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One goal -- to win medals, AF boxers arrive at JBSA-Lackland

Air Force boxer Kent Brinson fends off a right jab from opponent Forrest Booker during a sparring session at the Chaparral Fitness Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alan Boedeker)

Air Force boxer Kent Brinson fends off a right jab from opponent Forrest Booker during a sparring session at the Chaparral Fitness Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alan Boedeker)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The goals are still the same for Air Force boxing coach Steven Franco during the Air Force Boxing Camp at the Chaparral Fitness Center: Defeat the other military branches to win medals.

"Like I tell these guys from Day 1, I don't care if I take one guy or all 10 guys from different weight classes, my goal is to win medals," Franco said. "Our motto is to train, box, and win."

Franco and his team of aspiring pugilists have been preparing for the Air Force Box-Offs, which begin Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and continue over a two-week period. After the box-offs, Franco will determine which boxers he will take to the Armed Forces Championships.

The difference between this camp and last year's is the amount of experience the Air Force fighters have picked up throughout the past 12 months.

"We have more potential than last year," Franco said. "We should be taking a larger team than last year."

Out of Franco's nine-boxer camp, six or seven of his fighters are open fighters with at least 10 bouts under their belt.

The Air Force boxing hopefuls are doing better on training runs thanks to an increased emphasis on physical training, the coach said.

"Before, they used to quit (before finishing the run)," he said. "The first couple of days they couldn't do 3.5 miles. Now more can complete those runs, no problem. Some still struggle (with the runs) because others are in better shape."

The daily training schedule begins at 7:45 a.m. It includes runs, sprints, and plyometrics.

"That's just the morning stuff," Franco said.

Jump rope, neck, and abdominal exercises are part of the afternoon training routine. And just because aspiring hopefuls are physically fit, it doesn't necessarily translate to the boxing training regimen.

"Their mentality is like 'Oh, I can do whatever I want,'" Franco said. "True, but it takes a couple of years, not a couple of days. When they get in the ring, it's a reality check."

Kent Brinson, who competed in the Armed Forces Boxing Championships last year and has been boxing for five years, said he continues to work on boxing basics, which include jabs and stepping back.

"Boxing is about learning how to be a fighter in the ring and behave like a fighter," Brinson said. "It doesn't come natural to everyone, it takes time. To have guys put in their time makes a huge difference here in camp."

Super heavyweight Forrest Booker, who recorded his first career knockdown at last year's box-offs, is working to improve his stamina and become a better defensive fighter.

"My stamina is getting better as a super-heavyweight," said Booker, a United Kingdom native. "I don't care who you are, carrying weight around the ring is super tough."

Booker's goal is to represent the Air Force to the best of his ability at the Armed Forces championships.

"That's my drive and motivation," he said. "A lot of (boxers) say they want to box, but when the going gets tough in the ring, they start to retreat and duck. Those are the guys you don't see at the gym very much because if you can't take the punches, you won't be able to give any when you gain experience."

Franco always goes back to Boxing 101, no matter what experience a boxer has, when camp commences every year.

"When you're in the ring and it comes down to slugging it out, getting tired, and guys coming at you, a lot of times you have to go back to your basic jabs to keep your opponent away," he said.

Thanks to the assistance of first-year assistant boxing coach and longtime training partner Bobby DeLeon Jr., instruction, sparring, and gloving is quicker for Franco.

"We have the experience of going to the Armed Forces championships, nationals, and Golden Gloves," Franco said. "Bringing that experience back to the team helps."

Franco didn't see a lot of potential in the pugilists entering camp, but after a couple of weeks of harsh critiques, his views are different.

"I don't know if the (critiques) encouraged them, but something's been triggered and it impresses us," he said. "We talked with the ones that have impressed us and told them to keep up the good work and keep working hard."

The Air Force coach won't try to be like New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan and make a prediction on how well his team will do in the Armed Forces championships. However, he believes the team is better than last year's.

"I think we will be competing at a higher level," Franco said.

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