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Airmen work toward boxing championships

Air Force boxing team hopefuls Jarrett Johnson and James Beck work on delivering body blows while boxing coach Steven Franco oversees the servicewide camp March 23, 2010, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

Air Force boxing team hopefuls Jarrett Johnson and James Beck work on delivering body blows while boxing coach Steven Franco oversees the servicewide camp March 23, 2010, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Twelve potential Air Force boxers circled around a conference table March 19 to listen to the coach's goals for the 14-day boxing crash course at Lackland Air Force Base, which ends in the two-day Air Force Box-off April 2 and 3 at the Bennett Fitness Center here.

From the outset, Air Force boxing training camp coach Steven Franco defined the camp as work and winning the Armed Forces Boxing Championships as part of the job description.

"Every year, I say the same thing: 'I want to beat Army,'" Coach 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, Coach 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, Coach 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 said 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 the Armed Forces Boxing Championship.

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."

Coach 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," Coach 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 4-mile trek followed by circuit training on punching bags and developing basic boxing techniques.

Averaging close to 15 miles of road work per week, Richard Smith from Lackland AFB said the boxing camp has a more appropriate nickname.

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

Coach 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, Coach 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.

Coach 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. "Every day 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 said he just encourages them to roll with the punches.

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

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