- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Former NFL star Randy Moss had few peers when it came to catching a football, but drop by the Rugby Athletic Center in SouthEnd on Monday or Wednesday nights and you’ll get to see him showcase another All-Pro-level skill: Yelling. Really, really loud.

“LET’S GO, LET’S BRING IT IN, LET’S BRING IT IN!” he booms, his voice traveling across two athletic fields, bouncing off the towering structure that once was a three-level driving range and scattering the birds hanging out on the stadium lights.

Moss needs to yell to be heard, because on this evening, 189 people are milling, mingling and murmuring as they get ready to participate in what has become perhaps the largest free fitness boot camp in Charlotte.

We’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Yes, one of the two trainers is a guy who once earned $9 million a year as wide receiver for the New England Patriots and who will eventually wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And yes, this twice-weekly group fitness class is 100 percent free of charge.

Launched in August, the boot camp is a collaboration between Moss; head trainer Emily “Breeze” Ross, well-known among Crossfit enthusiasts and as co-owner of Moga Charlotte yoga studio; and STAX, a Crossfit gym that leases 7,300 square feet in the building between Tryon Street and the Rugby Athletic Center.

“The girls come for Breeze, and the guys come for Moss,” says STAX owner Eric McCoy, who often assists in leading the massive workouts. “Ask some of the girls and they have no idea who Randy is, but they all know her. Then the guys are like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Randy Moss!’ “

Adds Ross, with a laugh: “They’re always asking, ‘Can we get a picture with Randy?’ I’ve never seen so many dudes acting like groupies.”

STAX encourages participants to register online, but otherwise stays low-key. It doesn’t bombard you with emails after you sign up. McCoy and Moss wear STAX tees to every workout, but neither gives a timeshare speech before, during or after.

Officially, the boot camp is “free for a limited time,” and STAX was able to secure a three-month sponsorship from a car dealership. (“I’d like it to be free forever,” says McCoy, who plans to continue pursuing sponsors.)

“We just want to give back to the community is the biggest thing,” Ross adds, “to have a place for all different types of athletes and people to come together and get healthy.”

By this point, you still might be hung up on the Randy Moss part of the whole equation. Why is he in Charlotte? What’s he doing at a Crossfit gym?

The answers are pretty simple: 1. His children - including son Thad, who plays tight end for Mallard Creek High - live and go to school here. 2. He recently opened the Randy Moss Football Academy (for youth through pro athletes), which is run out of STAX and also uses the Rugby Athletic Center fields.

You also might be wondering whether Moss just slaps his name on the thing and comes out to show his face if he feels like it. Nope. He’s there twice a week, and he sweats as much as everyone else does.

Before things get rolling, women in yoga pants and men in basketball shorts wait near the pull-up rig adjacent to the fields, sporting tank tops bearing the catchphrases “Heart Over Hype,” ”I Work Out Like This” and “Eat, Sleep, Run, Repeat.”

The 6-foot-4 Moss bounds down the steps and the vibe changes just a smidge as many attendees flick their heads and eyes using body-language cues that translate roughly to “Hey, look who’s here.”

Ross - who writes all the workouts for each class - is trying to get everyone’s attention, but there’s still some chattering. So she flicks her head and eyes at Moss, as if to say, “A little help?”

He takes his cue, bellowing, “COME ON, EVERYBODY, LISTEN UP!” Instantly, there’s silence.

Ten minutes later, the seven-time Pro Bowler is right in the middle of the massive crowd, doing lunges, air squats, situps, jumping jacks.

Thirty minutes later, he’s leading the charge on a zig-zag sprint across the field, followed by a bear crawl back to the other side. “We’re not moving to the next station till the last person gets done bear-crawling,” he barks, like a drill sergeant. “If we have to, we’ll hold a plank while we’re waiting.”

And in the final moments of the workout, Moss is on his hands like everyone else in the one-minute plank that Ross has assigned. He’s warmed up now. The blood is flowing. He knows everyone is listening. “First one to drop buys the drinks,” he hollers. Everyone laughs. No one drops.

“I participate because I don’t wanna get out of shape,” says Moss, chuckling; he’s now 38 and retired from the NFL since 2012, but he looks as fit as ever and clearly still loves being on the field of battle.

“Man, it’s just a great thing to be able to see a field full of people and everybody dying, you know what I’m saying?” Moss says. “Emily does put us through some hard stuff, and I’ve told her, ‘I’ll give you what I’ve got.’ So if I die, we all die. That’s the thing about it. We’re a team out here.”


Information from: The Charlotte Observer, https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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