My Story and connection with Boyd Epley

I grew up in Nebraska and like just about everyone else in the state was a huge Husker football fan. The accolades of the Nebraska strength & conditioning program, and in particular Boyd Epley, were heard and seen regularly in the newspapers and on local TV.

Upon finishing high school in Lincoln as a recruited baseball player, I decided to enroll at the University of Nebraska as an invited walk-on for the Cornhusker baseball team. Arm tendonitis and ulnar nerve issues brought my baseball aspirations to a halt, but that also led me to Boyd Epley. It was well known that assistant strength coaches under Boyd were routinely hired by other universities or professional football teams.

So when one of Boyd’s assistants named Jeff Mangold was hired away as the new head strength & conditioning coach for the University of Florida, I knew that meant that there was an opening on Boyd’s staff. I immediately went in to talk to Boyd to see what the possibility would be for him to add me to his staff as an undergraduate assistant strength & conditioning coach. Boyd sat behind his desk and pointed to a large stack of papers on his credenza and said “I get hundreds of letters each year from young men like you asking to join my staff, so why should I pick you over all of the others”? So he then asked me to write him a letter and tell him why I should be his next assistant.

I went back to my fraternity where I was living and worked feverously on a paper that would be so compelling that he would select me. Well, I can’t remember exactly what I wrote but it worked and Boyd asked me to be on his strength staff as an undergraduate strength & conditioning coach. That was in 1980.

Boyd was good about empowering his assistants with responsibility and taught me to always try to be the best at what I do, and to be innovative in finding a better answer or solution. As I look back now, I can certainly say that Boyd had a huge influence on me as a mentor to help me continuously pursue that goal, to be the best.

Boyd even helped me become an educational presenter at the 1983 Strength & Conditioning Convention in Los Angeles, through his connections with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA – Boyd was the founder of). After my presentation ended I was approached by Jim Lefebvre, the Director of Player Development for the San Francisco Giants. Jim asked Boyd for permission to talk to me about a job with the Giants. Within a few months I was offered a job and was hired by the San Francisco Giants baseball organization as their first strength & conditioning coach starting in January 1984. Rather than follow other former assistants and go to another university or professional football team, I wanted to pave a new unchartered path within professional baseball. At that time I was the only dedicated strength & conditioning coach in Major League Baseball and from my understanding the youngest strength & conditioning coach in all professional sports at only 23 years old.

I quickly found out that I was truly blazing a new trail because there was still a lot of resistance to having baseball players “lift weights”. While my program was way more than lifting weights, it also including speed drills, agility, and flexibility training. But there was a stigma at that time, especially amongst the veteran players (and some coaches too) that they thought strength training would have negative effects on their baseball skills. Fortunately, there were enough young up and coming stars in the Giants organization that came from colleges that incorporated strength programs with the baseball teams that I had a good following and adherence from the younger players. Over a short period of time, baseball and the entire world of sports became better educated on the positive effects that strength & conditioning programs could have on their athleticism and sports specific skills.

Since all of the Giants off season training took place in Scottsdale, AZ, I opened a small gym in Phoenix, where we specialized in personal training and sports specific conditioning. That business grew quickly, so I went to a fitness trade show to look at buying new equipment for a second location. At that show I met Phil Patti who created a new line of strength equipment called High Tech Strength Systems. It was at that point that I started a new direction of my career in the world of “fitness equipment”. I helped Phil with redesigned some of his current pieces and design a few new ones too. I then convinced several high profile customers to purchase High Tech equipment so Phil eventually asked me to be his national sales manager. I sold my gym and jumped both feet into the fitness equipment world.

High Tech quickly emerged as one of the fastest growing strength lines in the industry. So much so that it caught the attention of Augie Nieto of Life Fitness. Augie was very close to buying another strength manufacturer so that Life Fitness could become a one-stop provider of both cardio and strength equipment. But he put that on hold when he started hearing great things about High Tech. Phil and I met Augie in NY at a Club Industry East show in 1995. Within two months the deal was done and Life Fitness bought High Tech.

I started off training all of the Life Fitness sales team on how to sell High Tech Strength by flying into each of their territories and meeting with their top customers. I was then asked by Augie to take over the Southern California territory for Life Fitness sales. I was a Regional Manager for Life Fitness for 6 years.

In May of 2001 I was approached by Ken Lucas about a new company he was just hired by to be their President. The parent company was Johnson Health Tech (formerly Johnson Metals). He told me all about their sophisticated vertically integrated manufacturing overseas and how this company could become a viable brand within the commercial industry. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in joining his team. I asked who was all on this new company team so far, and Ken said “just me right now”. I chuckled but was very intrigued to help develop a whole new company. I took a vacation in July 2001 to see their manufacturing plant and was so impressed that I said yes, I’m in. That commercial company was without a name at the time; I named it Matrix and we have become one of the top 3 largest commercial fitness brands in the world over a 15 year span.

Again, I look back at my roots and beginnings within the strength & conditioning and fitness world, and owe so much of who I am to Boyd Epley. His entrepreneurial spirit, drive for success, attention to the details, pursuit of always learning more, and overall desire to be number 1 soaked into me like I was a sponge. And I’m not the only one. I believe that there is over 65 former Boyd Epley strength assistants that have gone on to other schools / teams over the years.

Someone once said, “success is not measured by how high you have climbed, but by how many people you brought with you”. Boyd has absolutely climbed to the highest peak within the strength & conditioning world, and certainly achieved great success not only for what he has accomplished, but also for bringing so many other individuals up the mountain with him. I am one of those lucky ones.

~ Kent Stevens