When wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was selected early in the 4th round (#112 overall pick) of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, it was fulfillment of a future foretold. His father, bodybuilding great John Brown—dubbed the LaVar Ball of football—promised his three sons when they were young they’d have shots at NFL careers if they followed his rigorous nutrition and training regimen. Amon-Ra’s oldest brother, Equanimeous, a former Notre Dame standout, plays for the Green Bay Packers. The middle brother, Osiris, played for Stanford. How did these three brothers excel on the gridiron? It all started in the gym…


John Brown, who grew up in Compton, California, began competing in bodybuilding contests when a teenager in 1975. He won the Mr. Los Angeles in 1977 and the NABBA Mr. Universe in 1981 and 1982. At 6’1” and around 250, he competed in 12 IFBB pro contests from 1984 to 1991, including the 1985 Mr. Olympia, but he never finished higher than eighth. Unfortunately for him, there was no classic physique division then, because, with his tiny waist, aesthetic shape, and flair for posing, he could’ve thrived in shows that deemphasized size and striations. A popular guest poser in Europe, he met his wife, Miriam, in Germany, and they settled in Southern California, raising their three uniquely-named sons.

John Brown bodybuilder
John Brown, circa 1980

Brown, who mentored bodybuilding greats Shawn Ray and Melvin Anthony, was noted for his brutal work ethic: high-reps, lots of supersets, lengthy and frequent workouts. He formulated a similar plan for his sons but focused on football endurance as well as stength and speed: fast-paced workouts with little rest. At only nine, years before most kids have even touched a barbell, Amon-Ra had already been lifting for four years, and, as a video proves, he could bench press 135 for three reps. Sports Illustrated profiled the Brown family in 2017, when Amon-Ra was still a high school phenom. The author, Mike Piellucci, wrote:

John tailored their training and diet around his own hard-earned lessons from bodybuilding. He calls it “athleticism power training” and it comes with unusual tenets. In a given week, he’ll work every muscle group from their necks to their feet, but stretching is forbidden. For the most part, so are lean proteins like chicken and fish. John is in the business of producing horsepower, raw explosive strength, so he blends them protein shakes at least twice a day and makes sure every dinner is loaded with red meat. The portions are always doubled, one for that night and a second helping for breakfast the next morning. Each time, they’re expected to eat until they’re stuffed. And if the meal is paired with a sugary beverage or a slice of cake for dessert, well, great. “You need those calories,” John says. Besides, he adds, “Kool-Aid is good for the soul.”

In a recent article at NFL.com, Amon-Ra said: “Lifting with my dad at a young age, you felt like you were stronger than every kid on the field. You mentally felt like you had an advantage over all the other kids. If you know you’re stronger than the guy you’re competing against, it breeds confidence.”

It certainly worked for Amon-Ra, who, despite being the shortest and lightest of the brothers, is touted as the strongest. At his USC Pro Day, he pumped out 20 bench press reps, an impressive tally for a wideout (third out of the sixty-two 2021 wide receiver draft prospects, according to Pro Football Reference). Scouts and draft prognosticators (many of whom had him going in the second or third rounds) noted his explosiveness and powerful blocking ability. Those qualities were earned, first, in gyms, from countless reps under his father’s supervision. Just as John Brown built one of the best physiques in the world four decades ago, he built one of the best football families in the world today.

Related: 10 Strongest NFL Players Ever