Younger college football fans probably wouldn’t recognize the LSU football program for which Gabe Northern played.
From 1992-95, Northern was a bright spot on LSU teams that struggled just to make a bowl. Northern played before Nick Saban and Les Miles turned LSU into a national power. Northern was a dominant defensive end for coaches Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo, twice earning first-team All-SEC honors. His time at LSU featured one winning season — a 7–4–1 appearance in the Independence Bowl during his senior season.
Northern left LSU as a second-round draft pick and played four seasons for the Buffalo Bills before injuries hampered his career. He tried his hand at coaching at Grambling and Prairie View A&M and a business venture with a former teammate, but both vocations ended in disappointment.
Northern’s resolve was tested, but through yoga and lessons learned at LSU, he’s found a new start in Buffalo.
You played at LSU during some lean years. How closely have you watched LSU’s rise during the last 10-15 years?
I’ve paid a little bit of attention to it, not as much as you may think. Once I got out of LSU, there were a lot of changes made, a lot of administrational changes made. A lot of regime changes from DiNardo to Saban to Les Miles. It’s good to see them where they are right now to have two national championships because I thought we had championship-level talent when I played. A lot of the personalities conflicted from the coaches, coach-to-coach, player-to-player, player-to-coach. With that type of lack of cohesion, it’s hard for a team to win no matter what talent you have. In order to win a championship, you have to have just about everything go your way. You never get those breaks if you’re not on the same page from the get-go. Sometimes we weren’t in the same book or in the same library, so it was tough to be victorious against teams like Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M back then.
What are you doing right now?
I’m spending most of my time in Buffalo right now. They look out for me pretty good in Buffalo. That’s where I call my home. I’ve tried to go back to Baton Rouge a few times, but it seem like Baton Rouge is a little bit limited with opportunities. I hooked up with a good group of people up where in Canada and Western New York.
I do a whole lot of yoga, and I teach fitness in Buffalo and Canada as well. What I do is what I feel is the perfect mixture of football and yoga in my business Zoo-ology99. It got started out of necessity because I didn’t want to go to the gym and I didn’t want to pay to go to the gym. I had just come off some rough times and I couldn’t afford to go to the gym, so I got a medicine ball and from that one medicine ball, I’d start to throw it around and try to find different ways to throw this medicine ball around. After that I started training people with that medicine ball and a few footballs. As I trained people, I bought more medicine balls, footballs, ropes. I just built my business based different ways to move those things around, and I blended it with yoga.
What they’ve presented to (at yoga) me has led me on a spiritual and almost religious journey as to looking within myself and the energy I can spread throughout this world. It’s crazy to have a polarizing couple of loves in my life being football and yoga. In football, you crash into each other, you knock people down, you hurt people and in yoga it’s all about peace, good vibrations, positive energy, helping the world, clean living. Somehow through a little trial and error I think I’ve come up with what I think is a perfect blend of both. And I’m sharing that with anybody who will listen.
Did you do a lot of yoga during your playing days?
No. I feel like if I had done yoga when I was playing, I would have played five more years. My career was heading toward its end after I blew out both of my hamstrings right before I was heading to training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I signed with Pittsburgh after my last year in Buffalo. I ended up getting hurt and then I could stay healthy after that.
For your training, do you have a facility?
I had a facility. I owned a gym for a while with a good friend of mine in Tallahassee, a guy I played ball with, a guy I took on his recruiting trip. But that’s a lesson — you need to be careful of who you partner with or go into business with because I ended up having a lot of issues with my “best friend.” I ended up losing my ass in the deal, but I learned a whole lot. I still look at it as a positive experience because I always look at it like as long as I have breath in my lungs, I could always make something happen and that God always had my back.
(Editor’s Note: Northern and former LSU teammate Kevin Franklin opened an Anytime Fitness franchise in 2007 in Tallahassee, Fla. According to a feature in the Baton Rouge Advocate in 2014, Franklin and Northern lost the franchise during the recession. Franklin worked several jobs before he was hired as a building manager with the YMCA.)
You alluded to some rough times. Is this business deal what you’re referring to?
It was rough, but I was able to fall back on the foundation of my family, my mother and father, my sister and brother. I don’t know where I would have ended up today because I was going through all that depression and thinking about what if I had that gun in my hand or what if I had that cliff to jump off of. I was at that stage in my life, and something just pulled me out of it. And I think what pulled me out of it was the love of my family.
What’s the timetable of all this? When did things start going wrong and how did you pull yourself out of it?
It’s hard to say because in the midst of all of it, there were some beautiful moments, and I came across a lot of beautiful people every step of the way. It’s just life. I refuse to complain about it because of all the people who showed me love. I prefer to not dwell on it.
And during all of this you were coaching?
I was coaching at Prairie View. I coached at Grambling for a few years, but I ended up getting fired. Coach said he wanted to go into a new direction. That’s one of the things that happens when you don’t control your own destiny. Now I’m my own boss, and it’s probably going to be a while before I fire myself.
Man, the way I look at it, there are so many coaches out there who know so much more than what I learned when I played for four years under Wade Phillips’ tutelage. I only learned for four years under one of the best defensive coordinators in history of the game. For that not to be good enough for certain institutions and certain people, hey man, you’re right. It takes four years to graduate, a little less to get a Master’s degree and something else to get a doctorate. I figure I’ve got some kind of degree in great defense after leaning from Wade Phillips. If other people couldn’t understand that, that’s on them. I promise you they lost more games by not being confident in what I learned and doing things the other way. I stand firm in my belief in that.
One thing that’s come up when searching your name is Men Against Violence. Can you tell me about that?
It’s something I started with a group of guys at LSU. There were a lot of negative aspects at LSU when it came to guys fighting guys, guys fighting girls, domestic violence, fratboy fights, football fights with fratboys. There was a whole lot of that going on back when I was in school. Between me and a few other guys, it was something we created. It’s something that was dear to my heart. If not for the training I got with that program, I would have been dead, I might have killed somebody or I would have been in jail. I would have been in a really bad circumstance had it not been for what I learned in that group. We went from place to place and trained people in conflict resolution. Just like what we learn in yoga, daily life is a practice. You have to practice love, you have to practice peace, you have to practice diligence. Those were things we learned back then with Men Against Violence. That’s a lot of what I teach today. Some people don’t know how to be people. All they know is chaos or mayhem, fighting, war. If you don’t know how to deal with conflict and resolving conflict, you will not be able to function in today’s society.
Just the other day, I was hosting my first Zoo-ology camp in Buffalo. I was doing some grocery shopping. I was in a hurry. I go to swipe my card to buy my items and my business credit card didn’t work. So I had to walk out to my truck, get my personal credit card, come back in and swipe it and my personal credit card didn’t work. I grab my checkbook and everything is all good until the damn check won’t clear. I’m about to blow a gasket up in this place if I don’t get some service. I go to the ATM, the card works I end up getting my money. I got my items. But I’m telling you, I had to consciously warn myself to breathe. To take some time, close my mouth and breathe. After that, everything worked out. I had a wonderful camp. I helped some kids. I had a wonderful group out there helping me. If it hadn’t been some training I had received from Men Against Violence or the yoga, I would have been in trouble that day. I would have kicked somebody’s ass, threw something around. Any of the options that I would have chosen would have been poor choices and it would have led to some self-destruction.
So when you’re working with kids or athletes in your training, do you share these lessons of daily struggles or internal battles?
All the time. People look at me, with what people see of my physical stature, they would think that I always had it going on, that I’ve always been sitting on top of the world, never been kicked in the ass financially. People wouldn’t have guessed that I’ve had certain battles, certain struggles, certain demons that I had to exorcise.