Will Topper was 7-years-old when his parents introduced him to the game of baseball.
“I just had a love for the sport immediately,” he says. “It was fun and challenging at the same time.”
Rec league play turned to travel team play by the time Will turned 9. He played outfield, second base, and even pitched a little, before settling into the role of catcher.
“I like throwing out to second and trying to pick off runners,” he says.
Will has always been tall and thin, and one of the younger players on his teams. A combination that proved to be a problem by the time he was 13.
“At the age of 13, they went up to the largest field size,” explains Will’s mother, Theresa. “And he was competing with kids that were bigger than him, stronger than him.
“I was making contact with the ball,” Will adds, “But my power — I couldn’t hit it out of the infield.”
Making those throws down to second became harder on the larger diamond, and Will found he wasn’t as speedy around the bags himself. The end result was devastating: In 2015, at the age of 14, Will was cut from his travel team.
“When I was cut, I took it hard,” he says. It was a huge blow to his self-confidence. Will knew he needed to build himself up, both physically and mentally.”
After some gym-based approaches that didn’t work, Will decided to give Players Fitness and Performance in Frederick a try in August of 2016. After the blow of being cut from a team, and some unsuccessful attempts at training, Will carried a load of skepticism when it came to any program of self-improvement. It’s a load he was able to shed immediately once joining PFP.
“I saw how dedicated they were to helping each athlete,” he says. “I realized it was possible to get stronger, to get faster to work on these things and improve on them.”
PFP got Will lifting weights — the deadlift, the squat — training for speed and agility and explosiveness, hitting the box jumps hard. The results were tangible as early as Will’s fall 2016 rec league baseball season.
“My speed improved first — My parents noticed that I was running the bases faster and I was getting quick on my feet,” he says. “I noticed my arm get better. I saw my throw-downs become a lot faster.”
But in many ways, Will’s biggest accomplishments at PFP weren’t the physical ones.
It didn’t come from the actual physical part, it came from creating the relationships with his group,” says PFP Coach Travis Bewley.
When Will first came in, he was so reserved it was hard to get him to interact with the groups he was working out with, according to Bewley. But as Will progressed a bit physically, his confidence grew visibly, and so did his interaction with the other athletes.
“I’d say he’s kind of found a team in itself with the kids he works out with,” Bewley says. “He’s gotten more comfortable and confident and competitive.”
“It’s like one huge family in there,” Theresa says. “You come in and people are giving you high-fives and hugs and yelling your name out.”
Through that camaraderie, Will’s confidence and competitive spirit grew, according to Bewley and Will began pushing outside his comfort zone lifting heavier and getting even stronger.
“He saw a lot of growth physically,” Bewley says, “but it came from that mentality shift.”
And it’s been a dramatic shift, with Will going from totally reserved, to taking on a leadership role.
“Things that oftentimes kids his age won’t do, he’s stepping up and doing. It’s things that often get overlooked,” Bewley says. “Kids will finish exercises and if they are wiped out, if they’re cooked, he will help them put the weights back.”
It’s those details, commitment to improvement and Wills dramatic physical and mental growth that have earned him recognition as PFP’s Athlete of the Month for December.
“Will really fits the mold of what we try to do at PFP,” Bewley says. “He’s gone from an unconfident kid who kind of struggled to dramatic gains in strength and confidence. Along the way, he has found who he is, what he wants to do and he’s more confident in those decisions.”
And what Will wants to do is to have fun with baseball — for now. But he doesn’t see it as his future. He plans to continue rec league play until he graduates high school, but after that, he has new and higher goals in mind.
“Right now I am working to get stronger because I am looking to go into the navy,” Will says. “I’m looking to be military police.”
“I could definitely see him go that route,” Bewley adds. “He has that ability to mentally to push himself a little bit more now, which is definitely something you’re going to need to go into the military.”
In the meantime, PFP has in some ways become Will’s sport of focus.
“It’s like you’re part of a family there,” he says. It fits his goals of “becoming stronger, improving fitness and staying healthy overall.”
“He’s found something that he loves and wants to continue doing,” Bewley adds. “I think every day when he comes in it’s about getting a little bit better, maximizing his potential in whatever he wants to do.”
That’s Will Topper’s why. What’s your why?