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NEWS | March 25, 2010

Airmen work toward box-offs

By Patrick Desmond 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

The Air Force boxing training camp is a great opportunity for fellow boxers to hang out, hit a bag or two, spend a little per diem and enjoy time away from a normal duty assignment, right?

Not if the Air Force boxing coach has anything to say about it.

From the outset, coach Steven Franco defined the next two weeks as work, with winning the Armed Forces Boxing Championships part of the job description.

Twelve potential Air Force boxers circled around a conference table March 19, listening to Franco's goals for the 14-day boxing crash course at Lackland, which ends in the two-day Air Force Box-off April 2-3 at the Bennett Fitness Center.

"Every year, I say the same thing: I want to beat Army," Franco said to the group. "Everytime we lose, I get mad.

"I get mad at: 'Oh, Air Force is coming, I hope I draw an Air Force guy or girl."

On the surface, Franco agreed this straight-forward attitude is necessitated by the camp's limited training time, but its intensity is driven by his desire to win.

After coaching the team as an assistant for five years, Franco led Air Force light heavyweight Nicholas Alwan and middleweight Joshua Gomez to silver and gold, respectively, at the 2009 Armed Forces Boxing Championships at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

He hopes to improve on that success by continuing to build his boxers from the ground up, fighting stance to punching technique.

He uses a classroom analogy to illustrate a pass-or-fail approach to selecting boxers to fight at Armed Forces.

He said Airmen should soak up the exercises covering fundamentals and conditioning, touch gloves intermittently in sparring matches, and then take on two bouts in the All-Air Force tournament - largely a determinant for making the team.

"They have about 14 days to show me what they're made of," the second-year head coach said. "You're studying, taking quizzes along the way, and then, when that final comes, that test in the ring, you better knock it out."

Franco said having heart and determination pushes a fighter to finish a fight, but having solid fundamentals allows a boxer to rely on his instincts to win.

"We're going to start from scratch," Franco said. "You need to know basic boxing fundamentals. When the time comes and you get in trouble in the ring, usually you go back to the fundamentals."

On the second day, the athletes hit the ground running with with a four-mile trek followed by circuit training on punching bags and developing basic boxing techniques.

Averaging close to15 miles of road work per week, Lackland's Richard Smith recalls the Air Force-wide nickname.

"I heard it's real tough, they call it the Air Force track team," he said.

Franco said some boxers have lost up to 15 pounds in the camp.

But the camp isn't all pain without gain.

Second only to being in the ring, Franco said he loves coaching and wants the camp to be a place to improve, even if Airmen don't make the team April 4.

Franco said fighting experience is not the most important attribute. As long as boxers are honest about their abilities, he can steer them toward success. He plans to study each individual, honing in on weaknesses to train well-rounded fighters.

"A lot of times, they like to focus on what they're good at," he said. "Everyday after the workouts, I'll let them know what they are doing wrong.

"I'm just going to tell them straight up and keep it real with them."

But as fast as he'll point out a fault, he's equally quick to quip, understanding humor has its place.

He just encourages them to roll with the punches.

The number of spots on the team is undetermined. Franco will select boxers, win, lose or draw, based on who will potentially perform best at the Armed Forces Boxing Championships, April 19-23, at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., and at the USA Boxing National Championships July 12-17, at Colorado Springs, Colo.

"If I take one person to Armed Forces, I don't care as long as we walk out with a gold medal," he said.