Former Eagle Tra Thomas wants to make you a better athlete

Former Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas stands on field at his new training center.
Former Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas stands on field at his new training center.
Posted: March 30, 2011

TRA THOMAS stood, beaming, fit and fierce and happy in his suburban kingdom.

"This was something I've always wanted to do," he said.

He reigns over a 40-yard black turf field, a 30-yard sand pit, a half-dozen stanchions bearing tons of training weights and a glassed back room that will be fitted with a Kinesis fitness system, one of the more advanced systems in existence. It is $3 million of snazzy potential.

It is 7 Deuce Sports, taken from Thomas' uniform number during his 12-year professional football career. It is 7,000 square feet of sport-specific space wedged between AmeriKick and The Shoe Horn at the Sharps Run Plaza on Route 70 in Medford, N.J.

Thomas, inspired by position coach Juan Castillo, said he always wanted to coach offensive linemen, to make them as elite as he was as a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles, but, with a wife and three sons, he didn't want to commit to the NFL's 110-hour work weeks.

He tried to sell his services at local gyms and facilities but no one bit. So, at the urging of his wife, Rosa Chanea, he took a 3-year lease in January - that's right, just 3 months ago.

He then hired a half-dozen trainers led by his personal handler, Chuck Morris.

Come Saturday at 9 a.m., Thomas and his troupe begin to teach.

"Anyone trying to get themselves in the best shape of their lives," the 36-year-old Thomas said.

This will be an appointment-only facility where, for a fee, anyone may train; baseball and softball players, in a retractable batting cage; basketball players, lacrosse players, track athletes of any age or ability.

However, after 4 p.m., Thomas hopes to focus on teen athletes, especially football players, looking to perfect their physiques and techniques. He believes 7 Deuce sits in a hotbed.

"You can teach kids who really need that technique, to help them with that learning curve," Thomas said. "And we're right here in the middle of Lenape, Shawnee, Cherokee and all of these football schools."

He will tutor offensive linemen. Former teammate Hugh Douglas has been hired to teach the defensive line, former teammate Omar Gaither, linebackers, former teammate Greg Lewis, receivers.

"With this lockout going on, it'll give these guys a chance to do what they love," Thomas said, "and get paid for it."

Thomas has yet to persuade any of his former teammates to actually train with him. Morris has helped other pro athletes in the past, such as Eagles center Jamaal Jackson and guard Max Jean-Gilles. Both Thomas and Morris expect that, if the work stoppage continues, the no-nonsense atmosphere at 7 Deuce will attract the best of the best.

"Once we get open and people start seeing what we have going on, we'll get people to come over," Thomas said. "I've talked to some guys. Once they see what I'm putting together is real, I'll get some guys to come over."

Practically, what sets Thomas' facility apart is the elevated sand pit, where there awaits a specialized agony for anyone who hasn't trained in one. Researchers say training in sand is tougher than training on hard ground and studies have shown it increases speed and vertical leaping ability.

Cosmetically, what is striking about the space is the black artificial turf. It is Sprinturf, the same surface the Eagles use in their indoor practice facility.

"You should have heard their voices when we told them we wanted it to be black," said Thomas, who paid a painful upcharge for the color.

That vanity is one of the few at the site. The place is sparsely comprised.

There is an exercise bike (just one) that will be used to run VO2 max tests, the procedure in which an athlete breathes into a mask to determine maximum oxygen consumption. All athletes will wear a heart-rate monitor at all times.

So, what if it's successful? Really successful?

"I've thought of that," Thomas said, smiling.

He already has looked into a 50,000 square foot space 1 mile away on Route 70.

If it's successful, it will hinge as much on Thomas' name as Morris' abilities. Thomas has unquestioned faith in Morris.

After his back surgery in 2005, Thomas forfeited a $250,000 offseason workout bonus, which would have been paid if he adhered to the Eagles' offseason protocol. Instead, he opted to train exclusively with Morris, a 35-year-old Willingboro, N.J., native.

"I got in the best shape of my life," said Thomas, who played 4 more years.

If only, Morris said, he could have trained Thomas at 7 Deuce.

"He gave me the freedom to set this up the way I needed it," Morris said. "This breaks the mold!"

Half of Thomas' stable of trainers are female. Thomas hopes to join them, but, he admitted, laughing, he has yet to pass his certification test.

He also hopes that his business expands horizontally. One day, 7 Deuce will accommodate rehabilitating athletes with a hydrotherapy pool. It will have a study hall room complete with tutors. There might be a few of them sprinkled through South Jersey, Philadelphia proper and the Pennsylvania suburbs.

After all, what king is ever satisfied with the size of his domain?

Watch a video tour of Tra Thomas'

7 Deuce Sports at http://www.philly.com/7deucevideo.

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