Fusco transforms body, working on mental game

Brandon Fusco was denied an NFL offseason with the Vikings last year because of the lockout, but when it started up this year he returned to Winter Park in the best shape of his life and eyeing up a chance to start at right guard. He talked about the physical and mental transformation of the former Division II center.

Last year, Brandon Fusco played in only three games. This year, the expectation is that the second-year player from Slippery Rock is a favorite for the starting job at right guard.

That's quite a transformation in expectations, but Fusco has made a transformation in his mental and physical outlook, as well.

"The speed is totally different from Division II, so it took me a good half the season to adjust to the speed. By the end of the season, I think everything slowed down and came a lot easier to me," said the 6-foot-4, 306-pounder. "So I think that was something I had to learn. But again, the playbook is just huge. If you don't know what you're doing on the field, you're going to play a lot slower. As soon as I know the playbook in and out, I can play a lot faster than I am now."

Fusco had the unfortunate fate of being in the 2011 draft class that didn't have an offseason to spend with new NFL coaches because of the lockout. He tried his best to get ready for the NFL without the team's offseason conditioning program (which he is part of this year), the organized team activities and minicamps.

Instead, he was one of the players that spent a few weeks at IMG Football Academies training with a staff of speed and strength coaches as a replacement for workouts in Minnesota, joining the effort put together largely by Christian Ponder.

After a season of seeing the NFL routine and with an opportunity to start in front of him, Fusco has transformed his body. He now sports a thick, tight chest and much more defined upper body.

"I worked really hard. I think it's the best shape I've ever been in my life. I worked back home in Pittsburgh at a great facility, one of the best in Pittsburgh called ESI," he said. "Had a great trainer, worked with a bunch of the Steelers, so I know a couple guys. It's been a good experience.

"This offseason I worked out twice a day and I didn't take a day off. It tells you how much I really want this job and want to stay on this team for as long as I can and make myself a future right guard for this organization."

The result is that he's about seven pounds heavier and has put behind him a nagging hip injury that bothered him last year.

He also worked a new diet into his routine.

"Eating healthy is a hard thing for me. That was a big thing in my offseason program, eating healthy, eating those veggies and all those lean meats," he said. "I'm used to eating McDonald's and Burger King all the time. So, it was a little habit I had to change, but it worked out."

Part of the motivation is the opportunity in front of him. After a season of transition from Division II Slippery Rock to the NFL and from being a college center to an NFL guard, he has a golden opportunity to continue his rapid career climb.

Fusco started his rookie season as a game-day inactive. That was his fate the first six weeks of the season. When his rookie season was finished, he had only three games played and no starts.

The Vikings released left guard Steve Hutchinson and right guard Anthony Herrera, veterans that were longtime starters but struggled with their health in recent years. Charlie Johnson will move from left tackle to left guard, but Fusco and free-agent signee Geoff Schwartz are expected to compete for the starting spot at right guard.

"(The coaches) said it's up in the air. Nothing in this league is given. So, I've got to work for it. They've said it's there for me to grab, so I'm working my tail off," Fusco said.

"Last year my goal was to obviously make the team, establish myself on the team. This year, though, it's nothing less than starting. That's my goal and something I've worked for since I was a little kid."

Fusco hasn't played guard since high school, but he began practicing more and more at the position as last season wore on, getting as many as half of the first-team practice reps there, by his estimation. At the beginning of the season, it was only a snap or two in practice as a first-team guard.

If nothing else, it gave him a feel for the position and the coaches an opportunity to evaluate his game and give him things to work on for the upcoming season. After doing his part to improve his body on the physical side, he needs to work on the cognitive part of the professional game.

"A lot of mental stuff, playbook and stuff like that," he said. "But I haven't really gone through a whole offseason yet, so this is great for me. Just to learn the whole playbook and get more familiar with it is going to be huge."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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He tried his best to get ready for the NFL without the team's offseason conditioning program (which he is part of this year), the organized team activities and minicamps. Instead, he was one of the players that spent a few weeks at IMG Football Academies training with a staff of speed and strength coaches as a replacement for workouts in Minnesota, joining the effort put together largely by Christian Ponder. After a season of seeing the NFL routine and with an opportunity to start in front of him, Fusco has transformed his body. He now sports a thick, tight chest and much more defined upper body. \"I worked really hard. I think it's the best shape I've ever been in my life. I worked back home in Pittsburgh at a great facility, one of the best in Pittsburgh called ESI,\" he said. \"Had a great trainer, worked with a bunch of the Steelers, so I know a couple guys. It's been a good experience. \"This offseason I worked out twice a day and I didn't take a day off. 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