Ex-Hawkeye football stars team up at training facility
PLAINFIELD, Ill. — Kevin Kasper and Tavian Banks haven’t been teammates on the football field since their playing days at Iowa more than a decade ago. But Kasper, Iowa’s all-time leader in career receptions, and Banks, the ex-Hawkeye running back and former holder of the Iowa single-season rushing record, still work together off the field, training others to achieve the kind of success the former Iowa stars and NFL veterans accomplished during their playing careers.
The pair work at Xtreme Speed in Plainfield, Ill. Started in January 2009, the facility is focused on teaching others about speed and strength, as well as the mental and physical aspects of training.
“We don’t necessarily teach individuals how to play their sports; we teach and train athletes how to become better overall athletes,” said Kasper, 32. “There are a lot of different training facilities, but the one common denominator for sports is speed. “That’s where we come in.”
Xtreme Speed offers training sessions for a wide array of individuals, ranging from 7-year-old boys and girls to professional prospects. The former Hawkeye wide receiver and Hinsdale, Ill., native, works as an adviser, and Banks — a Nike-certified trainer — serves as head trainer of the facility.
Kasper has been training athletes since retiring from the NFL in 2008, while Banks, 36, has spent time coaching in the college ranks and working at various training facilities since retiring from professional football in 2004.
Banks, the 1997 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, spent one season as an assistant running-back coach for Louisville (2006-07), helping the squad to an Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest.
But head coach Bobby Petrino left Louisville after that season to take a head coaching job in the NFL. The coach’s departure, combined with Banks having a newborn son on the way, made the former running back re-evaluate his situation.
“I had to make a decision,” he said. “In coaching, you don’t know where you could end up. I love coaching; I’m just doing it on a different platform now.”
Friends during their two seasons together in Iowa City, Kasper heard his former teammate was working at Velocity Sports Performance in Naperville, Ill., and asked if he wanted to join the Xtreme Speed team. Banks signed up, and he has worked there for around six months.
“I learned a lot when I went to college and went to the NFL,” Banks said. “I learned a lot from different facilities about training in general. I wanted to try to relay that through some vessel. I’m doing it more so now than when I was coaching at the college level.”
Kasper credited Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle for teaching him about how to treat athletes. The former wide receiver, who stays in contact with Doyle, said he was by far the best strength coach he’s ever been around.
Doyle, the Iowa football team’s strength coach since 1999, said he feels fortunate to have worked with Kasper, and he has the utmost admiration for everything the former walk-on has accomplished.
“He was a guy who really maximized everything that he did,” Doyle said. “We love to see our former guys get into coaching and teaching — roles in which they are going to affect young people. I’m not surprised Kevin is successful in doing what he’s doing.”
With a warehouse-style atmosphere, Xtreme Speed serves as a training facility for numerous athletes as they prepare for the pros.
Notable clients include former Notre Dame safety and current Baltimore Raven Tom Zbikowski, as well as former Indiana football players Jammie Kirlew and Matt Mayberry.
Kasper said current Hawkeye safety Tyler Sash recently paid a visit to the facility for a workout.
“We prepare them to be the best at their game, and it’s been really neat and really gratifying to see and hear all of the results,” Kasper said. “That’s what we call ‘The proof is in the pudding,’ when you see these guys dominate at their respective combines or sports.”
But working with college and professional athletes is only one aspect of the job. The two also enjoy instructing young kids who train at the facility.
Both said the best part of their job is receiving calls from parents raving about how their son or daughter has performed better because of the training.
The key to the center’s success is creating a specific program for each person depending on the sport he or she plays, the two ex-Hawkeyes say.
“We cater toward the athlete who comes in,” Banks said. “A lot of other facilities have one set program. Here, we focus on each individual kid as he or she comes in.”
The former Hawkeyes haven’t shed their Iowa football roots — the inside of the building is decorated with Hawkeye paraphernalia. Newspaper clippings highlighting the former wideout’s and running back’s glory days in Iowa City hang in frames next to a Banks Jacksonville Jaguar jersey and a Kasper Denver Bronco uniform.
There is one rule for those who train at Xtreme Speed, Kasper said. College jerseys other than Iowa’s must be taken off or turned inside out because they only allow Black and Gold in the gym.
“The funny thing is we have a lot of kids going out and buying Iowa stuff,” he said. “Because of me and Tavian and the way we speak about Iowa and how special it is, pretty soon everyone who spends any lengthy period of time here wants to go there.”
As a former walk-on turned record-setting receiver for the Hawkeyes, Kasper knows how much sweat and toil is necessary to achieve success. Now, he and Banks are happy to pass their training wisdom along to others — whether young boys and girls trying to improve their skills or high-school and college athletes preparing for the next level.
“Tavian and the rest of the staff do an unbelievable job of getting these kids ready. They push the kids but do it the right way,” Kasper said. “You see what they do on the field, and it’s exciting when I get the chance to speak to the kids and relay the message that hard work is how you accomplish your goals.”
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