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February 8, 2013

Bird putting Tech degree to good use

Just looking at Bront Bird you wouldn't expect to get taken on a conversation that covered the topics of the problems oil boom towns are experiencing, sewage treatment, fracking, boxing, the politics of the NFL on top of Kliff Kingsbury and the finer points of the 3-4 defense.

Bird, with his signature long hair, wore his San Diego Chargers workout gear a knit hat, shoes with swagger and looked proudly over his new boxing oriented gym named Right Cross.

And he's probably a genius.

On top of being a NFL linebacker he's a 23-year-old businessman and owns partnership stakes in several really interesting ventures. An Odessa native, he understands the oil business and the problems new boomtowns are experiencing and is taking them head on.

He wanted to get into housing since towns of 800 people now host 15,000 oil workers and don't have any of the infrastructure necessary for people to live comfortably. But that plan snagged just before he and his partners could sign a $5 million contract because North Dakota passed new laws on rural sewage treatment that made the deal financially impossible.

The partners sulked for a couple of weeks and then got a new idea. If the law said sewage treatment had to be treated in a specific way, that was a problem everyone was going to have to work through. So the partners devised a way to collect sewage and treat the water to make it suitable for fracking.

"Hopefully we're going to be able to do the same thing in Odessa," Bird said. "We build waste treatment facilities where basically the influx of workforce housing and workers in general in these small towns don't have the infrastructure to keep up. We take their waste and recycle it. Kind of the going green thing. We recycle it into clean water which is used for fracturing.

"It's a good way to give back and it's obviously pretty good economically."

With money rolling in from his NFL salary and the treatment plants, Bird had enough cash to build something for his boxing passion. So he built Right Cross in a plaza just south of the K-Mart on University Avenue, 6413 University Ave.

Right Cross is a real man's gym. It has a boxing ring, speed bags, punching bags and is humid and stuffy. Red walls and a black roof which isn't any coincidence. Yet the two people working out in the gym at this particular moment were two really fit women alongside Terry Washington who was the team's boxing coach when Mike Leach was the Texas Tech head coach.

"Boxing is one of those things where if you try it it's a very addictive thing," Bird said. "You're not going in there doing a monotonous routine every day of looking in the mirror and lifting weights. To me, even though it's part of everything I have to do, I hate it too. I think boxing is a very interactive workout. It's kind of a personal level with you and the trainer.

"It's just something different and a cool skill. I think everyone would like to learn how to box. It's cool."

How many 23 year olds do you know who can say they own anything more than a car?

"Me and another partner, Anthony Duncan, went in on this together. But as far as the financing, it's really NFL money," Bird said and then laughed. "I'm blessed to still play for the Chargers so that's been awesome financially."

This particular moment may have been one of the best in Tech football history for the casual fan from the bumping into athletes standpoint. San Diego Chargers guard Louis Vasquez, Lyle Leong and current Tech player Terrance Bullitt were hanging out and enjoying the free food and drinks of Right Cross' mock grand opening. The gym has been opened since September and currently has 60 members.

That's where the gym's second mainstay opposite Washington comes in. Steven Sheffield. Sticks. He's the head salesman and wants to raise the number to 100 by the end of May.

Sheffield is back in Lubbock to finish up six credit hours for his communications degree and to reevaluate his future as a professional quarterback.

"It's going good so far," Sheffield said. "I'm learning about the business world and I'm excited about it because I feel like the sky is the limit. It's just kind of cool not worrying about football and throwing, lifting and running and stuff like that for a while just because that's what I've done my whole life. It's just kind of a change in life, but I'm enjoying every minute of it to tell you the truth."

What an interesting time for Lubbock. It's an era of good feelings.

Kingsbury is back, Leach is coming back to speak at a public function, Bird opened a gym and former players are returning to start lives in a place other schools had negative things to say about during the recruiting process.

"I signed a three-year deal with the Pittsburgh arena team, the Pittsburgh Power, and I was kind of lined up to go up there," Sheffield said. "I kept thinking about it, more and more. I wasn't feeling too excited about heading up to Pittsburgh for the next seven months or so. So I decided to come back and finish my degree. I've been around and I appreciate what Lubbock has even more than I did as a player."

The era of good feelings was in the gym as well. The former players gushed about Kingsbury, but that's another long story for another day.

"I just talked to Mike Smith the other and I'm excited to be a Red Raider again and cheer for my school and be supportive of that," Bird said. "I think there's good things to come. I think it's an awesome hire. I think it's the right hire. I think he's going to do an excellent job when you just look at his short track record."

Bront Bird is really, really smart

Bird doesn't come off as scatterbrained as Leach did publicly, but Bird definitely has some Leach in him.

He knows a lot about everything. He didn't change the subject, but he had a new talking point for wherever the conversation would turn next.

He knew North Dakota averages 30 days of negative degrees a year. He knew boomtowns have a serious problem with gender ratio which makes them uncomfortable places for females. He had thoughts and opinions on NFL stories and has a two-year wealth of knowledge on the way the game played.

This former unknown three-star recruit from Permian High turned rising NFLer with one offer is another one of those guys you'd be proud to share a degree with.

With Bird, obviously, it's not just about being a baller. He'd probably be doing fine on his NFL salary. But he isn't defined as 'linebacker' and he's aware his career won't last forever and is being proactive.

Sometimes though it is about football and Bird has high expectations for Smith whom he got to know a little bit in the NFL.

"The 3-4, after talking to Mike Smith as well, our defensive system in San Diego is a lot like the system in New York which all stems from the Ravens," Bird said. "I don't know how exactly they're going to run it, but the scheme -- Some people think the 3-4 is a defense where you coach two gapping.

"You'd have to have some big, big people up there and those are just hard to come by on the college level. Especially at Texas Tech. So it won't be a two gap 3-4. I think it's really the most efficient way to stop the run and a lot of these nickel packages and etc. personnel you can't stay in a 3-4. So they'll be a 3-4 against running formations. This is just guessing, I don't know what they're going to do, but this is just the standard, that you go to a 4-3, nickel style when they go get into 10 personnel and etc. I think it will be good for them and they definitely have the right people there. I think they'll be extremely successful."

What are you doing with your life?

Life is very good to Bird and Vasquez, but Leong and Sheffield have not caught the same breaks in professional football.

They're all doing just fine though.

Sheffield is back at Tech and running the day-to-day operations at Right Cross. Leong spent this past season as a coach at Cisco College and is signed on to play with Saskatchewan in the Canadian Football League.

Both players are considering entering the coaching game in the future. Tech is now the place for that considering all the alums on the football staff.

"Cisco College, I really enjoyed it and working with kids," Leong said. "It was a real joy because they want to learn and enjoy their experiences and they desire to get better and make it in college football. So it was awesome being somebody who's helping others successful in life."

Sheffield has buddied up with Kingsbury, considering his football career "on hold."

"When spring rolls along I'm looking to jump in and help Kliff out a little bit and get back with the team," the quarterback said. "That's going to be exciting and Kliff told me he's willing to help me in anything I want to do as far as coaching wise so I'm looking forward to that and seeing how he and his staff do everything. The energy up there is just great. I've been up there a couple of times and it's perfect for me and the kind of guy I am.

"I'm excited for next year because I think Michael Brewer is going to do a nice job and I think Kliff is going to do a nice job."

Sheffield might lace them up at a later date on the arena football circuit.

"I haven't totally exited out, but at the same time I don't have any immediate plans to jump back into football after I graduate or after the gym gets going well or anything like that," he said. "If it's eating at me in a year or two or three or four, I can jump right back in. I played in San Antonio this past year and our starting quarterback was 41. If he can do it, I can do it. That's how I look at everything in life."

Leong is in better shape than he was as a Tech player. Bird gave the once-lanky receiver some props for his physique but would not say Leong has "guns." The receiver is going to try to backdoor his way into the NFL. The Graham Harrell approach.

"I want to go up there and see if I've still got it," Leong said. "Only time will tell. Check it out one more time before I close the book on it. I honestly don't even really know the rules yet, but it's the same concept. Just get open and catch the ball. I've been pretty good at that throughout my career so the plan is to just continue on with that, learn that game to the best of my ability and just continue to make plays."

Right Cross

Right Cross has to be the cleanest boxing oriented gym on the planet. With its red walls and black roof, it looks like a mini-Ivan Drago training facility.

But the gym isn't about getting you to the boxing circuit. Like Bird said, the gym's mission is to provide an alternative to the standard gym experience.

Membership fees start at $25 a month and the first lesson is free.

The former players on hand at the gym went through Leach's unorthodox boxing lessons and ended up taking a liking to the sport.

"There's two different kinds of people as far as boxing goes," Sheffield said. "Most of the people here, in Lubbock at least, they just want to get in shape. They want to get in shape and kind of want to learn skill. That's something that boxing does instead of just going to lift weights or going on the treadmill or elliptical. With boxing, you learn your footwork and reaction time. You get faster, you get your shoulder strong, you get your legs strong.

"A lot of people just think it's an upper body workout, but really it's a whole body work out. The way we do it here with our group classes and individual classes, you're always ending with abs. It's a full body workout. And the other type of people are fighters. Terry is training them.

"I'm learning more and more about the sport of boxing. I boxed for two years when I was with Tech in 2008 and 2009. Everybody always says the sweet science of boxing and that's really true. There's a lot that goes into it."

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