Posted Jul 31, 2012By John MeyerThe Denver Post
LONDON — Four summers ago, Dominic Breazeale was surprised to discover mouthpieces were essential equipment for boxers. He’d been under the impression they were just for football players.
He was learning the basics of boxing — the 1-2, the jab, how to slip, how to roll. But the former Northern Colorado quarterback had qualities that can’t be taught — he stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 255 pounds — and on Wednesday he will box in the Olympics as Team USA’s superheavyweight.
He will never forget the first time he sparred in a gym in southern California, three months after deciding to give the sport a try.
"I got hit in the face one good solid time," Breazeale reflected here Monday. "I remember thinking to myself, ‘Hey, this isn’t for you, get out of the ring.’ "
The feeling passed quickly.
"I look to the corner, I look back at my opponent and I go back to work," Breazeale said. "Right then and there, I kind of knew boxing was either instilled in me, or I just had it and was ready to rock."
Now other boxers can’t believe he made the Olympics only four years after he took up the sport. Track-and-field athletes here tell him they love his story, because so many of them played football.
"Four years ago I didn’t even think about Olympics at all," said Breazeale, 26 . "Every morning I wake up pinching myself, ‘Is this real? Am I still dreaming?’ "
He’s here because he was recruited out of the blue by All American Heavyweights in Carson, Calif., a program created to widen the talent pool of U.S. amateur boxing by attracting athletes in other sports, especially football. After two years of junior college football in California, Breazeale started for UNC in 2006-2007 before graduating in 2008. He got some NFL free-agent feelers, even got an offer from the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, but his wife was pregnant with his first son at the time.
"He was weeks away, and I just couldn’t take that offer and leave my wife behind," Breazeale said.
Breazeale returned to California, where he grew up. One day he got a random phone call from All American Heavyweights, asking if he would be interested in boxing.
"I said, ‘You’re crazy, no way. I’m a quarterback. I’ve never been hit in the face before. I’ve never even come close to a boxing ring.’"
But he didn’t have a job. He’d applied to become a corrections officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, but there was a 10- to 15-month waiting period for background checks. He was volunteering as a youth adviser for Orange County probation, but there wasn’t much money coming in.
All American Heavyweights was offering to teach him boxing, along with a training stipend. It seemed like a decent part-time job until the position with California Corrections was offered.
"I called them and said, ‘Hey, when can I start?’ They said, ‘You can start tomorrow.’ "
Five months later he got his first bout in a ring built on the sand at Venice Beach. It didn’t last long.
"There were thousands of people for as far as you could see," Breazeale said. "The bout ended up going 13 seconds, and I knew right then and there that boxing was my thing."
He soon learned boxing was a more consuming lifestyle than that of a football player. It would take his full commitment. His trainer, John Bray, set him straight on that at the outset.
"He told me when I first started boxing, ‘Hey, you can’t play boxing, you’ve got to live boxing, boxing is a lifestyle,’ " Breazeale said. "Boxing is all year round. There’s no taking off. You can’t eat a bad meal and think you’re going to get up the next day and spar real hard. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t play this sport, you’ve got to live it."
Breazeale won the Olympic Trials in February and went to an Olympic qualification tournament in Rio de Janeiro three months later without any international experience. He opened against Jose Payares of Venezuela, a 2008 Olympian .
"Round 1 he did real well, he was up by two or three points. I evened up in Round 2 and just kind of tore him apart in Round 3," Breazeale said.
After that he beat a military world champion from Brazil and a Puerto Rican who won a bronze medal in the Pan Am Games. He lost in the finals to Italo Perea, the Pan Am champ from Ecuador, but earned an Olympic berth.
"He’s young in the sport of boxing, but he’s very athletic," said Charles Leverette, a U.S. assistant coach. "Being as big as he is, of course the arm span is there. We’re going to put together a game plan for him according to how his opponent competes."
Now Breazeale has two sons, ages 4 and 5 months. They are coming here with their mother next week for the medal rounds.
Breazeale still has a hard time believing he is here.
"A lot of hard work and dedication has definitely been put in," Breazeale said. "I just thank God I have God on my side. Talent is there, but I’ve been blessed."
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