LOS ANGELES — Growing up in Beavercreek, Justin Lovett was a jaded Cincinnati Bengals fan.
“I had a pretty unhealthy relationship with that team for a long time,” the 1995 BHS grad said.
From a last-second home loss to San Francisco in 1987 to Joe Montana’s magic in the Super Bowl a couple years later, the Bengals always seemed to break his heart.
“It crushes your fanhood,” Lovett said.
But on Sunday night Lovett hopes current Bengals fans experience the big-game heartache he did years ago when the Los Angeles Rams take on Cincinnati in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
And if that happens, the 45-year-old will have had more than a hand in the outcome.
Lovett, who played baseball and football at Beavercreek, is the director of strength and conditioning for the Rams, a position he’s held since 2020. He and his staff are responsible for making sure players like Aaron Donald and Von Miller stay healthy, in shape, and avoid the injured list.
While there is a diverse and intricate support system of performance staff available to the players — many have private chefs, speed coaches, alternate strength coaches — Lovett and the other three strength coaches work in concert with the aforementioned to make sure players are performing at the highest level.
“We are in line with the sports medicine staff, player affairs staff, the dietitians to serve players,” Lovett said. “It’s a network.”
He wasn’t quite ready
After graduating from Beavercreek, Lovett went to the University of Findlay to play baseball and football.
It didn’t work out.
“My ego was a lot larger than my skill set,” he said. “I loved playing, I just wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t achieve whatever goals I had at Findlay. The maturity wasn’t there.”
Lovett enrolled at Colorado State University in 1996, but the Rams (a bit of foreshadowing?) football program was doing well and didn’t have a spot for him. CSU didn’t have a baseball team so Lovett eventually ended up playing semi-pro football, which he described as being on a level below the lowest arena league.
His wife, Amy, was a health teacher in Aurora, Colordao and Lovett caught on as a physical education and strength coach at Grandview High School, where he worked from 2004-2008.
“We weren’t interested in anything else,” Lovett said. “We thought we had made it.”
‘It’ was just starting
During the 2008 offseason, Lovett approached the Denver Broncos and asked to help out with the team’s offseason program. He had a connection through former Broncos and first-round draft pick Steve Sewell.
Lovett wasn’t looking for a job, just some experience working under strength coach Rich Tuten and Mike Shanahan, the head coach.
“I said I’ll set up the equipment and clean it, I won’t say a word to you all,” Lovett said. “I just learned from what I considered to be one of the greatest strength coaches of our era.”
Amy recognized her husband had a future in that field and told him to “chase it.”
Lovett was hired at the University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) as the head soccer strength and conditioning coach. He also assisted with football and softball.
Shanahan was fired after the 2008-09 season and while back home in Colorado to be with Amy and prep for the birth of his son, he visited the Broncos again. Tuten said they had an opening for an intern.
“I said hell yeah,” Lovett said. “I really had no choice, my wife wasn’t coming to El Paso.”
After a year as an intern, then-head coach Josh McDaniels hired Lovett full time as an assistant. When John Fox took over for McDaniels, Fox and General Manager John Elway gave Lovett the opportunity to remain.
But after the Broncos lost to New England in the playoffs, a week after QB Tim Tebow led an upset of the Steelers, Lovett was shuffled out. He spent a couple years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Georgia — where he worked with future Rams running back Todd Gurley — and then from 2014-16 was the head strength and conditioning coach at Western Kentucky.
In 2016, Lovett took the same position at Purdue University, where he stayed until joining the Rams in 2020. Former WKU Coach Jeff Brohm was the head football coach at Purdue for Lovett’s final three years in West Lafayette.
Lovett knew the Rams had an opening when former strength coach Ted Rath left to join the Eagles. Former Broncos GM Brian Xanders had moved to LA’s front office and Lovett was intrigued.
“I did have an interest to get back in the NFL,” Lovett said.
Around 50 strength coaches tried to get their name to GM Les Snead and Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance Reggie Scott. After an interview with Dayton native and Head Coach Sean McVay, Lovett was their pick.
“It’s still blurry how they got my name,” he said, reflecting on the 10 years between NFL jobs. “It definitely wasn’t a linear path. I’m just grateful to be in this league. I have tremendous respect for this league. I still pinch myself.”
Just another week
Being in the Super Bowl is another one of those “pinch me” moments. But for Lovett and the Rams, who get to play the big game in their home stadium — like Tampa Bay did last year — it’s simply game week.
“I can’t speak for what’s going on with Cincinnati because they had to uproot and come to LA, (but) we’ve been home,” Lovett said. “We’ve been at our facility, lifting our weights, eating in our cafeteria.”
It’s the regular routine for the Rams.
“I think that’s important,” Lovett said. “The players know what the stakes are. Really it’s just another game. We get to play again.”
In other words, nothing changes.
“We’re going to do what got us here,” Lovett said.
That’s the Rams way. Keep on keeping on.
“Even when we got Von from Denver, I had him as a rookie … he said the Rams are different in the sense that you lose in other organizations, you tend to double down or if you win, you stick with that plan,” Lovett said. “It’s an outcome-driven operation. With the Rams, we went through a three-game losing streak and we didn’t change anything. That gives us piece of mind.”
Piece of mind will likely be important for Lovett Sunday night when his current team takes on his childhood team with the Lombardi Trophy as the prize.
“I don’t think it could be any more ironic,” Lovett said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way I suppose. The Rams relationships with some of the coaches on the Bengals (Head Coach Zac Taylor was on McVay’s staff) is pretty cool.”
None likely have the relationship that Lovett had with the Bengals years ago.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.