When John LaRocca was a senior at Damascus High School, he broke his ankle playing soccer.
And while any snapped bone is a big deal, LaRocca had aspirations of playing college soccer, so it was even more of a setback.
After the injury, LaRocca's speed and agility lagged far behind where they once were. But instead of sulking, he did something about it. He tirelessly worked on agility ladders and cone drills and regained his quickness. The following fall, he played at McDaniel College and went on to have a successful career upon graduating in 2013 with a degree in exercise science.
It was during his freshman year at McDaniel, however, when he joined True Athlete Performance — a training center that focuses on speed and agility — that the spark for his new venture was ignited. There, he was the only soccer player on a coaching staff of football players and he noticed that not all of the drills translated well from sport to sport.
Fast forward four years and LaRocca is the Chief Executive Officer of Beltway Trainer, an organization he founded to provide sport-specific training to aspiring athletes, taught by current and former local professionals.
“They were having soccer guys do up-downs from football,” said LaRocca, who also serves as an assistant soccer coach at Frederick Community College. “In my head, football players are doing the football training absolutely correct, but these soccer players aren't getting endurance or other things they need.”
The staff now has 10 members since the June 1 launch who teach soccer, basketball, football, track and field and weight training. LaRocca's goal is to bring industry professionals on board so that clients can learn from those still in the business.
The first such trainer was LaRocca's longtime friend, Peabo Doue, a Clarksburg High and West Virginia University graduate who played professional soccer last season for Phoenix FC in the USL PRO.
“I've always had thoughts of coaching,” Doue said. “I was coaching part-time at Damascus Soccer Club and it's always something I've loved to do. I think this is a great opportunity for people to come and get better as an athlete.”
After Doue was on board, the chips started to fall into place for LaRocca, who took a shot in the dark by Facebook messaging one of his favorite basketball players at the University of Maryland, College Park, Chris McCray.
“I said, 'If you're interested, whenever you can, we'd love to have you be a basketball specialist,'” LaRocca said. “He wrote back and said that he'd love that and we should get together to meet. That's when we really got going.”
McCray, who graduated from Fairmont Heights in 2002, played professionally for the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks and currently plays for Hod Hasharon in Israel. He then suggested that LaRocca solicit the services of one of his former Maryland teammates, Travis Garrison. Garrison agreed and suddenly LaRocca had a wealth of experience among his basketball trainers.
“Giving back to the kids who were in your shoes, that's what it's all about,” said Garrison, who currently plays for the Dallas Mavericks' D-League team and graduated from DeMatha Catholic. “We have guys who experienced a lot, who played on the college level, played professionally, and it's a great way to help kids in their journey through sports.”
Drew Gloster (Our Lady of Good Counsel/Maryland) and Hassan Dixon (Northwest/Temple) are two of Beltway Trainer's football specialists as LaRocca continues to build as diverse and experienced a staff as possible. One of the more impressive aspects of the organization isn't simply the commitment to sport-specific agility training, but the fact that every trainer played high school sports in the area. In addition, Beltway Trainer is a “convenience company,” meaning the trainers meet the clients at a location of their choosing, though LaRocca is hoping to establish a centralized facility sooner rather than later.
“I think it's great that all our trainers have been there and played the sports,” LaRocca said. “A lot of our clients aren't where they need to be technically or skills-wise and some of them are coming to us after getting cut. We want to help them improve so that they can make the team.”