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  • College football fans may recognize Trevor Moawad from the multiple top programs who have subscribed to his mental conditioning methods. Now Moawad is setting up former college stars for the pros on ESPN's new QB2QB show, hosted by Russell Wilson.
By Andy Staples
April 17, 2018

The biggest loss ESPN suffered when Jon Gruden returned to coaching wasn’t his presence on Monday Night Football. Plenty of capable ex-players or ex-coaches can fill that role. The tougher thing to replace was the show that taught America to love Spider 2 Y Banana.

Gruden’s QB Camp was the best pre-draft content ESPN—or anyone, for that matter—produced, and it worked because it combined a football junkie (Gruden) with draft prospects who would happily open up to a Super Bowl-winning coach who always seemed as excited about the game as they were.

This week, the network will release the show it hopes will fill the Spider 2 Y Banana–sized hole in your heart. QB2QB premieres at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN, with all four of this draft season’s episodes running consecutively. And if you’ve been following SI’s college football coverage for a while, one of the principal figures will be awfully familiar to you.

Instead of using another ex-coach, QB2QB stars Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The idea is that draft prospects Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Mason Rudolph and J.T. Barrett (the Barkley episode is called QB2RB) will reveal more in a conversation with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. They do. For example, Mayfield talks about his public intoxication arrest this past offseason. It also helps that Wilson opens up to them. In the Rudolph episode, Wilson goes in-depth for the first time publicly about the aftermath of the interception he threw at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. But Wilson doesn’t do all of the talking. He also introduces the prospects to a person who has helped him since his own draft preparation in 2012.

Sharp-eyed college football fans will recognize Trevor Moawad as the mental conditioning coach who helped Alabama, Florida State and Georgia win conference titles and play for national titles. Moawad isn’t some buzzword-spouting corporate consultant, though he has been brought in by corporations and by the U.S. military. His background is in sports, and his mission is to teach athletes to understand that they can train their brains just as they train their bodies. “Hopefully people will understand these areas outside bigger, faster, stronger,” Moawad says. “There are other elements beyond physiology.”

To get a fuller grasp of exactly what Moawad does, listen to this interview I did with him in 2016.

Moawad and Wilson met in 2012 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as Wilson began preparing for the draft. Agent Mark Rodgers had represented Wilson when Wilson played minor league baseball while also playing quarterback at NC State and then—as a graduate transfer—at Wisconsin. Moawad had helped several of Rodgers’s other baseball clients improve their games, so when Wilson asked where he should train for the NFL draft, Rodgers immediately suggested IMG, where Moawad was on staff at the time. He would handle the mental aspects of Wilson’s training. Heisman Trophy winner and former first-rounder Chris Weinke would handle the football part.

Even after Wilson got drafted, he kept coming back to Moawad. “Trevor’s been in Russell’s life ever since,” Rodgers says. “He’s been one of the huge and impactful resources that Russell has had in his life.” The results speak for themselves. Now Moawad hopes that through this show, he can show other NFL prospects that mental training is just as important as lifting weights. “There are a lot of assumptions that NFL organizations make about the way players think, the way they behave, their overall mentality,” Moawad says. “There are these assumed skills once they enter pro football. But they’re all over the place relative to having these skills.”

Professional baseball is ahead of the other sports in terms of mental training. Nearly every organization has someone who helps players understand how to prepare their minds for games and how to deal with failure and success. Football is hit or miss at the pro and college level. The Cowboys use a mental coach. Georgia uses Moawad, who also worked with Florida State when Jimbo Fisher coached there. Moawad doesn’t work with Alabama anymore, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban still uses consultant Kevin Elko and Michigan State psychiatry professor Lonny Rosen (who also helps the Spartans in East Lansing). But not all organizations embrace hiring someone specifically to train players’ minds. As Saban once said when we discussed these types of consultants, the prevailing attitude at most places is “That’s what we hired you to do.”

Moawad also worked with Saban when Saban coached the Dolphins, and he was struck by how mentally unprepared some draftees were for their new situations. But it makes sense. These are, after all, 21- to 23-year-olds being thrust into a hyper-competitive environment. At the same time, many are dealing with new levels of wealth and fame they never expected. It’s a difficult transition, and Moawad believes teams could help players deal with the mental side of the transition better.

Moawad’s biggest pet peeve is the notion that has been drilled into our skulls for the past 30 years that positive thinking will solve everything. Moawad teaches players to embrace neutral thinking. Negativity, he says, is just as bad as every self-help book suggests. But so is positivity that has no grounding in reality. “I don’t believe that hope is a winning strategy,” he says. Remaining neutral allows for more accurate self-evaluations and allows players to diagnose what they need to concentrate on as they prepare for games. In the Mayfield episode, the discussion among Wilson, Mayfield and Moawad on this topic is especially enlightening and helps explain the differences in Oklahoma’s performance in 2016 and 2017.

It’s a different vibe than Spider 2 Y Banana, but it’s equally interesting. So by the end of Tuesday night, you might have a new favorite draft show.

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