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Winter Conditioning program underway

2006 champs working toward 2007 campaign

February 19, 2007 · Russell Luna
While all the glory of gridiron Saturdays is over until September, the enduring work of winter conditioning has just begun.

It's the winter training program that shapes the football athlete into what Coach Rick Stockstill and his staff wants from their players when the 12 week season begins on Sept. 1.

The man in charge of the winter conditioning program is strength coach Russell Patterson, who was hired in early June 2006 to help improve the team's endurance and physical strength. Since Patterson was hired late in the year he was unable to focus on strength of players in their offseason program in 2006.

Patterson's past success was key to Stockstill's hiring of the former assistant strength coach at Clemson and Appalachian State.

"I have said all along that I want to be surrounded by winners and Russell Patterson truly fits in that mold," said Stockstill. "He has been associated with winning programs at Clemson and Appalachian State and knows what it takes to build success."

"The word conditioning can be misleading," according to Patterson. The winter program, Patterson says, is a time for athletes to further enhance their physique while also establishing a strength base.

"We still run, but it's not really conditioning, it's more of speed development and working on running technique," Patterson said.

The importance of helping players overcome the previous season's injuries is essential to the program as well.

"It's a time of year where guys can focus on getting bigger and stronger and it's also a time of year that guys who have been banged up during the season can heal their injuries," Patterson said.

"The summer time is a time where we focus more on getting the guys in shape and making sure they are in condition to start practice so they can be in the greatest shape they can be in during the regular season. There is so much running going on during the summer, it's hard for guys to make the strength gains that they can in the winter."

The program helps mold a player into a team player.

"Our biggest concern is taking a freshman that is 20 pounds light and putting good quality weight on him or taking an offensive lineman that is 20 pounds over weight and trimming him down. You want to reshape their bodies into what you need them to be for next year," Patterson said.

During the winter program the team is divided into three sections, predominately with the linemen and linebackers working with Coach Patterson, the skill players, such as the running backs and receivers, working with Coach Jason Spray, and Coach Cedric Walthaw handling the combination players, such as fullbacks and tightends. "I am very fortunate to have an extremely hard working staff that has great knowledge in strength & conditioning. They allow us to be more specialized and individualize our program more than other programs," Patterson said.

The groups work on a standard four day split program with special attention to guys that have glaring weaknesses.

Mondays and Thursdays are called the "upper body" days, when players focus on gaining upper body strength combined with foot quickness which is incorporated in their warm up.

Tuesdays and Fridays are days where the athletes work on their lower body strength while also working on plyometrics to increase their explosive output.

The players also run two days a week, where they focus on speed and change of direction rather than conditioning.

"We focus on start mechanics and straight-ahead speed. The other part is focusing on change of direction. The only conditioning is in the repetitiveness. I don't worry about conditioning during this point of the year," Patterson said.

The season is long and hard enough for players, so the staff takes a different conditioning approach in the winter.

"They need a time of the year where they are not being run into the ground. Their bodies need time off."

In mid February, the players then face their toughest test of winter conditioning with 6 AM workouts. They are challenged mentally with an hour of agility and speed development that challenges their toughness and ability to push themselves through pain.

"The early morning workout challenges their mental toughness. It's more to mold them and push them past the point they can handle. You structure this type of exercise to make them more disciplined."

Working out and getting stronger is essential for getting better, but eating nutritious meals is as important as the workouts.

"It's an aspect a lot of people miss," Patterson said. "Food Services on campus works with us during the season. They help prepare the menus the way we want them to. Coach Stockstill is more aware than most coaches about eating the right things. He constantly preaches it in team meetings."

The athlete knows that completing the winter program is a key to success and Coach Patterson notices the difference.

"You want them to carry that over so when it gets tough, they don't want to fold because they have invested so much in the winter," Patterson said.

The persistence and great work ethic helps build the foundation into the winter program that is shaping the Blue Raider football athlete.

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