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Strength Staff Helped Packers Perform at Optimum Level in '96


*As part of the Green Bay Packers' celebration of the 10th anniversary season of the Super Bowl XXXI Championship, is running a series of stories about the people responsible for bringing the Vince Lombardi trophy back home to Titletown.


Brett Favre and Reggie White couldn't hide. They were larger than life and ultimately too popular to escape the attention of football fans across the country.

Such is the life of a superstar in one of football's most storied franchises. Every move on and off the field is magnified.

But there were plenty of men behind the scenes who helped make this success possible in the first place.

One of those people happened to be Kent Johnston.

Johnston, the Packers strength and conditioning coach for seven seasons, did his best to make sure the team could give an optimum performance every Sunday. Some of his duties included helping the players with weight control and nutrition as well as conditioning.

Chances are you may not know who he is, but then again, that's exactly the way he wanted it anyway.

"I enjoyed being the behind-the-scenes guy and I think about Reggie, who was in the tail end of his career," Johnston said. "Keith Jackson. Sean Jones. We had guys on our team that you know it was just so great to be a part of that year and them staying healthy so they could actually play. And play at a high level.

"It obviously helped us get where we needed to be. So that's one of the satisfactions I'll look back on. There's a lot of grace of God involved in a guy staying healthy. But they did their part. And that was very gratifying to both myself and (strength and conditioning assistant) Barry Rubin, I'm sure."

Johnston, who also coached for Tampa Bay and Seattle, constructed different training regimens according to the needs of each player, some of which didn't always follow the conventional route.

"There were a couple seasons there where we worked the martial arts," Johnston said. "When I was in Seattle, we did yoga in a 120-degree room. Their mobility capability is the foundation, so anything you can do to improve the players' movement (is important). A lot of the different art forms were good for that. We weren't afraid to plug in and try what we thought would help."

Whatever it was, it must have worked. Johnston and the strength staff kept a watchful eye on the players not only during the season, but also in the offseason by traveling throughout the country to monitor their progress.

And though Johnston enjoyed the job he was paid to do, the part he remembers the most was the camaraderie he shared with the players.

"I was a behind-the-scenes guy on that deal and I did my job in terms of going in and doing everything I could on the strength and conditioning side," Johnston said. "But it's the relationship side that meant more to me. I have a saying in life that I kind of go by and it's that the lesser is always included in the greater.

"The lesser that year really was winning the Super Bowl. The greater was the relationship and camaraderie that our particular coaching staff and the players were part of. That's something you can't ever have taken away from you. And those were the types of things that lasted. The relationships."

The 50-year-old is back in Texas, the state in which he was born and raised, and is currently working with what he said are elite-level athletes getting ready for NFL workouts. He also is involved in a business called Forge Equipment, which manufactures specialty exercise equipment, as well as an organization he and his partners developed for kids called Young Champions.

In fact, Johnston designed and patented a piece of exercise equipment while he was the Packers. Eventually Johnston moved on to Seattle with Mike Holmgren before deciding to coach at the University of Alabama for a season. He still is very much involved in his four boys' athletics and said he has "no desire to return to the NFL."

"The times in Green Bay kind of spoiled me," Johnston said. "We caught that wave just right. I had the blessing in being part of three NFL franchises during my NFL coaching career and traveling to all the others. And there is no franchise in existence in professional football like the Green Bay Packers.

"I'm living down here in Dallas Cowboy country, so you know I'm proud to wear this cap with this 'G' on it. I will always consider myself a Packer. Not because we went to the Super Bowl but because of the way those guys go about business. Bob Harlan and those guys there, it's the class act of the NFL."

Johnston clearly has fond memories of his time in Green Bay. According to him, he's never been around a particular team quite like the one that won Super Bowl XXXI.

"My memories are of the full journey, more than the climax, which is what occurred in New Orleans," he explained. "The unity that bunch had exceeded the unity any other group that I'd ever been around coaching in the NFL. It was extraordinary. And I think that chemistry was a big reason that we were able to achieve what we did that year."

Johnston cited several workout warriors from those days, including White, Favre, George Koonce and Adam Timmerman. According to him, the Super Bowl ring had a way of driving that team each and every day.

The ring is also something that meant a great deal to Johnston then and not surprisingly, still does today.

"I obviously cherish it," Johnston noted. "When I have an opportunity to speak I'll wear it because it means a lot to me. Obviously it symbolizes something very special to the guys that were a part of that team, the coaches and the players, but the platform that it gives you when you talk to kids and other coaches is of greatest value to me.

"Because you instantly have an ear when you put that thing on and you stand up and speak to a small or a large group."

And even if he doesn't often get to see the players Johnston and his staff helped prepare for the rigors of the NFL, the ring symbolizes the bond they will always have.

"You don't lose contact, but everybody's got their own life that they live," Johnston explained. "And we're spread out geographically. You know, when we talk on the phone or get together, it's like we're never apart. I love that."

Maybe Johnston was right. Perhaps being behind the scenes isn't so bad after all.

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