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Monday, May 18, 2009
ACC players gear up for June conditioning

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There are several unforgiving hills near the famous Esso Club on Clemson's campus that are particularly grueling for the Tigers' offensive linemen to run up during early summer conditioning drills. And up-downs pile up by the end of Maryland's June workout sessions. At Duke, the strength and conditioning program lacks any tire-flipping tactics and is mainly straightforward Olympic-style lifts.

Many of the strength and conditioning coaches in the ACC share philosophies, but have different methods of getting similar results -- developing bigger, faster, stronger players, and preparing them for the rigors of summer camp. Spring practices are over, but the ACC's "workout warriors" have just begun. Most of the players will participate in a nine-week, voluntary strength and conditioning program that begins at the end of May or in early June, plus a NCAA-mandated week off.

It's sort of like summer camp before, well, summer camp.

Maryland, which has quietly developed a few freakish athletes like former tight end Vernon Davis, tested twice this spring -- the traditional test during March for the 40-yard dash and vertical jump, and an additional test after spring practices ended for squats, cleans and bench press.

"We've got a young team, so we wanted to really push it," said the Terps' longtime strength and conditioning coach, Dwight Galt. "We pushed it big time through spring football, trained really hard and had a great test period this week. We're much stronger now than we were in March, and then we had spring ball, so we're pretty excited about that."

They're also excited about offensive lineman Bruce Campbell, whom Galt described as "exactly like" Davis, only a bigger version at 6-foot-6, 305 pounds. Campbell ran a 4.79 in the 40, benched 490 pounds, squats 565 pounds, and can clean 325 -- his weakest lift.

"We're about ready to unleash Mr. Campbell on the world here," Galt said.

The Terps begin their first summer conditioning session on June 1.

At Clemson, the one constant that has remained through the staff changes is director of strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson, who's been there for 13 years. The Tigers will workout Mondays through Thursdays in June. Mondays are for sprints, Tuesdays are for speed development drills, and the players go on their own for 7 on 7 drills. Wednesdays are power days, when most of the linemen work outside on drills specific to their position, while the skill position players run stadium stairs, hills and the dykes on campus. On Thursday, they go through a five-station agility circuit that's tailored to their specific positions.

Clemson does strength testing twice a year. Performance testing is done in the winter, and at the end of June, the 40-yard dash is timed. Body weight is measured every week. Speedy receiver Jacoby Ford, the fastest player on the roster along with C.J. Spiller, has actually gained about 25 pounds since arrived on campus.

Batson tries to keep things interesting by having contests with the giant tire flip, and he'll have the players push around a one-man bobsled, and they also do sumo style wrestling, where they put two guys in a circle, "lock 'em up" and see which one can push the other out of the ring.

"We try to find things that are safe, but create competition," Batson said. "The key word there is the safety of the completion you're going to do. We want to minimize the chance of injury, but at the same time maximize intensity and competition. That's really the trick to it all. We don't put refrigerators on our back and carry them or things like that. It's very football specific, very safe, and very competitive at the same time."

In the first year under a new staff at Duke, the goal was to lose weight. Now it's getting stronger and becoming more powerful and athletic. Duke strength and conditioning coach Noel Durfey is a self-described "basic guy," and said he doesn't use a lot of "bells and whistles." He incorporates a lot of Olympic lifts, squats and hamstring workouts.

In June, the agility circuits are usually the most challenging. Durfey splits up the offense and the defense, and there are four different stations: An agility/ladder station, a cone station, a reactive drill station and an agility bag station with four or five bags. They've got to sprint through the drills correctly, and if any player in the group of 35 messes up, every player does five up-downs. And every time they have to do the up-downs, it adds a sprint at the end of the run.

"It holds each guy accountable from a discipline standpoint," Durfey said. "We've had days we've gone through the drills and we had to do 25 sprints at the end for mess-ups last year. The goal this summer is to go through that and not have as many mess-ups, get fewer sprints at the end. They're dictating how much conditioning they're doing that day."

The players loved to lift weights under the previous staff, but weren't used to the conditioning standards David Cutcliffe and his staff have set.

"Their psyche was so beat up," Durfey said. "We had to be careful not to come in and put them in situations where we tried to kill 'em, tried to crush 'em. Because it wasn't doing them any good. We were smart with how much we asked them to do."

This year, though, they're asking more in both running and agility.

"Their capacity for work is better. Their mentality is better. They're very willing to do what we ask them to do."