Want to be a better athlete? Former Fever player can help

Steven Whitehead played football for years, getting a cup of coffee with the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints before embarking on a successful indoor football league career with the Tri-Cities Fever.

The last season with the now-defunct Fever came in 2015, when he was named the Indoor Football League’s (IFL) top Offensive Player of the Year.

But as much fun as he had scoring touchdowns or making that outstanding catch, nothing gets him as excited as seeing the success of a young athlete he has helped train.

“Getting people to believe in themselves more than they even thought possible” is what keeps Whitehead going in the personal training business.

Entrepreneur ambitions

He started Elite Ambitions Training (EAT) in 2012 while a member of the Fever.

In those nine years in the business, EAT has moved around the Tri-Cities, starting in a building in Pasco right next to the cable bridge.

From there, EAT partnered with LifeQuest in Pasco for a while before taking up residence in a large building on Washington Street in Kennewick. Then the business moved into a smaller facility on Columbia Park Trail, before settling into its current 5,600-square-foot building at 191 Reata Road.

EAT has been in that facility since August 2020, as athletes young and old stream through the place on a daily pace.

“I think this has been a step-by-step process,” Whitehead said. “We just get bigger and bigger and have to move to a larger facility.”

The new building has an outdoor turf field that is 58-by-26 yards with markings for both football and soccer.

EAT will rent the field out to interested teams.

Whitehead rents the space, and the building is owned by Miles Cree of Wire-Tech Electric.

But wherever EAT is located, the mission is always the same, Whitehead said.

“Continuing to educate people to what the standards and expectations are about playing at a high level,” he said.

Whitehead’s story

Whitehead’s story is well documented in the Tri-Cities. He found himself playing for an IFL team in Alaska when he got injured.

The team folded while he was injured, and he had no way to leave the Anchorage area. Not until Fever owner Teri Carr traded for him, at the behest of Fever coach Adam Shackleford.

For five seasons here, he became a star at wide receiver.

He also was encouraged by both Carr and Shackleford to follow his dream of starting his own personal training business.

“Miss Teri and Coach Shack have always been so supportive,” said Whitehead, now 35. “What I saw when I got to the Tri-Cities was an opportunity.”

Creating better athletes

It all started with adults. Seeing a need to help adults with their overall health, he felt he had to show them what they could do.

The intention, though, was to eventually have those adults trust Whitehead and his staff with their children.

And that’s what has happened. He and his staff have become the pied pipers for many of the region’s younger athletes.

“There has been no real push for these kids to go to big colleges,” Whitehead said. “The problem here is you don’t need sports to have a great life.”

Whitehead doesn’t tell them what they want to hear. He tells them what they need to hear. Sometimes it’s tough love.

“They reach a certain point, and I’ll say ‘You’ve got more in you. This is nothing.’ And speed, hands down, without a doubt, is the most important thing college coaches look for,” he said.

Some of this region’s top young athletes are EAT products: Kobe Young, starting his college basketball career at Boise State University; Summer Yates, starring for the University of Washington women’s soccer team; AJ Vongphachanh, in the middle of his college football career at Utah State University; and Kobe Singleton, a standout freshman for the Southern Utah University football team.

Fees are a little higher at EAT than other places, sometimes a couple hundred dollars a month.

But no one — as long as they’re serious — will ever be turned away.

“The price point can be high. But it’s worth it,” Whitehead said. “We’ve had 20 kids here who help by cleaning the gym when they couldn’t pay for training.”

John Lesser was one of those kids.

He was an all-star running back for 8-man football power Liberty Christian School in Richland, and then went on to play football at Eastern Oregon University.

Now he’s a performance specialist trainer for EAT.

“At first, I looked at becoming a firefighter or police officer,” Lesser said. “But I just got enamored with training.”

Even with 5,600 square feet, it can get pretty hectic inside EAT.

It’s got a 25-yard turf flooring, with a number of weight machines and cardio machines off to the side.

“Groups are on for 45 minutes on the turf for speed drills, then 45 minutes over in the weight room,” Lesser said. “Meanwhile, personal training is going on at the same time.”

In the early mornings, there is work to be done with in-season athletes. Right now, that’s mainly football and volleyball players.

“We figure they get enough cardio work with their high school teams,” said Lesser. “I’m more worried about their strength and power.”

From 3:30-8 p.m., it’s a constant rotation. When the weather cooperates, they use the outside turf field.

New athletes start with one-on-one training sessions, and then graduate into the team workout sessions, which are fast and furious.

Nutrition is also a factor, and Whitehead’s team will put together an eating plan for those who want and will pay for it.

Working with pros

Meanwhile, Whitehead can be found traveling around the country, working with professional athletes, such as current and former National Football League players Alshon Jeffery, Jadaveon Clowney, Jonathan Abram and Nelson Agholar.

In 2019, the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles took notice of what Whitehead was doing with one of their receivers at the time, Jeffery, and invited him to work as a consultant with them in the Eagles training camp for three months.

Ideas from both the workouts and equipment germinated in Whitehead’s head to bring home to his business.

In January 2019, Whitehead started Pro Trusted LLC, a concierge service that connects professional athletes with “pro trusted approved” service providers.

And while he’s gone, he entrusts the business to his staff of seven people.

They include Jason Hanson, a physical therapist and COO of EAT; Vaalyn Jackson, who is the strength and conditioning coordinator who has been with Whitehead from the start; and Dominic Frazier, who is the adult performance director.

“(My staff) is the bread and butter of this place,” Whitehead said.

But, he says, it’s all about the clients, whether they’re kids or adults.

“Even during the pandemic, everything has been normal for me,” Whitehead said. “We shut down the old gym in the pandemic. But after a while, I had about three parents call me to tell me they were worried about their kids’ mental health.”

So Whitehead and his staff met the kids at Kennewick’s Lawrence Scott Park. “And I set up a weight room in my garage,” he said.

It’s about always improving.

“It’s optimize, maximize and surpass anything you believe you could do,” he said.

That formula also may work for the business itself.

“We probably need another building already,” Whitehead said. “It eventually will happen.”

Elite Ambitions Training: 191 Reata Road, Richland; 509-221-1898; eliteathleticstraining.com.

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