call from the Rams and was offered an internship from Coach Fisher under Gullickson, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Rams.
After interning with the Rams’ for the 2013 season, Coach Fisher made Aggabao the full-time assistant strength and conditioning coach. Prior to the Rams relocating to LA in 2016, Aggabao was promoted to the top assistant job when the Rams moved to LA.
During his time in LA, Gurley and Aggabao developed a bond.
Fisher was fired along with the rest of the staff.
The Real Journey
Aggabao was jobless and took the time to travel the country for a solid 6-8 weeks. He called it professional development where he was able to learn and expand his network.
Aggabao drove through Georgia and all the way down through texas, into Miami then up to Washington, D.C.
“My favorite part was just seeing the country in the sense of driving around everywhere and sleeping in the back of my car was entertaining, he said.” Also, getting to see people I hadn’t seen in years and just hanging out, that was the best part.”
While road tripping through the U.S. Aggabao was sharing his journey on Facebook so he was able to catch up with friends from his past.
“There really wasn’t any negativity to it except, probably one night in Baton Rouge when it was extremely hot and muggy and it was just miserable sleeping in the back of the car.”
He even got his pilot professional card before hitting the road, so every time he reached a certain amount of gas mileage he was able to get a free shower. He also pampered himself a bit and stayed a total of five nights in a hotel.
Ok, So How’d Aggaboa Get Back to Gurley?
Through his travels, Aggabao found himself at an event in South Carolina for strength and conditioning coaches put on by Sorinex, a premier exercise equipment brand. Sorinex fills 90% of the NFL’s weigh-rooms.
While there, he received a call if he would be interested in interviewing with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts as the head strength coach. He spent two seasons with the Argonauts and they won a Grey Cup in 2017.
In the fall of 2018, Aggabao reached out to the guys he knew back at the Mamba Sports Academy. Aggabao had formed several relationships in 2016 while there coaching Jared Goff and Gurley before the Rams had a training facility in LA.
Aggabao headed back home to Southern California in December. He is now the Director of Education & Elite Football Performance for Sports Academy. ‘Mamba’ has been dropped from the title.
Gurley lives just one exit away from Aggabao and they continue to train daily.
Aggabao’s journey has been a long one, but worth every step and coaching football players to their best ability has always been his goal.
“At the end of the day, it’s athletes from different walks of life all after the same, common goal. And not that it’s not like that in any other sport but in football, it’s the closet thing to the military in the sense that how large a team is and how many different backgrounds guys have.
I just want to be able to inspire somebody.”