Part 4: The comeback

Part 4: The comeback
By Josh Peter, Yahoo Sports
August 28, 2007

Josh Peter
Yahoo Sports
PART 1: Road to recovery  |  PART 2: The nutritionist  |  PART 3: The chemist
PART 4: The comeback  |  PART 5: The product  |  REPORT: Drug allegations  
video  Couch on Laxogenin

 
  Tim Couch works out during a session with his personal quarterback coach in Casselberry, Fla.
(Joe Kaleita/For Yahoo! Sports)

In January 2006, an employee at Maxim Rejuvenation checked a list of people scheduled to see Brian Yusem that day and came across a new and surprising name – Tim Couch. The employee, Alissa Marks – who describes herself as an avid football fan and is one of seven employees who work for Yusem – said she had an inkling as to why Couch was there.

Marks knew Couch had established a host of passing records as an All-America quarterback at the University of Kentucky. She also knew that after Couch signed a seven-year, $48 million contract that included a $12 million bonus, he joined a Browns team filled with subpar players. And that after five seasons in Cleveland, he had lost the starting job and support of the team's management and most of its fans.

"I didn't work my whole life to get to that point and watch it all blow up in my face," Couch said during an interview in May. "That's not the way it's supposed to happen."

Picked up by the Green Bay Packers, Couch arrived for training camp in the fall of 2004 viewed as a possible successor to Brett Favre. But he began experiencing pain in his right shoulder and struggled on the field, and the Packers released him before the season opener. He was damaged goods, and X-rays of his right arm proved as much.

He had a torn rotator cuff, a torn bicep and a torn labrum. In February 2005, he underwent reconstructive surgery, but his struggles continued. That next fall, during tryouts with a handful of NFL teams, the shoulder pain returned. So he went looking for help and found Yusem, who at the time had no website, no advertising campaign and a clientele built almost exclusively on word of mouth. So how did he learn about Yusem?

If Couch had watched a clip from an MTV documentary on steroids, he would have seen Cliff Carroll, who worked for Yusem's company, injecting steroids into a male model. The footage was filmed in the same store where Yusem sells dozens of products advertised as natural supplements.

 

COUCH'S CAREER

1999: Thrust into the starting job two games into rookie season with the Cleveland Browns.

2001: Helped lead the team to a playoff berth in Year 4 but broke his leg at the end of the regular season. Backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb passed for more than 400 yards in Cleveland's loss to the Steelers in the Wild Card playoff game, and Couch lost his hold on the starting job.

Spent his final two seasons in Cleveland rotating with Holcomb, and Cleveland was 22-37 in games that Couch started during his five years with the team.

Refused to take a pay cut after the 2003 season, prompting the Browns to release him. Signed by the Green Bay Packers in 2004 but developed shoulder problems and was released before the start of the regular season. Underwent shoulder surgery in February 2005 and July 2006.

Couch's statistics

Yusem said he immediately fired Carroll. But Carroll said Yusem fired him for a dispute over his work schedule and that Yusem enthusiastically supported an opportunity to tape the steroid injection scene in his store.

"I don't want Brian to get in trouble," said Carroll, who works for a supplement maker that does business with Yusem. "I still like the guy. But he wanted the publicity."

The publicity led to a spike in business, according to Carroll, who said after the documentary aired "I had every guy in Palm Beach calling me to balance their hormones."

But Couch said he learned about Yusem while doing research online and knew nothing about the documentary. He did say he was aware Yusem recommended anabolic steroids and testosterone for some clients.

"I heard him talk to other clients about it, but I never heard him do anything with athletes like that," Couch said.

But documents that outline a 72-day regimen allegedly developed for Couch to use steroids and HGH are dated Jan. 26, 2006, shortly after his consultation with Yusem. Yahoo! Sports obtained the documents from an estranged business associate of Yusem who provided them on the condition he not be named because he feared for his safety.

Couch initially said he had no reservations about working with someone who endorsed the use of drugs banned by the NFL "because if I'm not doing it, I'm not really concerned. … It's no big deal to me." But about an hour after the interview Aug. 14, he sent a text message that read, "I just don't want people to think just cause Brian may prescribe stuff to other people that I did anything cause I didn't."

That same day, Yusem said he had taken all but 10 percent of his patients off of steroids and put them on Laxogenin. "The people frigging love it," he said. "I have a couple hundred people … paying between $150 and $120 every month."

After Couch's consultation with Yusem in January 2006 the two began working together, and in May prospects brightened for Couch. The Indianapolis Colts brought him in for a workout and he said the team was prepared to sign him until he failed the physical exam.

X-rays showed a new tear of the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, and in July 2006 he returned to Dr. Andrews and underwent a second operation on his right shoulder. Less than two months later the shoulder appeared to be healing, but Yusem said Couch was growing antsy.

On Sept. 3, 2006, according to Yusem, Couch sent an email that read: "Hey Brian, it's Tim Couch. Just wanted to see if we can get started this week. I know there's a holdup at the lab with my results. Give me a call this week and let me know. I'm going to be playing wide receiver if I don't. I only weigh 200 pounds right now."

The lab results finally came back, according to Yusem, who said they showed Couch had abnormally low levels of testosterone. Yusem said he routinely sees men with low levels of testosterone – a naturally produced steroid important for muscle growth – and treats some with anabolic steroids, testosterone and HGH.

In treating Couch, Yusem said, he used supplements that increased the natural production of testosterone levels and, coupled with weight training, helped Couch drop his body fat to 4 percent from 17.5 percent and add 40 pounds of muscle. But documents obtained by Yahoo! Sports that outline an 80-day regimen allegedly developed for Couch called for him to use steroids. The documents are dated Sept. 18, 2006, shortly after the email Yusem said he received from Couch reporting the player's weight was down to 200 pounds.

If Couch makes it back to the NFL and league officials find evidence he took banned performance-enhancing drugs while rehabilitating from shoulder surgery, he could face disciplinary action. In an email addressing the NFL's drug policy, league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote that a player "will be subject to discipline if we have sufficient proof that he used a banned substance without an acceptable medical justification. Merely being prescribed it by a doctor is not enough."

According to Brad Beckwith, a friend of Couch's, there's no denying the quarterback has taken supplements and nutritional products sold by Yusem. "You walk into Tim's kitchen and it looks like a meth lab," Beckwith joked.

In February 2007, Couch drove to Dr. Andrews' orthopedic clinic in Birmingham, Ala., for a follow-up exam, and Dr. Andrews asked him to remove his shirt so he could inspect the shoulder. Immediately, Dr. Andrews said, he noted the change in Couch's physique. Bare-chested, with 245 pounds packed on his 6-foot-4 frame, Couch looked like a linebacker.

Equally impressed with the strength in Couch's right shoulder, Dr. Andrews said he cleared him to begin throwing.

"I'm a little surprised that he's been able to do so well," Dr. Andrews said during a recent interview. "I don't really want to get into that because I don't want to be negative about any of this.

"But I would have to tell you that I'm very pleased and I'm surprised he's done as well as he's done."

Not long after the follow-up exam with Andrews, according to Yusem, Couch expressed new concerns.

Yusem said Couch sent him an email that read: "Hey B, just went to see my surgeon this weekend. He couldn't believe how strong my shoulder was. Going to start throwing on Monday.

"I was also wondering if they can give me some anxiety meds. It's getting better but just want to have something for peace of mind."

That, Yusem said, is when he put Couch on a diet of 5,000 calories a day and explained that cleansing Couch's body of toxins sped up his metabolism. "He was getting dizzy and he didn't know what was going on," Yusem said. "Your body starts turning on. … So he was like a sleeping giant. I mean, his body was just aching, itching (for calories)."

Eventually Couch reduced his caloric intake. But a couple of months later, when Couch began losing weight at an alarming rate, Yusem said he increased Couch's diet to 4,000 calories a day. "Eat! Eat!" Yusem said he ordered the quarterback, who had trouble fueling his body as fast as his body burned it.

During an interview this summer, Couch said, "He's got my metabolism going so fast, it's like a furnace."

By March, Yusem was preparing to launch a web site and renting space in the office of Dr. Glenn Charles, a cosmetic surgeon who specializes in hair restoration surgery. Dr. Charles said he prescribes HGH, steroids and testosterone for some of Yusem's patients "under certain circumstances" and said he is licensed to do so.

When asked about his arrangement with Dr. Charles, Yusem said, "I'm set up as a clinic and he's the medical director. … I always had doctors working for me. Always."

Couch said he never took steroids or testosterone, and Yusem said that was true. Even though Couch said he took HGH, Yusem disputed that, saying Couch used Xentropin, a dietary supplement that supposedly triggers the natural production of HGH.

In addition to customizing a nutrition program for Couch, Yusem has played a significant role in Couch's comeback. In late March 2007, through a friend of Yusem's, for example, Couch found a quarterbacks coach, Darin Slack. Slack played quarterback for the University of Central Florida from 1985 to 1987 and set several school records for passing. Working out of his headquarters near Orlando, Slack set out to overhaul Couch's passing motion and change his mechanics with a unique approach.

Using unorthodox techniques such as throwing with his eyes closed as Slack looked on, Couch improved his accuracy and increased the velocity of his passes.

In June, Couch instructed his agent to contact NFL teams and let them know he was healthy. But a month later, not a single team had called to schedule a workout. And Yusem was experiencing his own frustrations.

He said he was 600 orders behind on Laxogenin, and one pharmacy in the Boca Raton area balked at compounding the product because it suspected Laxogenin was a controlled substance rather than the dietary supplement, according to Thierman. Thierman said he could help Yusem find other people willing to compound Laxogenin, but Yusem didn't wait.

During a phone call last month, Yusem said he was mixing the Laxogenin formula and converting it into usable product in the same office building where Charles performs hair restoration surgery.

"Screw them," he said of the pharmacists who refuse to compound Laxogenin.

Then came the good news for Yusem and Couch.

Riccardo Roscetti, an independent consultant who prepares pharmacies for inspection by the FDA, agreed to work with Yusem and help him try to market Laxogenin. ("Brian likes to say I'm an FDA inspector," Roscetti said during a recent interview. "That's not accurate whatsoever, but he still likes saying it to everyone.") And on July 29, Couch got the call from the Jaguars. That next morning in Jacksonville, he passed the physical exam and later worked out for coach Jack Del Rio and other team officials.

As Couch came off the field, the Jaguars offered him a two-year deal. Couch signed the contract that would pay him the NFL veteran's minimum, $595,000 this year, if he made the final 53-man roster before the season started.

Before Couch even boarded a flight for Jacksonville on the way to his scheduled workout, Yusem said the quarterback called him and sounded like he was on the verge of tears. Couch thanked Yusem for all of his help, according to Yusem, who swelled with pride and excitement. And the excitement grew.

On Aug. 11, Yusem and a group of people that included Couch's wife, drove to Miami to watch the Jaguars play the Miami Dolphins in both team's preseason opener. Entering the game in the third quarter, Couch completed his first pass in three years for a 12-year gain, and the entourage erupted in cheers. Yet later there were gasps.

During his second series Couch got sacked, and the impact slammed his helmet against the turf. Slowly, he got back onto his feet. He was sacked once more during his two series on the field and completed two of four passes, one dropped by the receiver, for 11 yards. It was not a performance that stirred talk of his replacing starter Byron Leftwich, or even winning a job as Leftwich's backup. Yet three days later, he appeared to be a fan favorite after practice while making his way through a horde of autograph seekers waiting on either side of two metal barricades.

Patiently, Couch obliged at least two dozen requests and posed for a couple of pictures before heading to the locker room.

"It's good to definitely have the support of the fans," he said. "But I've still got a long road. Just getting here when training camp started and trying to beat out guys who have been here for four or five years, it's definitely a tough road."

Four days later, Couch hit a detour, if not a dead end, when the Jaguars released him. He said he was hopeful about getting a shot with another NFL team, and Yusem might have as much riding on the quarterback and his comeback attempt as anyone.

If Couch makes it back to the NFL, and if people learn how Couch rebounded to become strong enough to throw the ball 40 yards from one knee, if they find out about Maxim Rejuvenation and its self-styled nutritionist who helped transform a client he referred to as "my Frankenstein," Yusem figures he'll get the kind of advertising money can't buy.

That is, provided the claims about Laxogenin hold up to scrutiny.

NEXT: PART 5: THE PRODUCT >>

Josh Peter is a writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Josh a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, Aug 28, 2007 12:48 pm, EDT

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