WARREN - Nate Adams was a late bloomer in the boxing ring.
The 1999 Warren G. Harding graduate played basketball at West Virginia State University and didn't put on gloves until he was 24.
Now, he's the head trainer at the Warren Boxing Association where he oversees kids as young as 8 in the ring.
Tribune Chronicle / Matthew Peaslee
Brendan Jones, left, 11, of Willard Elementary School in Warren, and Colton Elser, 15, of LaBrae High School, train at the Warren Boxing Association.
"If I started young like these guys I'd be up there with Floyd (Mayweather) somewhere," Adams said, laughing.
The 32-year-old compiled a 14-4 record as an amateur fighter and went 2-1 in professional bouts. Over the years, he boxed in Atlanta, Cleveland and Little Rock, Ark. But, with the help of his other trainers, who happen to be his lifelong friends, Adams hopes one of the young fighters can be the next Mayweather.
Two of his hopefuls have their first crack at the limelight this weekend.
Colton Elser, 15, and Brendan Jones, 11, are taking part in the 2013 Lake Erie Association Junior Olympic Boxing Tournament on Friday and Saturday at the G.S.F.E. CADE Skating Rink in Akron. Fighting starts at 7 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.
"I'm a little nervous," Elser, a freshman at LaBrae, said. "I feel I'm decent, though, and can only get better."
Elser started boxing when he was 9, following the path of his father, J.R. He comes to the gym, located at 418 Main Ave. SW, every day for a few hours. His first opponent in the 125-pound class is Brandon Vega, a Cleveland native.
"Colton is a hard-hitting little dude," Adams said. "He's got a lot of drive and works hard."
Elser's record is 4-1, while Jones is stepping into the ring for his first amateur fight.
"He's got a lot of energy and a lot of talent," Adams said of the Willard Elementary fifth-grader. "With the help of coach (Leslie) Parkey, he's going to be great."
Parkey, a 1981 Harding grad, won the Golden Gloves tournament in '80 and '81. He's a 32-year veteran of the Air Force and won championship bouts in six different weight classes while in the service. Parkey was one of Jack Loew's first registered fighters. He played semi-pro football, too.
Demond Porterfield, a 1991 Harding grad, is the gym's fitness trainer. He spent some time in the Army and promotes athleticism for the fighters.
"When Brendan first came in here he didn't want to fight in the ring right away," Porterfield said. "We started him on the jump ropes, but he was even reluctant for that. But we sat here and watched the other guys go and then he wanted to join in. It's all about keeping the kids active and busy."
There are currently 30-some regular participants in the association. The gym was once located on Mahoning Avenue, and the current group has been running it at its present location for the past two years. Kathee Lee, a 16-year Air Force vet, is the manager, secretary and 'mother' of the gym.
"This is a great team here," Adams said. "We have great chemistry in the gym. We push the kids hard and they work hard. It's very rewarding."
It's affordable, too. Children can register for $5 per month, college students are $10, adults are $20, professionals are $30 and military personnel can join for free.
Jones' first fight in the 80-pound division of the weekend tournament is against Treyvon Wilson of Cleveland.
"I've been doing this for six months and I'm ready," Jones said. "I like to fight and I love to win."