MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -
If you just so happen to catch yourself speaking to Middle Tennessee strength coach Robb Rogers on the phone after - say - 8:30 p.m., be prepared to have a little patience as he may have a tendency to dot the conversation with a few yawns. It's not that he's bored or trying to be rude. It's just that when you put in the kind of days he's been putting in lately, the sandman drops by early and he hits hard. "We've been so busy lately," says Rogers, who typically begins his day early in the morning and ends it at around 7 p.m. As the July temperature rises and the heat of the middle Tennessee summer envelopes everything, Rogers has but one thing on his mind; getting his Blue Raider gridiron warriors ready for crisp fall Saturday afternoons. MT, who is being touted as the top-squad in the Sun Belt Conference, begins its season on August 30 at nearby Vanderbilt. "During the spring," says Rogers, "we're really focusing on our speed, power, and strength. But now we're getting ready to play football and we've really taken our fitness to another level." Although workouts in the summer are optional per NCAA rules, Rogers reports that 90 percent, or around 75 players, are showing up in his weight room to go through conditioning on a regular basis. And for Rogers, who worked for free during the early part of his career just so he could be a strength coach, says that's just the way he likes it. "We've really had optimal turnout," he says. "I feel like we're ahead from where we were last year at this point. Some of the things our guys are doing in the weight room are just unbelievable." Some of the shows that have been particularly interesting to Rogers are Jason Spray
's 600-pound squats, Tyrone Calico
's 350-pound power clean, and Joey Montalbano
doing dips while wearing four weight vests and holding a dumbbell, which adds around 200 pounds to an already excruciating exercise. As far as the speed is concerned, Kerry Wright
and Hansford Johnson
are causing even a veteran coach like Rogers, who has worked with some of the best in the NFL and NHL has to offer, to shake his head. "I haven't seen too many guys in my career do what those two can," he says. What they can do is run a drill called a 5-10-5 shuttle run in under four seconds. To simplify it; the two receivers can run to the kitchen, eat a ham sandwich, make a phone call and take a quick nap, all before the commercials end. Rogers keeps tabs of his player's workouts with calculated precession. He's looking for his players to still be ready in the fourth quarter while the other squad is standing, desperately gasping for air. "In a football game," says Rogers, "the ball is snapped about once every 45 seconds. What we try to do in practice is emulate the ball being snapped every 25 seconds." The key phrase among Blue Raider coaching staff members during the spring and summer months is "game-shape."
Rogers contends that his team is in game-shape before they go to camp in August.
"Most teams use summer camp to get in game-shape," he says. "We want to be able to start fast."
All of this hasn't been recent either. Middle Tennessee football players have been preparing for the approaching campaign since back in January. Rogers says that he expects his team to have at least 145 workouts in before camp starts and 180 before kick-off at Vanderbilt's Dudley Field.
"The demands we put on the players are really intense," says Rogers. "We'll do something different everyday. Monday is speed, Tuesday is power, Wednesday is footwork and agility, Thursday is strength and Friday is fitness. And we'll get 100 percent out of you every day."
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