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AFM Magazine

Strong, Fast, Agile

Oklahoma\'s Jerry Schmidt has a firm grip on his athletes\' progress both off and on the football field.
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The job of the strength coach is not a complicated one. It is to build stronger players and to do it with efficiency and organization.

If you help develop stronger players, your program has a better chance of playing winning football.

And it's not just about building stronger players it's about developing faster and quicker players. Give strong, fast and agile players to a head coach who is worth his salt and he will likely win a lot more games than he loses.

Jerry Schmidt is the director of sports enhancement for the Oklahoma Sooners. No strength and conditioning coach has done more for his school than Schmidt, and he has been named the strength and conditioning coach of the year by American Football Monthly.

When Bob Stoops was hired as head coach at Oklahoma prior to the 1999 season, he brought Schmidt with him from Florida. Schmidt had worked as a strength coach for Tom Osborne at Nebraska, Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, Steve Spurrier at Florida and had also worked briefly at Oklahoma State. He was a proven commodity when he came to Norman with the idea of taking Oklahoma's athletes and hoping to develop them into significantly stronger players. Schmidt has worked with three Heisman Trophy winners and 18 NFL first-round draft choices during his short career and has developed a reputation for great organization and determination.

He says that working with great coaches who support him makes it a much easier job. "Every place I have been I have gotten tremendous support from the head coach," Schmidt said. "That is going to happen when your coaches believe that building stronger players is the key to a good program. It's one of the biggest keys to the success of the program. If your guys are stronger, quicker and faster than the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage, than you are going to stand a better chance of winning. That only makes sense and that's why coaches are going to support you."

During the 1999 season, Schmidt was just the man to lead Oklahoma through a conditioning program that had been proven to limit injuries and keep players in top shape all the way through the end of the season. The Sooners believed that they wouldn't get beaten in the fourth quarter and Schmidt was the man who made them believe it. They needed to be in top shape because the Sooners just did not have a lot of depth when Schmidt arrived in Norman.

"When we got here, it wasn't like the players weren't lifting or they weren't in shape," Schmidt said. "But we knew we had to get better in a lot of different areas and one of those areas included getting stronger. The guys worked extremely hard and there was significant progress. They have continued to work hard and get better."

Partly as a result of Schmidt's efforts, the Sooners went on to win the national championship in 2000 and while they could not defend their title last season, they are clearly among the lead programs in college football. There's no reason to think that they won't stay among the elite programs for many years to come.

In addition to getting support from his coaches, Schmidt designs strength and conditioning programs for individual athletes and positions. For offensive linemen, the key to their success will be building strength. A defensive back needs strength, quickness, speed and agility. Schmidt puts together programs to get the most out of each player.

"Obviously, you want each player to get stronger, faster and quicker, but you have to do it according to your players' needs," Schmidt said. "You want to get the most out of each player and that's why you don't ask an offensive lineman to do what a running back does and you don't ask a quarterback to do what a lineman does. That would not be in the best interests of your team."

Players work out under the watchful eye of Schmidt and his staff. Every exercise is recorded and studied. Players are not asked to get it done on their own. "We have specific goals for all players so all workouts are supervised," Schmidt said. "That's the way to do it if you want to do it the right way. I think the players appreciate that and I think that helps make them better football players."

The biggest influence of Schmidt's career has been Osborne. "He was the first coach to really emphasize strength training and he was the first one to really show how much support he would give to the whole concept of strength building through weight training," Schmidt said. "I really learned so much from coach Osborne and he's had a very big influence on me and the way we do things now."

"One of the key ingredients to success for any collegiate team is speed," noted Schmidt. "While we work strength and conditioning year round, we do special things designed to increase the speed of our athletes. No matter where I've been, the athletes have become faster and more successful."

A native of Harvard, Nebraska, Schmidt served as the director of football strength and conditioning at Florida from 1995-98, where he played a vital role in the Gators' 1996 national championship squad. In 1996, he worked personally with Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Danny Wuerffel and Jim Thorpe Award winner Lawrence Wright.

Schmidt, who was named the 1996 Wynmore Strength Coach of the Year and 1991 Collegiate Strength Coach of the Year by U.S.A. Sports Fitness, graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1986. While in school, he worked with the highly regarded Cornhusker weight program and in 1987 he was named an assistant strength coach at Notre Dame. During his one year with the Fighting Irish, he had the opportunity to train 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown.

Schmidt left Notre Dame for a year to run the strength and conditioning program at Oklahoma State University and work with 1988 Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. He rejoined the Fighting Irish in 1989 as the strength and conditioning coordinator. After six seasons, he left Notre Dame to join the University of Florida.

"I've learned so many things at each of the places I've been," added Schmidt. "The one constant though is each program wanted the best for its athletes and recognized the importance of our area. We will always treat individuals as skilled athletes because they are skilled at their position or sport."

One of the best cases of athletic development under Schmidt's leadership at Oklahoma is LB Torrance Marshall. When Schmidt arrived in Norman, Marshall was a 225-pound linebacker who ran a 40 in the 4.65-4.8 range. As he worked closely with Marshall, his weight and strength increased while his 40 time came down. "Torrance lifted hard and he worked very hard," Schmidt said. "You could see him making progress. By the time the 2000 season came around, his weight was up to 252 pounds and he was running a 4.48 40."

Marshall was later drafted by the Green Bay Packers and was on their roster this season.

Like all strength coaches, Schmidt is concerned about steroid usage and keeping his players off performance-enhancing substances. "We don't have any problems in that area," Schmidt said. "You can't monitor all your players at every moment, but we have random testing and we would find any evidence of usage through that.

"The point we are trying to make with out players is that they can make significant gains by working hard, taking care of themselves and eating properly. Our doctors talk to them about banned substances and that they will not be tolerated. Our job is to emphasize the hard work and the rewards that come from doing it the right way."

Schmidt said that most of his players buy into his gameplan because they see significant progress being made by their teammates. Once players see their teammates making progress, they are getting the reinforcement needed to keep the commitment to work hard and get stronger.

Schmidt enjoys his job because he is working with coaches who understand the importance of what he is doing and with athletes who provide a tremendous effort. "We have a tremendous atmosphere here at Oklahoma," Schmidt said. "I enjoy it and I like seeing players improve in all aspects. I know it's an important job and it's a very rewarding one."


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