Four years ago, Kyle Gilbert came to Windermere Prep to start the school’s strength and conditioning program. He has changed the campus’ fitness culture along the way.
WINDERMERE As Kyle Gilbert was wrapping up a part-time role with the strength and conditioning program at the University of Central Florida four years ago, he began to survey the job landscape within the industry.
One niche within the industry that was not on his radar was the high-school market, mostly because he did not know there was such a thing. At so many high schools, partly because of budget limitations, strength and conditioning programs are handled by coaches of other sports — usually the football program.
“I came over, saw the vision and saw what they wanted to build."
— Kyle Gilbert
But when his boss at UCF informed Gilbert that Danny Haney, then the athletic director at Windermere Prep, was looking for someone to start a strength and conditioning program on campus, he decided to listen to what they had to say — and he was impressed.
“I came over, saw the vision and saw what they wanted to build,” Gilbert said.
That vision included the construction of what is now a state-of-the-art weight room adjacent to the school’s gym, football field and baseball field. Being able to have input on the design and layout of that space was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
Before then, Windermere Prep had been like most other schools, with assistants on head coach Jacob Doss’ football staff running the offseason program. That’s when Haney and Doss, now the athletic director, decided to mimic what has become common in college athletics — having a specific coach for strength and conditioning.
“It’s kind of filtering down to high school now, that you get someone who knows what they’re talking about,” Doss said.
The results of bringing in Gilbert in the spring of 2013 were tangible. Although the Lakers football team went just 5-5 in the fall of 2013, once he had had a full year of working with them, Windermere Prep was suddenly a juggernaut on the gridiron. The Lakers went a perfect 10-0 in 2014 and won the Sunshine State Athletic Conference’s Florida Bowl Championship.
Doss and his staff knew part of the difference was the team’s improved strength, explosiveness and endurance — and the athletes recognized it, too.
“You know in the end that (each lift or drill) is always for a greater purpose,” said Skyler Rideout, now a senior. “He creates an environment where you want to push yourself — you don’t want to stay average forever.”
The effects transcended just football, too. Doss said athletes from swimmers to girls volleyball players have repeated a common refrain to their coaches: They feel more explosive in their movements and less fatigued late in games.
“(Working with Gilbert) completely changed my body. ... By the middle of my sophomore year, I started noticing changes in my body. It’s like a feeling you get. You feel more explosive.”
— Xion Golding
Xion Golding, a senior on the Lakers basketball team, came to campus as a skinny ballplayer who played a finesse style of the game. Four years later, you surely wouldn’t know that by looking at him.
“(Working with Gilbert) completely changed my body,” Golding said. “When I came here as a freshman, I was really skinny, wasn’t that fast and couldn’t really jump. By the middle of my sophomore year, I started noticing changes in my body. It’s like a feeling you get. You feel more explosive.”
From Jacksonville, where he played football and was on the weightlifting team at Bishop Kenny, Gilbert said he always felt at home in the weight room.
“I kind of enjoyed the off-season of sports I played in high school more than I enjoyed in-season,” Gilbert said. “I never missed a day.”
Gilbert knew he wanted to be involved in sports when he went to college, initially choosing to study athletic training at Florida State University. He quickly realized, though, that the reactive nature of being an athletic trainer wasn’t for him. He wanted to be working with athletes on the front end, so he transferred to UCF, where he could intern and apprentice under master strength coach Ed Ellis — a star within the college strength and conditioning industry.
Gilbert learned a lifetime worth of information while at UCF under Ellis, and his knowledge has been crucial in getting the buy-in of a WPS student body chock full of future Ivy Leaguers.
“Kids now want to know why — and he’s so good at that,” Doss said. “(Gilbert) knows the science behind every movement.”
Gilbert has embraced the high-level of academia on the campus.
“These kids are cream-of-the-crop academic kids, so I can do more high-level things and put more on them where I don’t necessarily have to babysit them,” Gilbert said.
“If you’re a DII kid, I want you to become DI-AA. If you’re a DI-AA, I want you to be a DI kid. That’s the process here.”
— Kyle Gilbert
Where he once dreamed of working with college athletes, Gilbert now is obsessed with building college athletes.
“If you’re a DII kid, I want you to become DI-AA. If you’re a DI-AA, I wanted you to be a DI kid,” Gilbert said. “That’s the process here.”
Rideout is a good example of that philosophy. After skipping his freshman season because of a lack of interest, Rideout bought into Gilbert’s training plan and went from a kid with virtually no shot at playing beyond in high school to an athlete who will play Division III football in Pennsylvania this fall.
“He’s a great kid with a great attitude,” Doss said. “And then, all of a sudden, he started getting really strong and explosive.”
It is a transformation that is not lost upon the Lakers seniors.
“I was reluctant,” Rideout recalled. “(Working with Gilbert) has entirely changed my life.”
Now, workouts in the weight room are something Rideout and his teammates always look forward to — with one exception.
“Unless it’s front squats,” Rideout said with a laugh. “That’s completely awful.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].