Aaron Maybin was content with mediocrity, at peace with settling for less.
After another lame day of classes in ninth grade, Maybin came home with his report card in hand. Dad took a look at the row of C's bleeding across the page. His pulse sped up. His eyebrows curved inward. Mom got nervous. And dad flipped.
"I was basically freaking out at him," Michael Maybin said. "And he said, ‘But dad, I am a perfectly happy average student.' At which point, my wife had to escort me from the room."
Once Michael cooled off and the echo from his screeching "What!!??" dissipated, the two sat down for a heart-to-heart. These grades needed to rise. Michael didn't have the money to pay for a college tuition. Anything Aaron did after graduation — and, oh yes, he would do something — needed to be manifested on his own. There would be no hometown loafing, no mooching.
Once Aaron graduated from high school, his room was going to be converted to office. At least that was the scare tactic dad marinated into his message.
"I told him, ‘Listen. We're a middle-income family. You've got three siblings. Quite frankly, as it relates to college, you have two choices: earn a scholarship and do something athletically or join the military,'" Michael recalled.
Roger, that. Something clicked that day. Dad helped son realize he couldn't breeze through school or life anymore — a generic point-blank message relayed throughout the country every day. Some kids listen, others don't. Aaron did.
The Aaron Maybin that the Buffalo Bills drafted 11th overall (and are frantically trying to sign at the moment) was born that day. No longer was second-best acceptable.
Good news for Buffalo's solid, yet unspectacular defense. Terrell Owens will surely hog the headlines heading into next week's training camp. But maybe the most important story to track is Maybin's maturation. The Bills' ‘D' is starving for a speed rusher. With Tom Brady rehabilitated, Chad Pennington resurrected and Mark Sanchez grooming, Maybin's performance in 1-on-1 drills may be more important than any amount of circus catches T.O. hauls in at St. John Fisher.
Buffalo drafted Maybin after only totaling 24 sacks last season.
Two years ago, Brady embarrassed Buffalo's defense for 681 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 79 percent of his passes. TiVo viewers had enough time to pause the game at the snap, grab a beer in the kitchen, wiggle back into their recliner groove and take a sip before Brady released the ball.
With multiple options in free agency and the draft, the Bills took Maybin. It's a risky investment, no doubt. After one breakout season at Penn State, Maybin remains a mystery. But his path to the present suggests that Buffalo's passive pass rush will change. It all started with The Talk in ninth grade.
"It was a blessing," the younger Maybin said of his Dad's talk. "I thank God every day that I was blessed with the two parents that I have. What my father did was an extremely, extremely big influence on me."
This mental shift never reversed. Tested, yes. But never reversed.
Roots in Wrestling
One year after The Talk, the record on Aaron's newfound focus skipped. His grades improved overall. He was especially sharp during football season. But when the calendar flipped to wrestling, Maybin's concentrated slumped. He doesn't remember what the class was. Only that the ugly grade elicited an uglier, assertive response from his father.
"I got a ‘D' on my report card and he pulled me off the wrestling team," Aaron said.
Didn't shock Aaron. He knew his dad wasn't just giving lip service last year. But the in-house suspension stunned his coach.
"He kept begging and pleading, ‘Can you let him come back now?' And I said, ‘no.' There has to be repercussions for it."
By the next quarter, that grade improved to a ‘B.'
The sport of wrestling itself was a dose of foreshadowing for Maybin. So many speed rushers drafted in the first round crash and burn. The horror stories ring loud every April — Jamal Reynolds, Kenechi Udeze, Jerome McDougle and, gulp, Erik Flowers. Too often, teams go shopping for Julius Peppers and wind up with nothing but a side salad for behemoth offensive tackles.
Maybin had 12 sacks last season for Penn State, but can he do it in the pros?
So naturally, skeptics stereotyped Maybin as such before the draft. Only game action will prove if he's for real, if the 12 sacks he had as a Penn State sophomore were pro material. But Maybin's athletic upbringing suggests that he won't flop like his Nittany Lion forefathers at defensive end. In wrestling, Maybin thrived against heavier opponents. As a high school junior, he competed in the goliath 275-pound class…as a 225-pounder.
Despite the severe discrepancy in size, Maybin finished fourth in the state. With speed, with go-to moves, with a mean streak.
After The Talk, Michael took Aaron on college visits. He'd frequently single out players on the football team.
"I'd say, ‘Look at that guy. You're the same height as that guy but he's bigger than you. Look at that guy. He's shorter than you, but he has more muscle,'" Michael said. "When he realized he could do it, he applied himself differently."
So the 1,500 pounds of weights in the basement were put to more use. No longer did dad need to poke and prod Aaron to go downstairs for a lift. And suddenly, Michael Maybin was saving money at the gas pump. Aaron began running the one-mile route to practice every day during the summer.
Packed up his clothes, strapped on a backpack and took off. The resiliency paid off. Maybin totaled 19 sacks his junior and senior years at high school and was Penn State bound.
"When everyone was at home swimming in pools, he was running to school," Michael said.
By the time Maybin was at Penn State, dad's counseling was no longer needed. Michael said Aaron never returned home after he left for Happy Valley as a freshman. And no, he didn't really turn Aaron's room into an office.
Rather, the guidance wasn't in demand anymore. All those lessons became second nature. The two have been through a lot together — when Aaron was 6 years old, his biological mother died due to complications in child birth.
In college, Maybin began picking the brains of the best at his craft – Lavar Arrington, Shawne Merriman, Ray Lewis. He craved their swagger. Arrington, especially, became a personal coach. The duo met at one of Lewis' charity events when Aaron was in high school. Soon, Arrington "became like family," Maybin said.
Penn State-great Lavar Arrington has been a role model on the field for Maybin.
Last fall at Penn State, Maybin's defense watched film of Arrington's defense. Not necessarily for X ‘n O's. They sought the attitude Arrington's unit played with, the collective relentless to the ball each play. And after Maybin's games, Arrington frequently called his cell phone.
Like those verbal floggings from Dad, it wasn't always pretty.
"He was brutally honest with me," Maybin said. "He never sugarcoated stuff. He wanted to make sure I knew what I needed to do to take my game to the next level."
In no time, Penn State's front four called themselves the "Legion of Doom." They finished eighth in the country with Maybin as the unlikely front man. Before the season, he wasn't even expected to start. Maybin was a project, another year of apprenticeship away from blossoming. But when Maurice Evans was suspended for marijuana possession and Jerome Hayes suffered his second straight torn ACL, Maybin became the de facto starter.
From there, raw speed transformed Maybin from preseason no-name to first-round draft prospect. He terrorized quarterbacks in his only year as a starter.
Suddenly, NFL hopes were real. The work was just beginning.
"I became a monster"
Forget about defensive end. This was defensive back territory. This was um-you-probably-shouldn't-have-turned-pro-as-a-redshirt-sophomore territory.
When Aaron Maybin walked through the door at Power Train Sports Performance, he weighed 226 pounds. In other words, more than 100 pounds less than the left tackles he'd be crashing into in six months.
Maybin's trainer, Steve Saunders, remembers looking at the scale in awe.
"I said, Wow, we have our work cut out for us," Saunders said. "We have a lot of weight to put on here."
So Maybin ate six meals a day. He lifted constantly. He lifted with a snarl. The intensity Saunders saw in training future defensive player of the year James Harrison, showed up in Maybin.
"I became a monster," Maybin said. "I was in the weight room all day, every day. I ate, I lifted, I ate again, I lifted again, I ate again. I became a machine during that time and I was really able to continue to grow."
Maybin's offseason workouts were vital in him getting drafted in the top 15.
In the two months between the NFL Combine and his Pro Day, Maybin's 40-yard dash improved from 4.7 seconds to 4.59. And he got faster while getting heavier. From January to March, Maybin added 25 pounds. The good kind, not the K-Fed kind. At his style of play — attacking, getting to the edge — he could not lug around just any type of mass. He needed fast-twitch muscle development to retain that lethal first step.
That's where Saunders came in. You can practically hear the song "Hearts on Fire" when Saunders reels off a typical day's workout: breakfast, an hour break, an hour workout, a post-workout shake/snack, an hour rest, lunch, an hour rest, running drills for an hour, a post-workout shake/snack, an hour rest, dinner, another workout, another post-workout shake/snack, and then finally bed.
By the time Maybin left Saunders, he was 250 pounds. Saunders believes Maybin has the frame to carry 270 pounds someday, too.
The double black diamond workouts worked. Saunders had doubts. He knew Maybin would lift every day. But he didn't know if the defensive end would be committed in the kitchen. He was.
"If it could fly, run or swim and if he could pick it from the tree or the ground, he ate it," said Saunders, who has trained between 30-40 clients, including Paul Posluszny. "You have to put on good weight. Calories in, calories out. He's not going to get fat eating properly. My problem with a lot of nutrition programs is a calorie is not a calorie. You can't tell somebody to eat 2,000 calories and that you're going to gain muscle or you're going to eat 2,000 calories and put on fat."
By April, the veins streamed down Maybin's forearms like garden snakes. His shoulders were chiseled like a Boflex pitchman. His entire body changed with Saunders in Lancaster, Pa. When Michael Maybin saw the final product at Penn State's Pro Day, he barely recognized his son.
"It was scary," Michael said. "By that time he had really settled into all the weight he had put on it was really remarkable to see."
Everybody in the stands knew the wager. They razzed dad every time Aaron rushed around the end.
It was Maybin's second game ever. And it was under the NBC spotlight against Notre Dame. Michael knew a friendly nudge in the right direction couldn't hurt, though this was quite different than kicking him off the team. This time, Michael told his son he'd buy him a plasma TV if he sacked Jimmy Clausen.
Revealing the outcome, dad pauses for effect.
"He has that flat-screen TV," Michael said, laughing hysterically. "It's sitting in his living room right now!"
Well worth the $1,000. Dad watched that highlight of Maybin tomahawking Clausen to the turf over and over again on draft weekend. The motivation worked. Of course now that Aaron is in the process of negotiating his rookie contract, it begs the question: Will son return the favor? After all of those everlasting tips as a youngster?
"Well," Michael said, "let's see what happens when the ink dries."
For the Bills' sake, the ink better dry very soon.
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for the Buffalo News, Olean Times Herald and the Packer Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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