Mathis and Muir — a former defensive lineman who played in 40 games for the Colts between 2008-2011 — founded Gridiron Gang in 2018 with the goal of establishing the Midwest’s premier football development program.
“We felt in our respective positions it wasn’t being coached the proper way,” Mathis said, “(while) also teaching guys about life on the field versus off the field and taking more of a mentor type of aspect in our approach to training.
Mathis relishes dispensing the knowledge he accumulated over his 14 seasons with the Colts. A lot of what he can impart on youth players comes from his own experience as the franchise’s all-time sacks leader. But there are plenty of lessons he learned from his teammates — Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, among many others — which he passes on to those who work with Gridiron Gang.
Both Mathis and Muir, too, learned everything from the art of the pass rush to how to watch film and lift weights from the late John Teerlinck, who was the Colts’ defensive line coach from 2002-2011.
Since Gridiron Gang, which is based at Grand Park in Westfield, was founded, Mathis, Muir and seven other coaches have trained a number of up-and-coming football players in the Indianapolis area. Some big-time local players have come through, like Carmel’s Cole Brevard (now with Penn State) and Beau Robbins (now with Indiana), Westfield’s Popeye Williams (verbally committed to Louisville in class of 2022) and Greenwood’s Jovan Swann (who played college ball at Stanford and Indiana and signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent earlier this month).
Joe Strickland, an uncommitted 2022 four-star defensive end prospect from Brebeuf High School in Indianapolis, also trained with Gridiron Gang.
“I would recommend Gridiron Gang to any elite player or defensive lineman,” Strickland wrote in a testimonial on Gridiron Gang’s website. “The teaching you receive is something next level from the greats who have done what you are trying to accomplish.”
Gridiron Gang trains plenty of positions beyond defensive line, too. For example: Mathis enjoys counter-coaching quarterbacks, offering tips he learned from Manning on what tells and giveaways a quarterback can look for in a pass rusher.
Mathis and Muir, though, wanted to expand their reach beyond the northern suburbs of Indianapolis, where Muir said families can typically afford the kind of training offered by outfits like Gridiron Gang.
“Drive 30-45 minutes down the road, that’s not the case,” Muir said. “We just wanted to be able to offer the same thing to all of Indianapolis, all Indiana and eventually all the Midwest. We just wanted to be able to offer everything we’re doing to everybody. Everybody should get a fair shot to get this training and this mentorship from guys that’ve done it.”
Mathis and Muir have been based in Indianapolis for quite some time and know the area well. With their networking capabilities, contacts and connections, they were able to establish a scholarship program that affords athletes from underrepresented communities as well those from military and public service families the opportunity to train with Mathis, Muir, seven other Gridiron Gang coaches and various guest coaches.
Gridiron Gang has raised $272,500 for its scholarship program to date, according to Phil Grove, a local entrepreneur and investor who works with and advises Mathis, Muir and Gridiron Gang.
“These guys are changing the trajectory of young mens’ lives,” Grove said.
The scholarship program has grown into the primary focus of Gridiron Gang, with Mathis and Muir opening their arms and making it known that “everyone can be involved,” Mathis said.
Gridiron Gang works directly with a handful of high schools in the Indianapolis area, too, including Arsenal Tech and Lawrence North. Grant Nesbit, the Director of Operations for the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, forged a partnership with Gridiron Gang to allow them to use Lawrence North’s facilities and provide training for local high school players.
“It’s not outside the realm of possibility that we have the next Robert Mathis going through the high school halls right now where this training may make a difference for him,” Nesbit said. “It may be enough to push that kid to want to achieve more. And a lot of our kids wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise. They would just never be able to get exposed to this kind of expertise.”
And Mathis, just as he did while playing with the Colts, pours every ounce of effort he has into training these kids.
“Rob is very hands on with them,” Nesbit said. “He’s not just — he’s out there doing it. He’s working up a sweat. The guy still looks like he could play to me.
“You can’t help but get inspired by watching him demonstrate the drill. Those kids want to do it better because they’re watching one of the greats to do it.”
But Mathis’ message to those kids, and everyone else he works with, is about much, much more than just football.