While many students enjoyed a summer at home, more than 70 football players remained on a deserted University of Richmond campus—more than 40 of whom were lifting their way into the 1,000-pound club.
Head strength and conditioning coach Chris Stewart said athletes aren’t required to be at school over the summer; however, when head coach Danny Rocco came to campus in 2012, he brought hopes for returning the winning culture to Richmond—a culture that would be built with a foundation in the weight room.
Stewart navigates through NCAA rules and restrictions that attempt to level the playing field at all schools and keep athletes safe.
“Training is a year-round process,” Stewart said, “but summer is huge because we’re setting the players up. Football is a contact sport, so you’re already going to have higher risk of injury, but if these kids aren’t in shape, it starts to affect their focus.
“They start to play with poor technique, they lose strength and they lose endurance, which leads to injury, so they need to be in shape for health reasons.”
Since Richmond is a private school, it costs the athletic department a lot to fund summer school for an athlete. The athletic department is only able to fund a small percentage of the football team, Stewart said.
“The rest of the guys who aren’t funded are responsible for finding a place to stay, a job, anything for them to be available to train,” Stewart said. “And to their credit it’s completely on their own.”
In phase one of Stewart’s summer program, the players lift four days during the week with a focus on becoming as strong as possible. After July 4, the players go into phase two when, in addition to lifting three days a week, the players work on their speed and agility.
Summer is the time for players to test and find out what lifting club they will be in. “The clubs start at 1,000 pounds and go all the way up to however strong you are,” Stewart said. “We take three lifts total—power clean, back squat and bench press—total those up, and that’s what club you’re in.”
This year, there are more than 40 players in clubs ranging from 1,000 to 1,400 pounds. Thomas Evans, a red-shirt freshman, is the sole member of the 1,400–pound club.
Stewart previously worked at the University of Tennessee where players are constantly trying to lose weight because they are too big to move, he said. “At Richmond, athletes are always trying to get bigger and stronger.” This often means that players consume chocolate milk in place of a post-workout supplement and sometimes can require players to go on “diets” consisting of up to 7,000 or 8,000 calories per day.
Upperclassmen such as senior defensive back DeShawn Holmes, member of the 1,200-pound club, know the value of the summer program.
“I’ve benefited the most by getting my body ready for the coming competition during the summer workouts,” Holmes said. “The summer program is my favorite because it creates the most team chemistry, which allows the incoming freshmen to get on board with the rest of the team.”
At the end of the summer, Stewart gives his players the last week in July to go home and get refreshed before they return to Richmond for preseason camp in August.
“My philosophy for camp is that we want to do enough work where we sustain their level at that time because camp is very demanding,” Stewart said. “It’s around-the-clock. You’re getting up early; you’re either in meetings or at practice. It’s a very controlled environment; it’s 100 percent football.”
Training continues when the season begins.
“During the season, we lift Wednesday and Sunday after games,” Stewart said. “If we didn’t do anything on Sunday, they are going to do what I would do on Sunday. They’re going to sit on the couch and watch football. That’s not going to help the blood flow or help them recover, so Sunday helps us get ready for the week.”
The football team hopes to compete for as long as possible this season, but when the season inevitably ends, strengthening and conditioning will soon after begin again. January includes a full schedule of training and offseason competitions with Stewart while February includes winter conditioning when the football coaches are allowed to be present.
“Because the players spend so much time in the weight room, I want them to think of it as the barbershop,” Stewart said. “I want it to be a place they love to be, because in the weight room everybody is training. Everybody is a starter, so we get after it. Coach Rocco makes it a point to make sure the guys know they have a role.”
For young players such as Evans, the strongest guy on the team, this is especially true.
“All of the guys on the team get along pretty well regardless, but lifting gives me a specific role on the team,” Evans said. “It’s all about the big picture, and whatever I can do to get better.”
Contact Collegian Reporter Lauren Shute at firstname.lastname@example.org.