PITTSBURGH — Quitting marijuana gave Martavis Bryant a wave of new energy, which he poured into a Southern Nevada gymnasium for hours at a time while suspended for a year.
Once the NFL’s conditional reinstatement allowed Bryant back at the team facility in the spring, coach Mike Tomlin asked him to lose about 15 pounds.
“He knows I can gain and lose weight fast,” Bryant said with a smile.
Apparently. Bryant has since slimmed down to 220 pounds (at 5 percent body fat, he proudly adds), which he considers a sweet spot. But the weight is irrelevant against the backdrop of how Bryant feels.
Mentally free and physically imposing.
Bryant insists he has maintained his high-level speed despite the bulk.
“I wasn’t tired anymore. I wasn’t lazy,” he said of his turn to weights. “Once I was able to stop [smoking], I was more up as far as my energy, my conditioning, and actually getting strong and starting to feel better.”
Bryant admits he used to be one of those show-up-and-ball athletes, getting by on length, speed and jumping ability without any real work behind the scenes. It has been that way since his Clemson days. Six-foot-4 men with 4.4 speed can get away with this.
After the NFL levied the yearlong ban in March 2016 for multiple drug offenses, a humbled Bryant huddled with his agent, Thomas Santanello, to formulate a plan. Giving Bryant structure was important. But Bryant, despite having scored 15 touchdowns in 21 NFL games, also knew he hadn’t maximized his enormous potential.
Simply getting in the gym was the first step.
They settled on the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, where Bryant spent time with ESPN’s Dan Graziano this summer at his training hub, Van Hook Sports Performance, to outline his plan. Santanello had connections with housing and a gym schedule that provided Bryant access to nutrition advice, weights and acupuncture in a one-stop shop.
“It was about seeing who he could become,” Santanello said.
After a few months, Bryant acknowledges, his weightlifting bordered on obsession. Leg explosion sessions of squats and weighted jumps were among his favorites. And he had nothing else to do, so the obsession worked for a while.
He used to forget to eat breakfast. In Nevada, he was downing smoothies of milk and chocolate protein mix on the way to the gym. He was pounding steak and sweet potatoes at night.
The speed training happened later, but no one was worried about that component. Bryant maintained at the beginning that he wouldn’t get any slower and was made to run.
Bryant didn’t count calories or gauge saturated fats. Chili’s makes its way onto the agenda now and then. But every step is intentional — like the decision to drop fast-food.
“It was like, all right, if we’re going to do this, we have to commit ourselves to it,” Bryant said. “It worked out great. I just saw immediate results so I kept going.”
The Steelers see results, too. Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh was with Bryant at Clemson and has noticed “a better man on and off the field” in how he handles himself in the locker room and cares for his family.
Tomlin knew Bryant was serious about shaking off the football rust when he asked for second-half reps in the third preseason game, against the Indianapolis Colts. Bryant believes his added strength helps stave off injury, pointing to what he termed an “intentional” hit from Matthias Farley.
“I’m pleased with the direction it’s going in, but it’s ongoing and probably will be for an extended period of time,” Tomlin said of Bryant’s progress. “You have to respect the time missed, and he does. With that attitude, it provides a platform for us to address a lot of those things for a variety of reasons.”
These days, increased football duties result in less powerlifting for Bryant, who says he often trains with Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh.
Either way, performing on the field is not something that concerns Bryant.
“God blesses different people,” he said.