Workout Warriors: Mike Neal And Matt Mayberry Push Each Other Toward NFL Success
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At first glance, the two NFL rookies seem to be unlikely weightlifting partners.
One is a defensive end, one a linebacker.
One was a second-round selection in April, while the other wasn't drafted.
And most surprisingly, one played his college football at Purdue, while the other attended Indiana.
But despite their differences, Mike Neal and Matt Mayberry share an important similarity, the desire to better themselves in the weight room, and that common characteristic has led to an valuable friendship as the first-year players try to make an impact on Sundays.
"It all started after the Indiana-Purdue game last year," Mayberry said. "He reached out to me and said he liked my game. We just kinda noticed each other playing on Saturdays."
"We got to chatting about things," Neal said. "The Big Ten, how things were shaping up, the combine, where we were going to train at, our situations and how they differed.
"That really sparked everything."
The developing friendship led to joint workout sessions whenever both players found themselves in the Chicago area, as Neal and Mayberry both worked to prepare for the transition from college football to the NFL.
"We both had a real desire to get better off the field," Mayberry said. "A lot of guys just like to work out, but we do it to maximize our potential and translate it over to the football field.
"Not too many people take training as seriously as we do."
"I call him a meathead; he's always the one pushing me through the workouts," Neal said with a laugh. "The type of workout Matt does, I promise you a lot of people don't even want to try. It's hard, it's a challenge."
"Mike might be one of the most freakish guys I've ever seen as far as lifting weights-wise," Mayberry said. "We're both kind of crazy when it comes to working out."
One particular session sticks out in Mayberry's mind.
"We were training with Kevin Kasper [a former Iowa and NFL wide receiver], and it was one of Mike's first times working out with us. He was kinda complaining how hurt he was, how his chest was sore, and we were about to do some crazy pushups.
"Without even knowing, he just killed it, he killed the workout...he even beat what we were doing. Moral of the story: he didn't know how strong he was until he tried it."
Neal's recollection differs slightly.
"I went up there and we did this extremely crazy workout, and I finally said, 'Matt, I can't do this anymore,'" Neal said. "He was like, 'Come on, man', and there was just no way.
"My arms were so swollen that I really couldn't even feel my hands, and he's just sitting there laughing. I was trying to quit and he wouldn't let me."
The two players motivate each other in the weight room ("I'll just mention somebody who's lifting above him," Mayberry said), but they also have encouraged each other through injuries and the process of adjusting to the next level.
"We talk almost every other day," Neal said. "Sharing books, sharing knowledge: how to become successful, and when you get down, how to motivate you.
"If we've got anything going on injury-wise, it's always good to have another support system, to hear from somebody," Mayberry said.
While Mayberry is still rehabbing an ankle injury ("I'm 95 percent," he said) after reaching a settlement with the Bears, Neal saw his first game action Sunday for Green Bay against the Lions. The Packers have definitely noticed the effects of their young defensive end's time in the weight room.
"They tease me about my strength," Neal said. "Calling me Bam Bam, saying 'I don't see anybody blocking you unless you block yourself.'
"It definitely helps me out at this level. Being able to come in and make an impact, not too many rookies can do that. My strength has been one of the things that sets me apart, and it sets me up for a better future.
"If you take care of your body, it helps with your longevity: keeps you young, keeps you healthy."
Mayberry has been impressed with his friend's comfort level in a new scheme.
"He's used to the 4-3 like he played at Purdue, but now he has to switch over to the 3-4: something most people don't understand," Mayberry said.
"It's something he's doing a good job on without having a lot of experience."
Neal agreed that the most difficult part of the transition to the NFL is mental.
"It's the time commitment and the knowledge of the game," he said. "I think that being a rookie, you can get a little bogged down: there's just a lot going on.
"Trying to adjust, trying to learn what some of these people do that is really good. Getting used to coaches yelling even when you feel like you're doing things the right way.
"Sometimes you just wonder, 'How am I going to get through this day?', not so much the practices, but the mental time commitment."
That's where the encouragement from a friend can make all the difference.
"We just always find different ways to motivate each other," Mayberry said. "Whether through text message, on the phone, even through Twitter."
"Mike has given me a Twitter shout-out before, but it’s kinda funny because most of his followers are Purdue fans or Packers fans," Mayberry laughed. "Bears-Packers and then Purdue-Indiana: not a lot of overlap there."
Both men played down the IU-Purdue aspect of their friendship, saying that they understood the rivalry but didn't get into the hatred that some fans and players profess.
So don't expect a bet on the Old Oaken Bucket outcome this November.
But do expect more Mayberry-Neal workouts when the offseason rolls around.
"We're planning to go down to Florida and train," Mayberry said. "We definitely want to be together and train with each other.
"It’s really funny how we both have the same values and priorities. We’re both big Christian men, we just love to work hard and love to work out in the weight room and maximize it to the football field.
"If you don't get your strength to translate over to the football field, you're just wasting your time."
For more sports coverage from Bleacher Report writer Tim Cary, follow him on Twitter at @TimCary.
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