When pressed about team chemistry, many football players say their teammates are like brothers, the bond is special, even beyond the scope of the game. After linebacker Dane Fletcher retired at the end of the 2015 season, he found out exactly how true those words were.
Dane opened The Pitt, a training facility in his hometown of Bozeman, Mont., achieving the first phase of his dream for his post-NFL career, and not long after the doors opened, he received words of encouragement from the other side of the country.
The likes of Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola sent videos to congratulate their former teammate. Rob Ninkovich has left comments on The Pitt's Instagram account, and Dane said he has more videos in the queue of former teammates extending their well wishes.
And while Danny and Julian were training in Montana this offseason, they made it a point to stop by and check it out, along with Lofa Tatupu, a former NFL player whose father, Mosi Tatupu, played for the Patriots.
"The whole team has been unbelievable. I've been staying in touch with everybody and it's been great. We talk about it when we're in the locker room and what not how tight knit we were in the locker room and everything," Dane said. "To still stay in touch as often as I do with those guys is pretty cool. It just shows you that we didn't just like each other because of football, and once you're done with football you're still close with these guys."
Dane said he used to bounce ideas off of his Patriots teammates about a training facility he might open, and on Aug. 1, 2016, that hypothetical gym became a reality. The Pitt offers specialized training for competitive athletes of all ages and levels, enhancing power, strength, speed and agility while also "decreasing the occurrence of athletic injuries," according to the website. They work with individual adults, as well and middle and high school students, and full teams.
After suffering ACL injuries throughout his football career, Dane wanted to learn more about the human body, what motions help recovery and what could prevent injuries like his own in the future. This knowledge is also what Dane hopes to pass along to his students, especially the younger athletes that may have collegiate or professional careers ahead of them.
The mantra is that nothing is a secret.
"They're not just here to train and get better but also to learn and learn why they're getting better. If they do ever go off to college somewhere or go pro somewhere and they're training with somebody else they know the fundamentals," Dane said. "They know why this is doing what it is and how they can improve if they have a deficit somewhere. My staff and I really want to be knowledgeable outlets for these kids to have reasoning for everything they do and know why we do it."
While Dane said it was important to get the right group of trainers, coaches and physical therapists together, he also wanted to emphasize a particular environment that many gyms don't get right. Dane, a self-proclaimed "gym rat" when he's not playing football, spent a lot of time in similar facilities around the country while training, and he made notes of what he liked, didn't like and what he ultimately wanted his own business to look like.
"A lot of places just throw something up because it's easy to get an old storage unit, a few dumbbells and a squat rack and think that's a gym and start charging people," Dane said. "I wanted a legitimate feeling when you come here that this building was built specifically for a training facility. When you come in there's a professional environment where you can come in, work hard and sweat all over the turf and the rubber, but it's also nice. It's also a place where you can run into professionals of all different ages in sports playing different things and don't be surprised if you see professionals here and all that fun stuff."
Even though training facilities like this one are not common in the Northwest, according to Dane, he wanted to bring his venture back to his hometown to give back locally and give kids a chance to work with professional and college athletes that they otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to meet. With a former NFL player at the core of The Pitt, as well as trainers and coaches who played for Montana State University, it allows aspiring athletes with the chance to interact with top-notch athletes.
And while this allows for fun moments for the athletes who come through The Pitt, it also asks them to rise to the challenge, to push through and excel.
"The main thing is we want people to be happy and have a good energy, a good positive vibe when they come in and it's created you just can't expect it. Between my staff and I and everybody that comes in, we kind of have to handle all those expectations. It's just an expectation that we try and portray throughout this gym and it's like a family environment," he said. "With that, we're not afraid to tell people that we're with them, support them, will make them better, but they have to come and want to be here as well. We're not here to babysit. If you feel like you need a babysitter then maybe this isn't the place for you."
Though The Pitt is just under a year old, Dane said he is taking a page out of the Belichick book and staying focused on the immediate future. After his decision to step away from football, Dane has dedicated every day to building The Pitt. The process was exhausting but exhilarating, he said.
And that ceaseless dedication to achieve a goal, Dane said he learned from Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick.
"I really enjoyed just sitting back and watching Mr. Kraft and Bill Belichick and how they run their organization and how they work together with the staff. They stay very upfront and honest with their staff," Dane said. "There are no real secrets in there between the team and the staff and Mr. Kraft and also just how a professional environment is run and how many hours it really takes to make something successful. It just doesn't pop up overnight. There's no secret to it. It just comes out to putting in long hours and working hard and figuring out what works for your system."
This hard work doesn't come without gratification, however.
"It's honestly been so satisfying and just a blast," he said.