Patriots

How Patriots receiver Mohamed Sanu ‘attacked the offseason’ with his live-in trainer Drew Lieberman

“I really wanted to get better and invest more in myself and in my game."

Drew Lieberman
Mohamed Sanu (right) at one of his summer workouts with trainer Drew Lieberman. Courtesy Drew Lieberman

While driving through Boston one July afternoon, Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu listened to an audiobook he had started earlier in the summer.

“Have the confidence to say when you’ve screwed up,” read the narrator through Sanu’s car speakers. “People will respect you for it. If you did it, own it. If you said it, stand by it. Not just the mistakes, but all your decisions and choices. That’s your reputation. Make it count.”

The motivational lines are from Chapter 8 of “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable,” a self-help guide by Tim Grover, who has trained Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, the late Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and other NBA greats.

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Two weeks later, on his morning ride to Gillette Stadium during the first week of training camp, Sanu was still listening to the book, but he had returned to the beginning.

“If you’re relentless, there is no halfway,” read the narrator. “Or could or should or maybe. Don’t tell me the glass is half-full or half-empty. You either have something in that glass or you don’t.”

The purpose of “Relentless” is to teach competitors how to train their minds not only to reach their goals but to achieve even more. Grover breaks down the importance of various mental tactics, such as becoming comfortable, being uncomfortable, and channeling energy instead of emotions. His words resonated with Sanu, who turns 31 Saturday.

“It changed my entire mind-set and really sparked the way I attacked this offseason,” Sanu said.

So, how did he find out about Grover’s book? Sanu’s trainer, Drew Lieberman, recommended he check it out.

Lieberman, a 2013 Wesleyan graduate with nine years of coaching experience, is living with Sanu in his Boston apartment. They met a couple of years ago via mutual connections from Rutgers, where Sanu played three seasons of football and Lieberman was later on the coaching staff for two years.

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After training together a dozen or so times last summer, the pair stayed in close touch. Lieberman would text Sanu throughout the season, sending him feedback on film. Their bond strengthened when Sanu was traded to the Patriots in October because Lieberman, who was working in New Jersey, was able to attend one of his games in Foxborough.

He then attended the next home game and the next game and the one after that.

A few months later, Sanu tapped Lieberman to become his full-time trainer.

“I really wanted to get better and invest more in myself and in my game,” Sanu said. “Drew and I built a great relationship over the last few years, and I really came to trust his knowledge of the details of wide receiver play and football overall.

“But mostly, I chose Drew because I can trust him and I know that he will always tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear.”

Prior to training camp, Sanu’s typical workday consisted of stretching, running routes, ball drills, pushing through a speed workout, and analyzing film. Mixed in were massages and physical therapy appointments to continue his rehab following offseason surgery to repair a high ankle sprain.

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Lieberman also tried to integrate other daily outdoor activities, depending on their location. In Atlanta, they power-walked up Stone Mountain four times a week, sometimes with Sanu’s former Falcons teammate, Julio Jones. In Los Angeles, they climbed Runyon Canyon. In Wellfleet, Sanu ran routes while at the beach.

Back in Boston, they’ve kept mainly to city walks and bike rides, though Blue Hills Reservation is on their radar.

“Coming back from an ankle injury, something we focused on a lot was making him work out on different surfaces, whether it be an intense hike or doing a workout in the sand or doing some barefoot stuff on the grass,” Lieberman said. “Just finding different ways to challenge his ankle to react and respond and cut off of different surfaces.”

Lieberman rewatched the 15 games Sanu played last season and created a checklist of focus areas for the offseason. One of the improvements, he says, is the effectiveness of Sanu’s releases at the line of scrimmage, with his movements becoming more intentional.

When watching Sanu run routes, Lieberman pays close attention to details, whether that’s telling him to keep his inside foot more firm or to tighten down certain steps. They record every workout in order to review the footage and coaching points later in the evening, too.

“The fixes are very, very, very small,” Lieberman said. “When you really get into the details, we’re really trying to perfect every little aspect of it. There’s always plenty that can be fixed.”

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Perhaps the most noticeable change Sanu has made? Toning his body and increasing his muscle definition, thanks to a combination of work from Lieberman, Sanu’s speed coach Kyle Meadows, and his chef, Arenthious Baker.

“From an explosive standpoint, from an athletic standpoint, he just has completely reinvented his body,” Lieberman said. “He’s definitely leaned out. We felt as though he had some extra fat that was not doing anything for him other than adding more weight to his height and weight profile. It was not making him a better player.”

Often, Sanu is the subject of videos posted on Lieberman’s instructional channel, The Sideline Hustle. Lieberman showcases some of their ball drills, from juggling two tennis balls and a football to playing catch with two tennis balls and a football, as well as Sanu in action.

“He’s constantly finding new ways to challenge me and push me past my limits,” Sanu said. “We were able to take our work to a totally different level. Film study, field work, ball drills, mental work every single day.”

 

In their downtime, the pair like to spend time reflecting and talking through insecurities, doubts, or whatever may be going on in each other’s heads. With training camp picking up steam, Lieberman expects his role will revolve less around Sanu’s physical condition and more around his mind-set.

Despite their busy schedules, the two certainly find time to relax, usually watching TV — Sanu enjoys the Japanese series Baki on Netflix — or exploring Boston. Recently they went whale watching with Sanu’s 4-year-old son.

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As for what to expect once the season gets underway?

Entering his ninth year in the league, Sanu is looking to bounce back from a season in which he acknowledges he underperformed. While battling an ankle injury, he posted 26 catches for 207 yards in eight games with the Patriots; his worst production since 2015.

But Lieberman emphasizes that it’s not all about the numbers. Instead, he preaches that production will take care of itself if Sanu minimizes the number of reps he wishes he could have back.

“I can’t control what people think about me or how they choose to remember me,” added Sanu. “I know what I think of myself and the standard I hold myself to. I play because I love the game. I love the process, I love the work, I love playing football.”

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