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March 2014

March 2014

Samson Equipment’s Strength and Conditioning Coaches of the Year

by: David Purdum
© March 2014

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Luke Richesson

Denver Broncos

Background - Luke Richesson began his coaching career at his alma mater, the University of Kansas, in 1997 after a four-year career playing safety for the Jayhawks. After one season as a strength and conditioning intern, he spent the next season at the University of Wyoming and the following two at Arizona State University as a graduate assistant before becoming the performance team director at Athlete’s Performance in Tempe.

During his eight years with the company, he trained 52 first-round NFL draft picks as well as four players that went No. 1 overall. In 2009, he became the strength and conditioning coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and was hired to the same position in Denver in 2012.

What made the 2013 season memorable?
I think that the number one thing that I will look back on is all of the obstacles that we  had to overcome with our team to enjoy the success that we did. When I think back at all of the things that could have been a distraction and that we were able to keep focused on the task at hand, I am very happy. In Colorado, there were natural disasters, fires, and all of that awful weather. We have had injuries, we have had players go down, players step up, Coach Fox had some health issues he had to overcome and it just seemed like the next guy up answered the bell and put their best foot forward for the team.

Once one or two players get injured, a lot of teams have a big drop off but our guys maintained a solid effort. When we look back in a few years from now - even with the Super Bowl - I think that will be what everyone is most proud of. That is, that we had a collective, team effort to do what we did.
Did you have to adjust your training fundamentals to prepare the team for the up-tempo offense it ran with Peyton Manning?

The shocking thing is I didn’t change them one bit. When I say Peyton runs a tight ship, I mean when he takes over, everyone must be on the same page. That starts from communication to the audibles to the expectation of the execution of the play. When he came into our world he fell right in line. He was just another player. He never questioned anything and never asked, “Why are we doing this?” When we started one thing was understood – that we know what we’re talking about and we have his best interests in mind. There were no questions, it was only full throttle.

When we got started we had a talk with Peyton and what the offense was going to be doing during our OTAs. One of the main things that is important to realize is at that point we don’t have to be ready to run at the speed of OTAs and not play a real game. Sometimes people think you have to be in the best shape of your life all the way through, but you don’t. We did a real good job making sure our guys were ready to compete at whatever phase they were in and not have them do things just to put miles on the car. We were not going to run guys just to run guys. A lot of the conditioning was done in practice and, on the other hand, we had to make sure we were managing fatigue and had strategies in place for soft tissue recovery and the regeneration process. It really worked well.

What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?
We base everything off of the Functional Movement Screen and at this level it gives us a quick snapshot as to how the body moves and functions. So, first and foremost we base all of our movement patterns around that system. But from there is where training can get confused when you try to be cute. You can be all over the place. We train hard. Our guys lift heavy loads at speed and we challenge our guys to be stronger at the end of the season than they were at the beginning. Part of an adaptive training model will use different techniques for different groups and some of that can include MMA and boxing. That has a place and a purpose with the O-line and the D-line but it’s not something that we do with the entire team. Those guys express power and develop a mean edge.

I like things run a certain way. There is no freelancing in the weight room. It’s our way and not your way because we feel that the way we do things is the best way and the team has responded well. The guys need to understand and buy-in that there is a well thought out plan for recovery, strength, power, flexibility, and movement skills. Once you get the plan in place for success and guys start to see that it is working, the cycle becomes much easier.

Do you have a favorite movement?
We use the adaptive training model which means we will use different techniques for different groups. Quality of movement is the baseline across the position groups but horsepower is the ultimate goal across the board. Our guys lift heavy loads at speed and we challenge our guys to be stronger at the end of the season than they were at the beginning.

What would be your tips for other coaches?

I have four areas I have always stuck with when I started a new phase of training – the first thing is to start with your goal(s) for the program and write them down. As you develop your thoughts, use your goals as a check and balance system to see if what you are writing on paper is actually going to help achieve your goal. A lot of times we can get off track if we don’t stay focused on the goal. Second is to make sure the program you are writing is the best program you can write or is the best program you can implement for yourself, your staff and the weight room as well as the equipment that you have to use.

Third is to make sure the quality of movement has to be the foundation for players. If it is not, then you are compromising their health and limiting their potential. Heavy loads will come in due time. Don’t sacrifice movement quality for a number on a board. Last but not least - you must practice what you preach. You will not fully be able to answer the first three questions on the checklist if you do not put yourself through the paces. It has to be a way of life. 

College FBS:

Ivan Lewis

University of Washington

Background - Ivan Lewis recently accepted the head strength and conditioning position at USC after completing five seasons at the University of Washington in the same capacity. Prior to being on the Huskies coaching staff, Lewis worked with quarterbacks and linebackers at USC for two seasons. His first stint with the Trojans introduced him to current Seattle Seahawks S &C coach, Chris Carlisle, who won the Samson Equipment NFL Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year Award in 2013.
How do you go about earning the trust of the USC athletes after having so much success at a rival school?
I think we did a lot of great things last year at Washington but I am in a different place now and I like to always be looking forward. I think that I have the best job in the world at USC and I think that the best way to build the types of relationships that it takes to be successful in this position is best started by being yourself.

You have to first gain the respect of the athletes – and it is more than just being their coach – and I think that the way I do that is by being consistent. I am not a guy that people are going to wonder which version of me they are going to get. I don’t get too high, and I don’t get too low. I set the expectations and I try to put a plan in place to have those expectations met. At USC, we are expecting our guys to be at a “dominating level” and be alpha males. We are not looking to just survive but we want to dominate. If we see someone just surviving, we are going to reset the drill and start over. We do it for everyone and it isn’t personal. We want them to be better because we know they can be better. At the end of the day, there is a winner and a loser. No matter how great the game was played, someone will win and someone will lose. We are pushing our guys to win and have that dominating mentality.

Does coming back to USC with Coach Sarkisian after the time spent together at Washington make the transition easier?
Without a doubt. We have worked together for nine years now and have a tremendous relationship. He gave me my first real opportunity in Washington and asked me to come back to USC with him. We have a trust and a relationship that I think you need to have between a head coach and a strength coach. There are times in the summer workouts that he can’t have contact with the players but I am with them on a daily basis. I have to be somewhat of an extension of him. He has to trust me to get his message and his vision across. The players have to know that he trusts me and that I am acting as a representative of him. The last five years has continued to build that relationship between us. When we first got to Washington we thought that some of the linemen were a little too big and not moving the way we thought hey should. There were some other things we had to make over in the program but we both had the same vision for how to get that accomplished and I think we will bring that with us back to USC.
What is your philosophy for strength and conditioning?
I think it is important to train for the game of football; that is, to train athletes’ bodies for the movements they will be making in their sport and train their minds to be ready to compete at the highest level. A tennis player isn’t going to be on the same training program that a football player is and having one set training regimen is not going to train each player to be his best. This is not a one-size fits-all program.

Our offensive and defensive linemen are on a different weight program than our receivers and defensive backs. Our quarterbacks are on a completely different program than everyone. Our warm-ups and agility drills will all be similar but from there it is specific training for the movements each player needs. Also, I think it is important to always “Have the Why.” It is important to be able to tell the guys why they are doing everything you ask them to do. If you tell the offensive linemen to go run two miles and they ask you why – because it isn’t something they are going to do on Saturdays – then there has to be a reason for it.
What is a universal movement that all positions can be using?
Hip flexibility is something all football players can work on. It is a big thing that we try to do at every position and something we believe is extremely important. It can help with explosion off the line of scrimmage, a linebacker with his lateral movement, a cornerback backpedaling and reacting to a receiver, a receiver creating flexibility when he needs to make a catch, and for running backs to shift weight and make cuts. When we first get guys in, we test them to see how stiff or how flexible their hips are and we work on it from there. Having a good range of motion and being a more limber athlete will help no matter what the position.
Do you have any tips for coaches?

Take the time to train correctly. So many kids at the high school level are not being taught the correct way to strength train and we are seeing more groins and shoulders being injured than ever before. That is, kids with hip, knee, sports hernias – you name it. Kids will come in and think they can squat 400-plus pounds, and while some can, the majority are not doing it right. There will be kids squatting on their toes, their chest isn’t in the right place and they are hurting themselves with horrible, horrible form. They will be hurting their knees and their hips.

Making sure that the technique is correct and you are doing it right and then gradually building weight is proper strength training. If you are getting hurt lifting and coming to me with a sport hernia that needs surgery or treatment, you are setting yourself a year behind if not more because of the time you will lose that can’t be made up.

College: FCS

Jim Kramer

North Dakota State
Background - Jim Kramer completed his tenth season as the director of athletic performance at North Dakota State University by celebrating the Bison’s third consecutive FCS National Championship. Kramer came to NDSU during the 2003-04 season and has been an integral part of the rise of the program under the direction of Head Coach Craig Bohl. He previously was the strength and conditioning coordinator at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Kramer has also coached at Appalachian State, Georgia Tech, and Northern Iowa.
What made the 2013 season memorable?

It was seeing those seniors keep working and not getting complacent because they could have taken it easy and they didn’t. I guess that’s what I would be most proud of in the last five years. They didn’t rest on their laurels and they didn’t get comfortable. They just kept pushing for more and more and more. I think that says a lot about those young men to set that tone. Every one was pushing forward. The coaches – led by Craig Bohl - set the mentality and it starts at the top and definitely spread out to the team and the staff. I think it was contagious for the whole athletic department. There was a mentality that something greater was happening and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?
We are a hands-on staff. We coach in the weight room how we coach on the field. That was the way I was taught by my mentors and the people that I had worked with. Bottom line is that it’s not about the reps. It’s not necessarily about any specific exercise. It’s about being hands on, being out there with the athlete, making changes, adapting and not adapting. We train football players to be football players. Being a defensive back is not the same thing as your receiver and they are trained differently. A defensive back is going to spend half his time moving backward down the field and the receiver spends most of his life on the field going forward. So, it’s sports-specific, position-specific.

Do you have a favorite movement?

It’s not a performance thing in terms of getting stronger faster because there isn’t a magic drill for getting kids stronger in a quicker period of time. It goes with having a plan. What we focus on is in the conditioning. We aren’t running too many straight ahead drills and we aren’t doing conditioning tests come fall because if we are doing our jobs in the summer and the kids are doing their jobs, everyone should be ready to go.

But to get there, what we do is called “patterned running” and it has been around for a long time. It is position specific movements for each group. The players will have 10 reps to do and then have 20 seconds in between each rep. It is all designed to simulate the pace of an average, 10-play drive. We are always looking to do things that involve football-related movements. So, for a receiver there will be some sprints, some change of direction where they are running routes and then simulating catching a pass. We focus on simulating the movements that they will be using on the football field.
Do you have any tips for other coaches?
There are a lot of tips but I think there needs to be an emphasis on nutrition. That is, just getting back to eating three meals a day and not skipping meals. If they can develop those habits while young then they will have that throughout their career. You have too many parents just taking them through the fast food drive getting their lunch and dinner. I believe that proper nutrition can take them a long way. There is more to it than just that pre-game meal and it has to do with their development. 
Do you do anything specific with nutrition at NDSU?
A lot of our athletes spend the summer here and the food options are pretty limited. Sometimes it is as simple as having to teach them how to eat. We have to literally teach them how to cook and how to grocery shop. Things like that. We are hands on. We’ll take them to the grocery store and show them what they’re supposed to buy. We teach them how to cook on campus. We teach them how to prepare for the summer. The bottom line is that the athletes are not going to physically develop and reach their potential if they’re not eating properly.

College: Division II
Larry Varnado, Jr.
Eastern New Mexico University
Background - Concluding his third season as the strength and conditioning coach at Eastern New Mexico University, Larry Varnado also works as an assistant coach with the defensive line. Varnado was a four-year letterman for ENMU as a defensive lineman and finished his career with 156 solo tackles and 21 for loss. He was part of the 1998 ENMU team that finished in the Top 10 of Division II in total defense and in 2001 he was named first team All-Lone Star Conference. He spent two seasons as a graduate assistant before joining the staff full time.
What made the 2013 season memorable?

We finally started to see some of the efforts in the weight room pay off late in the games. We were a second half team and outscored our opponents by a lot after the break. Our defensive coordinator (Oliver Soukoup) has been helping out and I think that it really made a difference. A few years ago we would wear down and this year we turned it on, so that is what I will look back on.
What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?
As a former player, I know what it is like to be in the weight room and get bored so I try to make sure we are rotating our exercises. We aren’t just doing change for the sake of change, but we try not to do the same thing week-in and week-out. Also, we are not getting the five-star recruits in here and so sometimes we need to do the lifts just to make the guys better athletes and not just better football players. I am focused on the Olympic exercises. We have to build a base and sometimes that is adding weight to an athlete. Sometimes it is losing weight so we do lifts that have a full range of motion and have a lot of variations that make the athletes become more fluid.

Do you have a favorite movement?
If I had to pick one it would be squat variations. I like the variety that you can get with Olympic lifts. I’m sure every program is doing that now but in my experience the variety of motions can give you a more complete workout. The different lifts you can do with the squat sets are things that make an athlete have to adapt his body, open his hips, and get that strong base. Once you build a strong base you can put a lot more into your workout.
Do you have any coaching tips?
Keep it simple and stick to Olympic lifting. You can improve your body from the ground up, become more flexible, become more fluid, and be stronger in your legs and become more explosive. I think the lifts that keep both feet on the ground are going to make football players better so stick with them.

High School: Eastern Region
Mark Hoover
Piedmont High School (NC)
Background - Mark Hoover is a USA Weightlifting certified instructor and competitor who also serves as both the defensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coach at Piedmont High School. He has coached the previous 12 years in North Carolina on the high school level. He has also coached at high schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
What made 2013 a memorable season?
This was a buy-in year for our kids. This was only the fifth time since 1960 that our school won eight games and I think when we look back it will be a turning point. It is the second year with our new head coach and this staff and I think from the kids, coaches, community, administration – at least from a strength and conditioning perspective – that everyone really had that moment where they realized that this phase of the game is important. I think there used to be the thought that, “Oh, I guess I’ll lift today,” or “Oh, it’s August - time to get in shape for the season,” but that is gone. People have really embraced a true strength and conditioning program so, for me, that was something I will look back on.
Outside of the USAW approach, what is your philosophy on strength and conditioning?

You are either in or you are out. I think it can be that simple and I think that people are realizing that. Once you get a program in place and you start to see results, it will be a cycle that builds and, if you aren’t involved on a daily basis, you will fall behind. Kids that think they are just going to show up in August and then see the field in September are learning very quickly that they are way behind and they aren’t going to be able to catch up that quickly and get the kind of playing time they want.
What are your favorite movements?
Olympic weightlifting, hands down. I can’t imagine preparing kids to participate in any performance sport where most of their training movements are not done with both feet on the floor and using multiple extensions. We do it for our males and female athletes in all sports. If our athletes didn’t like doing it so much I wouldn’t program the bench press because I just cannot find a way that a bench press correlates to performance or production. If I could only do two movements it would be the clean-and-jerk, and then the snatch. If I was able to get a third in, it would be squat variations.
Do you have tips for other coaches?
Do your research and set up a proper training program. I am a firm believer in the science behind strength and conditioning and I make sure I continue to educate myself so that I can educate others. We have a strength and conditioning class and it isn’t just designed for our athletes so I make sure that every kid who comes in knows that it isn’t a weightlifting class. It is important to train for flexibility, power, and speed but the athletes also need a specific program to show improvement.

High School: Central Region
Fred Eaves
Battle Ground Academy (TN)

Background - Fred Eaves recently completed his second season as the defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, Tennessee. Eaves is responsible for the overall strength and conditioning program for 17 other sports as well as football. The school won its first district title in over a decade last fall. Prior to accepting the position at BGA, Eaves coached at the University of Tennessee as well as LSU and also on the high school level at Alcoa High School (TN).
What made the 2013 season memorable?
The easy answer is winning that district title, on our home field, against a rival, and in dominating fashion. But I think what will stick in my mind is just how young we were and how committed everyone was. We only had four seniors but even with all of the younger players, there was a maturity and level of dedication that I will remember.
What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?
We first train the body in the same manner that it will be used for performance but beyond that is progression overload. We have five different levels for high school males and five different levels for high school females where each level is different exercises and different progressions. We can then make sure that they have a solid base and are ready to move to the next level. I think too many times you see everyone in the weight room and a coach will blow the whistle and everyone does the power clean or whatever the movement is. Not everyone is ready for that at the same time and not everyone is doing it correctly at the same time. We are not going to train a 13 year-old freshman the same way as an 18 year-old senior.

What is your favorite movement?

I was trained on Olympic movements and so that is where I tend to fall in my overall philosophy. I think they are the most effective when taught correctly. What I see is that people are moving in that direction but they aren’t doing it correctly and so it is that correct repetition that makes the difference. I tell our kids all the time that if you are going to build a house, you have to do it on a solid foundation. You can put up really big numbers on a clean but if you aren’t getting hip extension, you are just muscling up the weight and not actually getting any of the benefits of this movement.
Do you have any tips for coaches?
It is “coach speak” but I think relationships are the key to getting the most out of your players. Kids simply are not going to respond to a coach that is yelling at them. With Xbox and all the other things that kids have to distract them, those coaches that yell and scream are going to get the reps done but not see the improvement they are looking for  – if the kid doesn’t just quit the team. If I can build a relationship with a kid and make him the person I want him to be, then he will want to be a better athlete. I am not going to have to count their reps or stand by them for every set. It doesn’t have much to do with the movements or a strength and conditioning program so much as it does being the type of person people want to work for.

High School: Southern Region
Richard Slater
Katy High School (TX)

Background - Richard Slater has coached his way across the country to get to Katy High School. Slater started his career in Montana, then made stops in California and Oklahoma, as well as Kansas before multiple schools in Texas lead him to this national powerhouse. He doubles as the defensive line coach in addition to being the director of the strength and conditioning program.
What made 2013 memorable?
We won the state title in 2012 and I think what I will take away from 2013 is seeing how hard the kids worked to get back this year. It was very rewarding as a staff. It makes the long hours we work and the community support we receive feel worth it when you get to watch the kids put in that effort. There is a track record here that starts with Head Coach Gary Joseph and there are high expectations. Even though we were not able to repeat, I think the kids worked as hard as I have seen in my eight years here.
What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?
From a strength and conditioning standpoint, we are simply looking to make sure our athletes are performing at their best. We want them to be strong but it isn’t always all about lifting and being strong in the weight room. We will focus on change of direction, explosiveness, and incorporate more things that aren’t just raw strength and straight ahead speed. We also focus on the mental aspect by putting kids in pressure situations in the weight room. If we are going to play in front of 40,000 people for a quarterfinals playoff game and 50,000 in the state finals, they need to be mentally ready for that so we put pressure on them in the weight room.
What is your favorite movement?
I don’t think we are much different than other schools in that we focus on our squats, front squats, power clean, and hang cleans. We think that will help make every player – regardless of position – a better athlete.
Do you have any tips for coaches?
I think there needs to be a focus on consistency. For us, that starts with our Head Coach, Gary Joseph. He has been here almost 30 years and will tell you about the lean years when Katy won just one or two games. When you put on a tape of Katy over the last 15-20 years, it all looks the same. The name on the back of the jersey will change but the results will look the same. When you set your expectations high, kids will work to meet them but being consistent is the key. That tone has been set from the top down and it has worked very well for us.

High School: Western Region
Tony Calvello
St. Ignatius College Prep (CA)

Background - Tony Calvello has been with the St. Ignatius College Prep program since 1995 and is certified by the NSCA-CSCS, USAW-Level 1, and TRX. He oversees the strength and conditioning program for 26 sports at St. Ignatius and works in concert with Brian Keaney who is directly responsible for the football team’s strength and conditioning program.
What is the philosophy for your strength and conditioning program?
We are based on Ian Jeffries’ Quadrennial Training Model and strive to facilitate a healthy transition for our adolescent athletes from junior high to college through developmentally appropriate challenges in a variety of modalities at various times in the school and the competition calendar. Our chief curricular objective is to promote intellectual engagement in the process of smart training over “hard work”. We incorporate logs, nutritional education and analysis, proper self-care training and recovery habits. Above all, we educate the whole athlete – heart, mind and body.
Do you have any favorite movements?
Our favorite protocol is a balance of Olympic variations, TRX and traditional power lifting. Every workout consists of a mobilization, an activation, an Olympic lift, a squat, a press, a row and core work. Coach Keaney believes in anything front-loaded and any exercises that involve single leg movements.
Is there something that you are doing differently that you point to for the success of the program?
I think that can be attributed in part to our good fortune to have had over 20 years with a core leadership group on campus. Former Head Coaches Joe Vollert and Steve Bluford, and current Head Coach John Regalia are all a part of the faculty. They all worked together to lay a foundation for the strong training culture that exists today under Coach Keaney. Over the past two seasons, Brian has taken an already strong program to the next level through innovative program design, intensive hands on administration and passionate care for each player’s development. In addition to all the committed and caring people behind our success, our modified block schedule has enabled our athletes to use any of their three “resource periods” during the week to get their training done, often in small groups and in  1-on-1 sessions.
Do you have any tips for coaches?
We train each sport differently. For football, Coach Keaney believes in three principles: live under a bar, create a culture of measurable expectation, and be a life-long learner.


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