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Monday, July 24, 2006 | First impressions begin when Chargers rookies report for training camp today at Chargers Park. Once the full roster assembles later in the week, the fresh-faced kids no doubt will have varying views of a veteran like fullback Lorenzo Neal.

The naïve ones will view Neal as a 35-year-old fullback trying to hide from the Turk – that ominous NFL figure that stalks training camp with fateful words for rookies and veterans alike that, “Coach wants to see you – and bring your playbook.”

Some rookies might look at Neal’s individual statistics last year – 28 carries for 96 yards and no touchdowns – and question his value. Some might even be foolish enough to wonder if they should take it easy on the old guy.

The smart ones, though, will view Neal as a starter in the 2006 Pro Bowl, his second trip to Hawaii in the last four seasons after being named an alternate in both 2003 and 2004.

They’ll recognize “blocking back” better describes his position than the traditional football label, fullback. The statistic they’ll notice is he’s cleared the way for nine straight 1,000-yard rushers, including the last three seasons with the Chargers for LaDainian Tomlinson.

The smart ones will be wise to wonder what they can learn from the wily veteran. How has he managed to beat Father Time?

Well, the irony of Lorenzo Neal beating back Father Time – an opponent that always eventually wins – is he turned for help from a man who has beaten boxing – Paul Vaden, the former IBF Jr. Middleweight world champion from San Diego.

Beat boxing, you say? Boxing kills men, careers and bank accounts. It leaves men with scrambled brains and destitute.

Vaden, using his brains, retired from the fight game in 2000 and exploited his boxing background to become a trainer. He devised a regimen he calls the “Ultimate Workout.” But Vaden isn’t a trainer for boxers.

His upscale clients include Qualcomm executives, an NBA minority owner living in San Diego and a San Diego female television personality. He’s a personal trainer for men and women who want to condition and motivate themselves

And two years ago a Pro Bowl fullback joined his client list.

“Sometimes you have to challenge yourself and try something new,” said Neal, a multi-sport athlete at Fresno State as a 1,000-yard rusher in the fall and an All-American wrestler in the winter.

Neal, who is entering his 14th NFL season, believes he’s regained six years of quickness and agility from Father Time by combining Vaden’s boxing workouts with his traditional routines and careful diet. No. 41 thinks he can continue playing maybe until he approaches 41.

“Lorenzo is a perfect spokesman for my workout,” Vaden said. “He’s an accomplished athlete. I can tell you all day why I think my workout is beneficial, but I had no idea how it helps a football player. My thing with him is to get him in the best shape possible, but listening to him also made me sit down with thoughts on how it helps him and how it can help other athletes.”

Neal explains the bobbing and weaving of a boxer is similar to the steps and arm movements needed for him to block tacklers. Ducking from a Vaden blow is similar to ducking under a linebacker trying to grab him. Gaining leverage is a key to football contact and Neal has added the boxing workouts to his wrestling background to control the grasp of linebackers.

This isn’t a workout from a kick boxer at a suburban boxing club that must pay overhead. Vaden, a man with a 29-3 record and 16 knockouts as a pro, comes to his client for the workouts.

In the garage of Neal’s San Diego home, Vaden wraps Neal’s hands and straps on pads to absorb Neal’s punches as they work out. Vaden instructs Neal on the combinations he wants him to execute.

“Right, out and in, right, right,” Vaden tells him.

Pop! Bang! Pop! Pop!

Neal is breathing deeply, harder than you’ll ever see him breathe in the 5- to 6-second bursts that are average NFL plays. Vaden, during the break, explains the workouts.

“The themes are footwork, fast-twitch muscles, sensory awareness and remembering combinations,” he said. “When you’re tired, you have to remember combinations. When he’s tired on the football field, he has to remember his blocking assignments.”

Neal and Vaden began working out together before the 2004 season. He believes Vaden’s boxing workouts will ultimately help allow him determine when he’s finished playing pro football.

Boxing didn’t beat Paul Vaden. And Neal thinks he can keep the Turk out of his NFL ring without beating him.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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