Chris Williams Strange Offseason Preparation; Different
Working out in barn, Williams developed inner strength
Bears left guard pushed body and soul during offseason to prepare for critical season
By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter8:23 a.m. CDT, August 26, 2011
Down a country road five minutes from his Nashville-area home, Chris Williams made a discovery.
He found his refuge. He found his strength.
The first day Williams pulled his Hummer into the secluded, 195-acre property a few months back, he figured his eyes had deceived him. There were turkeys gobbling. There were deer running.
Then the Bears offensive lineman glanced up to see his new, offseason workout home; a fortress large enough to house an entire 53-man roster yet usually built to accommodate livestock.
"Yes, it's a barn," Williams said. "A barn with weights in it. It's strange, but it's cool."
Saturday's trip to Nashville for the Bears-Titans exhibition might evoke more than old college memories for the former Vanderbilt standout. Williams could have flashbacks of how he stayed in shape working out at such an unusual facility.
The barn and surrounding football and baseball fields share a name. Owner Mickey Mitchell, a Nashville-area entrepreneur who played football at Mississippi State, originally purchased the property with thoughts of training elite athletes from around the country. It evolved into a sports-based summer camp ministry for kids called "The Refuge at Cool Springs."
Mitchell opened his doors to current or former professional athletes willing to share a moment with campers between workouts. He often hosts good friend and former Titans coach Jeff Fisher and recently welcomed troubled-receiver Kenny Britt to speak with the kids.
When Williams heard about the place and came knocking, Mitchell gave him the key to his little village.
"I never told Chris this, but he's the only man other than an employee that I've ever given a key to the place," Mitchell said. "After meeting with him just a couple of times, you just get the sense that he is not someone who would take advantage of the situation. He's just a class act. I told him, 'Brother, you are welcomed here any time you want to use it.'"
So Williams came, two times a week at the start. Before he left to rejoin the Bears, he found himself working at the barn exclusively four times a week rather than making the half hour drive to Vanderbilt.
He lifted weights. He worked with sleds. He played basketball with campers.
"No one looks at Chris and doesn't wonder if he's an athlete so, yeah, the kids knew about Chris," Mitchell said. "He made a lot of the kids extremely happy there just by hanging out."
Williams followed his normal workout routine under extreme conditions, with no air conditioning in the facility despite some unbearably hot days. He only hoped enough air circulated through the open 8x12 foot windows and scattered fans.
Bears coach Lovie Smith heard whispers of Williams' rigorous workout regime during the lockout.
"When you have time off, sometimes it's good to go back to your roots, to go in a non-air conditioned place and sweat," Smith said. "A guy like Chris, he knows how to get himself ready. That's why he's in the NFL. He knows how to do things."
But even Williams would admit he needed to do things better after a sub-par first three seasons. He entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick and the Bears' left tackle of the future. As he worked out in secluded surroundings this summer, he realized his future relies heavily on his continued improvement at left guard.
"We all want to play the best we can," Williams said. "We all have something to prove, to an extent."
Based on what happened inside that barn this summer, Williams already has taken his next step. Inside the place they call "The Refuge," he found his strength.
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