ORANGE PARK – A military career and some out-of-box fitness tactics have put Jason Smith and his Rise and Grind gym on the map with area athletes looking to gain an advantage in upcoming sports and competitions.
“When athletes come to the gym, I watch their warmups and, from that, I can assess their level, then give them a workout to push them,” said Smith. “Every body is different, but, for example, two guys playing shortstops will have two totally different sets of strengths and weaknesses. I try to maximize for both.”
Smith, 37, a Spanish River High football standout who joined the U.S. Navy and became a combat medic, took his taste of fitness to his own next level with a degree in sports performance and fitness technology at Keiser University with a Master’s Degree from Liberty University before nailing up his own shingle; Rise and Grind, in Orange Park three years ago.
“I was offering some coaching and fitness tips throughout my Navy career and after, but I decided to step out and create my own business,” said Smith. “I was training guys like former Jaguar Jalen Ramsey, but I was keeping to myself about it. I think when Alex (Orange Park High track 400 meter state champion Alex Collier) exploded on to the scene, people were like ‘Whoa!’ what happened here?”
Collier, who last year emerged as a dominant track presence in his 400 meters speciality, but also in the shorter sprints; 100 and 200 meters, with a third in the state 100 last year.
“I’ve known Alex since he was 10 years old, but, like Ramsey, I was the guy in the background,” said Smith. “Alex kind of gave me some confidence to open a business with my expertise.”
On a sunny Saturday in Oakleaf, in a beachsand-filled volleyball court, Smith was running the gamut of leaping, sprinting, tugging and jumping exercises with the likes of Jacksonville Jaguar defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot, Fleming Island High senior fullback T.K. Kocak, Ridgeview High linebacker Miika Tuisano, former Oakleaf High basketball star Jonathan Bryant, now at the University of Tampa, and German professional basketball player Colton Lewis, as well as Jacksonville Sharks’ lineman Seyvon Lowry, a First Coast High and UCF standout, and young dynamoes like Ronel Bishop and Alijah Royster, both just 11 years old.
“Look out there, T.K., Fleming Island; Miika, Ridgeview and three pro athletes all grinding at the same time,” said Smith. “The young guys see the caliber of athletes here and the age difference and they feel just as comfortable because I try to taylor the workout that everyone can do it.”
At his Rise and Grind gym in Orange Park, Smith has numerous jerseys hung from the ceiling from the likes of former Orange Park High football NFL-ers Jacob Kailes and Terrance Plummer, plus athletes like Middleburg High basketball ace Britany Range (heading to Seton Hall University) and Collier with Oakleaf High grad, now a Limestone University linebacker Dexter Moore working out alongside Clay High linebacker Joe Reed.
“I start normally at 5 a.m. and I’m at the gym all day,” said Smith. “Athletes want to get better. It’s that simple.”
Smith’s approach is to assess the fitness level of each client and provide an atmosphere that allows each athlete to benefit.
“At some gyms, the talent level separates the groups,” said Smith. “I like to think of my groups as a family and get the older, pro athletes to encourage the young guys that are out there. It’s a very optimistic approach because the pro athletes started out as 11 year olds and found their way to get better each year. I want the older athletes to encourage the younger ones. Working out in the sand like we did is tough on all sizes so make it a good atmosphere for everyone.”
Smith looks to open a bigger facility in Clay County to encourage a bit more than just fitness.
“In three to five years, I’d like to have tutoring aspect to get the kids to understand that great athletes still have to pass classes to keep competing,” said Smith. “We have an outreach program already in place for kids that maybe get lost. Being to able to go to one setting and get homework done, workout and get some life advice, I think, is a good thing.”
Smith’s measure of success is simple; Success on the field.
“I get kids coming back and tell me they hit their first homer or stole their first base,” said Smith. “When Smoot came to me after his first and second year with no sacks, he worked and put up 6.5 sacks his third year. He was faster, stronger and had a better mindset because he was faster and stronger. I work in the shadows, but can see results. It’s not about me.”
Smith likes the possibility of his Rise and Grind gym becoming a mecca for athletes wanting that winning edge; physically and mentally.
“I want my guys to be the guys that other athletes know they are coming to deliver a world of pain,” said Smith. “The Grind don’t lie.”