WESTMINSTER — During the Baltimore Ravens’ annual conditioning test upon arriving at training camp, veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce loves to show off his superior fitness.
One year, the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end ran a portion of it backwards and still easily made all of his required time trials. This year, Pryce actually shuffled sideways to cross the finish line as he aced the test.
It’s a testament to Pryce’s unique regimen of soccer, a nutritious diet that avoids junk food and genetics. And it represents a few of the reasons why the 34-year-old is still going strong as he enters his 13th NFL season.
"I run, a lot," said Pryce, a lean 6-foot-5, 290-pounder. "I condition like nobody else in the league my size. It’s about getting your body in shape and running faster than everybody else. I’ve done that all my life.
"I eat right. Honestly, I haven’t even eaten anything yet today. Hell no, I don’t eat fried foods. The worst thing I do is sushi. I do a lot of that. That sticky rice will make you fat."
Pryce regularly runs sprints in the thin air of Colorado to get his lung capacity prepared for the rigors of football season.
The Rocky Mountains lung-busting conditions makes the underrated heat of Westminster feel like nothing.
"I told our strength coach I can breathe here," Pryce said. "Try running those gassers in that Colorado heat. It will make you want to faint."
In his quest to challenge himself even more, Pryce also did some investigating about the soccer powerhouse Manchester United’s conditioning test.
Every day, Pryce tried to match the quick-twitch ability of soccer players that he outweighs by 100 pounds or more.
And he nearly passed the soccer conditioning program. Minus his lunch, that is.
"Manchester United holds everybody to a high standard, and I tried to do it and I never passed it," Pryce said. "It’s impossible, especially for somebody my size. I came close to making it, but I puked."
Pryce is a major soccer aficionado, playing in a coed league back in Denver during the offseason.
As much as Pryce enjoys the internationally popular sport, he plays it mostly for the purpose of gaining an edge on the football field and to maintain his agility and stamina.
"I love soccer, I come from a soccer family," said Pryce, whose sister is on the U.S. national soccer team and his father plays soccer against men half his age. "My sister plays soccer in the Olympics. My dad runs these kids ragged on the soccer field. He’s thin, he’s short and he’s wiry. It’s all genetics."
However, Pryce came to a realization last season that he had probably gone too far in his quest to get into top shape.
In a game against Cleveland last season, hefty Browns nose guard Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers approached Pryce and said, ‘You lost a lot of weight, big man.’
"He was right, their offensive linemen had started shoving me around," Pryce said. "I was too light in the butt. I needed to gain some weight, so I made the adjustment."
For his career, Pryce has recorded 518 career tackles, 83 1/2 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
"Trevor’s an animal," rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher said. "He’s tough to block. If you slow him down, you know that you’ve done something right."
And the leadership Pryce provided last season by advocating coach John Harbaugh’s intense approach helped Harbaugh immensely in the locker room.
"At first, I think we had some guys going left and some going right," Pryce said. "If it’s that way, we’re going to get killed. Nothing cures bitching and moaning like winning football games.
"If you win on Sundays, there’s not much to complain about. All of us had to give him a chance and see what this guy is about."
During his first season in Baltimore, Pryce led the team with 13 sacks to go with 73 tackles.
Over the 21 regular-season games, though, he has generated just 6 1/2 sacks while dealing with a broken wrist and a torn pectoral muscle.
Last year, Pryce was limited to 4 1/2 sacks. It was the second-lowest pass-rush production during a season where he didn’t miss a game.
"The big thing for me is pressuring the quarterback, and I had a ton of pressures," said Pryce, who was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract in 2006 that includes $10 million in guaranteed money after being cut by the Denver Broncos. "I had 10 pressures against the Dolphins. I keep getting to the quarterback and they keep throwing the ball away. It’s not about sacks. It’s about if you pressure the quarterback consistently, and that’s what I do."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.