Compliments from Kyle Jakobe are hard to come by.
So when the owner and head trainer of Sweat Performance in Lutherville commended Ben Grubbs for his precise footwork during agility drills earlier this month, the former Ravens All-Pro offensive guard thought he was being mocked.
"He looked at me like I had three heads. He was mad because he thought I was talking trash to him," said Jakobe, 30. "I was like, 'No, I'm serious,' but he wasn't having it. I couldn't convince him."
Grubbs, now with the New Orleans Saints, didn't need much convincing to keep coming back after his first couple workouts with Jakobe five years ago, before he was recognized as one of Baltimore's top up-and-coming trainers.
"Year in and year out when I was up here, I would train with him and I could see the results on the field," Grubbs said. "He's always up on his game. Every time I come in here he has new things, new ideas. He's always thinking. It has to mean something for me to be a Saints player now and still come up here."
Grubbs isn't the only prominent Jakobe client to frequent Sweat Performance. During the summer, Grubbs trains under Jakobe's direction alongside Pittsburgh Steelers undrafted rookie linebacker Terence Garvin (Loyola), Ravens running back Ray Rice and cornerback Jimmy Smith, and Syracuse basketball player C.J. Fair (City).
A McDonogh graduate who played basketball for four years at Gettysburg College, Jakobe currently serves as the strength and conditioning coach at his high school alma mater.
In college, Jakobe would regularly drive an hour and a half to Baltimore once practice ended to train and hone his shooting skills before making the the trek back to campus afterwards.
"Whether it's football or basketball, you just have to do something better than someone else," Jakobe said. "Sometimes it isn't about doing 20 things good — it's about doing one or two things exceptional."
That's how his workout regimens are designed. Athletes tell Jakobe a specific attribute they want to improve, Jakobe constructs a plan designed to target those skills and the athletes execute the plan.
"That's the best part about him — he's not a guy who is going to try and impose his will just because," Rice said. "He wants to work with you to get you better and I think that's how you should train a professional athlete."
Interest in Jakobe spread through word of mouth. Teammates of high school athletes who displayed marked improvement after training with Jakobe became interested. Then younger players sought his tutelage. By the time Kim English (Randallstown) and DaJuan Summers (McDonogh) — two Jakobe protégés since their high school days — reached the NBA, Jakobe was established as an elite trainer.
Now, in addition to his handful of professional athletes — he purposely keeps the group small, to fine-tune each individual's abilities more effectively — Jakobe also works with top prep athletes such as Mount St. Joseph guard Phil Booth Jr., and runs boot camps for the general public.
The variety of people and places Jakobe was exposed to growing up makes the transition from working with an All-Pro running back one hour to a group of 70-year-old women the next fairly seamless.
Growing up in Cincinnati before moving to the Baltimore area, Jakobe's older brother attended a predominately African-American middle school. The Jakobes were the only white kids in their group of friends. In high school, one of his best friends lived in Eldersburg; another lived along Mount Royal Ave.
"I'll go down and play hoops in the city, holding my own in conversation and in playing ball," Jakobe said. "At the same time, I can go out to Carroll County and do the same thing."
Raised by parents from Kansas, a Midwestern sense of politeness and work ethic was ingrained in Jakobe.
"I'm not a sensitive dude," he said. "I'm here to get the work done, do this stuff at the best possible level we can do it and have a good time, so long as we take care of the business side."
The business side of the business is going well for Jakobe, who works roughly 100 hours a week during the summer.
Eventually, Jakobe would like to expand Sweat Performance into its own complex, equipped with courts for his basketball clients so he doesn't have to sublet gyms, a turf field and a weight lifting facility.
"To see people and put them in a better position than they were in before," Jakobe said, "it's like the coolest feeling in the world."
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