Strength, conditioning programs take center stage during summer
| 9:37 a.m. July 30, 2015
WEST ORANGE — The Windermere Prep players circle around, and the anticipation is palpable.
The focus of the day is front squats — a delight or a torture, depending on whom you ask.
After starting the routine in groups and knocking out some repetitions to warm up, the athletes are ready to push themselves with near-maximum loads; one repetition sets — maybe two or three.
Energy flows through the room, as does testosterone. The bar is loaded, and the young athlete has rested it upon his deltoids, below his chin. Displaying good form, his elbows are high — parallel to the floor — with his hands helping to secure the bar.
He squats to an appropriate depth and ascends back to the starting point — that’s one. He descends for another and completes it, though not as easily as the first.
His heart rate is climbing, and technically, he doesn’t need to complete another repetition. But try telling that to his teammates surrounding him. They believe he has one more in him, recognizing this is the kind of moment — a moment when no crowd is watching and the band’s not playing — where football games are won or lost.
He squats down, reaching the bottom of the lift and starts to head back up, but suddenly the weight feels overwhelming. He battles, knowing his strength coach is right behind him, in position to help him out of the lift if he needs. He feeds off of his teammates as they yell louder still and, with one big burst, he pushes through and finishes the third repetition.
The celebration is intense, but short — he’s a hero for a moment, but then it’s the next guy’s turn.
Far from the glory of Friday nights under the lights, summer is a time where strength-and-conditioning coaches take center stage for high-school football programs, and the gains that matter most aren’t measured in yards but rather in pounds and repetitions.
And it’s a shared philosophy throughout the coverage area.
“It’s part of the process; it’s part of the process that you’ve got to have to be successful on Friday nights,” Ocoee head coach Ben Bullock said of his program’s summer regimen. “It’s a stepping stone from what we did in the spring and how we finished the spring to where we want to be in the fall. … We’ve got to be in great shape and able to outlast teams who maybe have superior talent on paper.”
At Ocoee, Bullock and his coaching staff share duties in organizing and executing the Knights’ offseason program, with offensive coordinator Jason Boltus taking the lead. Boltus is also currently a quarterback for the Tampa Bay Storm in the Arena Football League, and his status as a professional player certainly carries credibility with the high-school players.
“He’s been there; he’s done it,” Bullock said.
In fact, former players getting involved in the weight room isn’t a unique phenomena.
For the Olympia Titans, another team with a new coaching staff on campus, Mike Lockley — an alumnus who has played professionally for the Jacksonville Jaguars and in the Canadian Football League — has returned to help his alma mater rebound after a rough go in 2014.
“After football, I transitioned into personal training,” said Lockley, who started a personal training company called Total Body Sports. “When coach Hayes took over, he reached out to me and said he wanted somebody to come back in and help out with the weight room. I live here. Some of these guys look up to me, so I thought the best thing would be to show them how to work hard and tell them how to work hard.”
As players either currently playing professionally or recently removed, strength coaches such as Lockley and Boltus can guide the varsity players in programs centered around not only making strength gains but also making them in ways that apply most logically on the gridiron.
“We’re going to be explosive,” Lockley said. “We want the guys to be big, but they’ve got to be fast and agile, as well.”
Locally, the potential created by an effective strength-training program is best seen in Windermere Prep’s success. The Lakers’ athletic department invested heavily in athletic training in the past three years, hiring Kyle Gilbert as the director of sports performance in 2012 and opening a state-of-the-art weight room — which Gilbert helped to design — around Christmas of that year.
In a matter of a few short seasons, Windermere Prep’s football program has emerged as the premier team in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference, going a perfect 10-0 in 2015 en route to a championship, and head coach Jacob Doss gives much of the credit to the improved athleticism of his players.
Gilbert said his goal in leading the athletes at Windermere Prep — across all of the sports the Lakers field a team in — is to prepare them to be college athletes.
“I’ve gotten to bring a collegiate background to what we’re doing … I try to run it as if we were a college program,” said Gilbert, who studied at the University of Central Florida prior to working for the Knights as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for two years. “I’m preparing these kids for collegiate athletics — hopefully Division I.”