The picture was just meant to be a keepsake, a moment in time of four guys working out together to hang on the wall of the gym co-owned by Jared Veldheer and buddy Mark Ehnis.
Instead, it introduced most of the NFL fanbase to who Veldheer – then an unheralded offensive tackle playing for the struggling Raiders – was after Ehnis tweeted out this monster of a man with huge arms.
“The Raider Nation got a hold of it,” Ehnis said, “and it went viral. It was pretty fun to track for about a week.”
Taken in the middle of the workout, Veldheer’s biceps bulged a bit bigger than normal, and it’s not like his 6-foot-8, 325-pound frame wasn’t imposing already. What the picture did symbolize was Veldheer’s commitment to working out and his commitment to the gym back in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
When Veldheer went off to small Hillsdale College to play football, he found that even there he wasn’t nearly strong enough to succeed. The mindset changed quickly.
“I kind of developed that weight room ethic because I saw how it prepared me for when it was time to play football,” Veldheer said.
And that neatly dove-tailed with his friendship with Ehnis.
Veldheer had known Ehnis since the two were in the fourth grade. They had grown up playing sports together, and Veldheer’s father had coached them at times. At one point in high school, Ehnis played quarterback and Veldheer was his center.
Ehnis had always been into weights and prepping his body. When Veldheer went off to play at Hillsdale, Ehnis went to study exercise science. Veldheer’s dream eventually was to play pro football while Ehnis wanted to open a gym.
The NFL’s lockout of 2011, right after Veldheer’s rookie season, provided a window for the two to work together. Veldheer called Ehnis, asking him if he still wanted to open a gym. Ehnis just so happened to be studying ways to do that. PowerStrength Training Systems was born.
“We wanted to give kids that are high school age the chance to get into a program like I was in in college and offseason, so they have an opportunity to develop more so they can earn a scholarship in their sport,” Veldheer said.
They did it smart, finding an old auto window repair shop for space and using Craigslist and contacts to pick up quality pre-owned equipment. They recently celebrated their three-year anniversary – hosting a big cookout in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, with Veldheer there – and at some point in the near future will need to find a larger building as their clientele grows.
Veldheer hasn’t gotten to spend as much time at PowerStrength as usual this offseason, with his free agency and the move to Arizona as the left tackle the franchise has sought for so long. But he likes to go back not only to work out with his friends and learn techniques from Ehnis but also to “encourage the kids as much as I can.”
For Ehnis, Veldheer has found himself the perfect NFL destination. It’s not so much that Ehnis loves the Cardinals but instead their new strength and conditioning coach. Ehnis has followed Buddy Morris and his concepts for years – “I think he is one of the best strength coaches in the world, let alone the country,” Ehnis said – and said Veldheer walks into a situation where Morris’ workouts will be exactly what he is used to doing.
“It’s a match made in heaven,” Ehnis said.
Not every NFL player loves his time in the weight room. For some, it’s merely a necessary evil that must be endured while playing.
“You get a lot of guys who have natural strength who don’t have to live in the weight room and there are guys who have to bust their ass day in and day out just to keep up,” center
Veldheer, however, isn’t going to skip out, even after football is over.
“He didn’t get to look like the Hulk for no reason,” Sendlein said with a grin. “The Hulk doesn’t retire so he’ll stay in the gym.”
Veldheer, Ehnis said, dedicates himself to training and the weight room “because he’s a pro.” That intense attention to detail is what will help Veldheer as a coach someday – which Ehnis said Veldheer wants to do – and why he’s gone from Hillsdale to a multi-million dollar blindside protector.
The lifting won’t be the same when the career ends, of course. Veldheer will want to drop some pounds, although at 6-8, he can only get so thin. That’s OK, though. Whatever his needs are, now and down the road, he and Ehnis will find a plan.
“Whatever your goal is,” Veldheer said, “you can accomplish it in the weight room.”