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Samson\'s Division I-A Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year: Jay Butler

by: David Purdum
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Rutgers running back Brian Leonard knows strength and conditioning coordinator Jay Butler played a major role in the Scarlet Knights’ amazing turnaround. But that doesn’t mean he always enjoyed Butler’s tactics.

“Along with the strength, conditioning and speed, he’ll do things to make you mentally tough,” said Leonard. “He’ll do the worst things you could ever think of. Like after a long day of winter conditioning, you’ll be real tired, and the next day, he’ll wake you up early and make you do three laps around the field just to piss you off. That’s just what he does, and it just makes you more mentally tough.”

That’s not the only mental game Butler plays with his athletes. He loves to press their buttons and test his players anyway he can.

In an effort to strengthen his receivers’ hands, he’ll put five quarters in a bucket and bury them in sand. Receivers are then asked to dig through the sand as fast as possible until all the quarters are found.

“Sometimes I’ll tell them that there’s six quarters in there,” laughed Butler, the Samson Strength and Conditioning College Coach of the Year. “They’ll be digging and digging, and look at me and say, ‘Coach, I can’t find the other one.’ I’ll laugh and tell them to keep digging.”

Butler is now heading into his seventh season at Rutgers. Since arriving from Dartmouth, he has experienced the highs and lows of a program that has done a complete 180. In his first two years at Rutgers, the Knights won a total of three games. Four years later, the Scarlet Knights have made back-to-back bowl appearances and are fresh off their first post season victory.

Butler believes the program has turned the corner. But the 37-year-old is too humble to take credit for the turnaround, often redirecting praise toward the players and other coaches. Those are exactly the people that say Butler is a major reason for Rutgers’ success.

“There is no one I would rather have leading our strength and conditioning program than Jay Butler,” said head coach Greg Schiano. “He has been a big part of any of the success we have had here at Rutgers. He has been here since day one and has done a terrific job.” Added Leonard, “He’s one of the main reasons we got things turned around. He would bring these young guys in there that have never lifted before and increases their bench 100 pounds in the first year.”

Rutgers’ Architect of Everything Physical

Butler is much more than the Knights’ weightlifting guru. From the new state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility to players’ body composition, he is the architect of everything physical at Rutgers. Two years ago, he oversaw a $12.5 million expansion to the Hale Center Football Complex. With attention to detail, Butler designed Rutgers’ 15,000-square foot facility, which features an interactive digital classroom, a computer lab, video room and a 150-seat theater for film work.

The facility has more than 100 machine and free-weight stations. It also has a 4-foot deep pool, which is used primarily during recovery periods.” We’re primarily a free-weight team,” he said. “In total volume and time, we probably spend 85 percent on free weights. There are some [machine] exercises that you absolutely need, like some of your lower body stuff, leg curl and reverse hyper.”

One of the unique facets of the Hale Center’s weight room is also one of the most important, says Butler. The weight room is divided by a 50-yard track. The five-foot wide piece of turf allows players to jump straight off the weights and begin conditioning. “It really has made our workouts a lot more efficient,” Butler said. “We don’t have to leave and walk outside or over to the bubble to get some of our basic conditioning done.”

Butler tailors his individual workouts to focus on each athlete’s body composition, the percentage of fat, bone and muscle in their body. He measures body composition with a Bod Pod, an egg-shaped device that resembles something from the old TV series, “Mork and Mindy.” For a young offensive lineman who needs to build his core strength, Butler has a focus of each day’s workout. For example, Monday and Friday’s focus would be on acceleration, lower body power and upper body push strength; Tuesday’s: COD, lower body strength/bend and upper body pull strength; Wednesday: individual lineman drills; Thursday: Foot quickness, balance and stability, upper body push/pull. (See ‘Off Season Training Program for Offensive Linemen with Low Training Years’)


This season, Rutgers played a game on a Saturday, Friday, Sunday and Thursday. The varying schedule made routines not so routine and recovery time an important issue. The day after a game, starters and players who played at least 30 plays will spend approximately 40 minutes doing conditioning drills in the pool. After the pool, the starters will lift.

“It’s primarily a full-body-type lift,” said Butler. “We will actually power clean and squat and some pressing, get some good blood flow. Then, we’ll have a long stretch before they go have dinner and watch film.”

The players who didn’t see the field during the game endure one of the toughest workouts of the week on the day after a game. “It’s a hard day for those guys,” said Butler. “Thursday’s a light practice; Friday they did nothing, and if they didn’t play much in the game, they were off on Saturday and Monday’s their day off. So they actually get a hard day on Sunday or the day after the game.”

For obvious reasons, Butler says that his younger players that may travel with the team but not see much playing time should use the in season differently than the varsity starters.

“They still need the development,” he said. “They need to continue to try and make strength gains and power gains during the season.”

The Hardest Workouts

Leonard, who developed into an NFL prospect under the training of Butler, remembers the horrors of some of the workouts. "Summer workouts were horrible. Winter conditioning wasn't much fun either," said Leonard with a smile. "We had to walk sumo squat for 100 yards, can't go below 90 degrees. By the time you get down there, your legs are on fire, burning."

Butler just laughs about hearing the sob stories. He knows the sumo walk isn't nearly the toughest task he asks players to do during the off season.

Each year, there comes a time when Butler would want to completely wear his team out, break them down so he can build them back up bigger and stronger. He came up with a drill off the top of his head for just that occasion.

Players are divided up into six four-man groups and positioned on the outside of the field. "One guy in each group has a bar with 45 pounds on each side, 145 pounds," explained Butler. "He's going to do a walking lunge, drop his back knee and you're walking. The second guy in his group is going to sprint in the opposite direction until the two meet back up. If they start at the goal line, depending on how fast the guy is running, they'll usually meet back up at around the 30-yard line. It's brutal."


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