The 49ers players know how to throw a block. Gary Owens is teaching them how to throw a punch.
Owens, a former professional boxer and Muay Thai fighter, has been working with the 49ers for the past five seasons. He was a prominent figure during the spring sessions, sparring with linemen like Justin Smith and Anthony Davis (below) after practices and after the players had lifted weights. Owens said he'll continue to work with a dozen or so players who live in the San Jose area in the month before the team's first training camp practice July 27.
Owens, a former International Kickboxing Federation welterweight champion, said most new students come to him with just two punches: the wildly inefficient haymaker swing with the right hand and the even wilder flail with the left. "It's one of those things where you close your eyes and you hope they connect," he said.
Owens said his sessions with the 49ers increase speed in the upper body and improve balance and hand-eye coordinator. They aren't too bad for stamina, either. An average NFL play may last about 10 seconds. Owens has his 49ers pupils punch from one to three minutes at a time. "When you see a 350-pound guy punching the right way - it's a beautiful thing," he said.
Owens got involved with the 49ers five years ago after he started training Mark Uyeyama, the team's strength and conditioning coach who back then had joined the team as an assistant.
Today his clientele include several notable mixed martial arts fighters, including Jon Fitch and Cung Le. But Owens said he's trying to branch off from training fighters. In addition to the 49ers, he works with a few athletes from other sports, such as Santa Clara native and outfielder in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Eric Thames. (Owens said Thames has better torque on his back foot and an accelerated bat speed since working with him).
He also contracts with the U.S. military - he wouldn't say which branch - and is especially interested working with children. Owens said his star pupil, in fact, is the four-year-old son of one of the 49ers' defensive players. (see video evidence). Owens, who has a 14- and a 10-year-old of his own, said the goal is to teach kids the basics - how to run, jump and kick.
"I'm not so much focused on fighting," he said. "I'm just trying to create an overall healthy child."
-- Matt Barrows