By Doug Gorman
Ask any football coach the secret to a successful football season and they will tell you it starts off the field?in the school's weight room.
Weight lifting and conditioning have become such a valuable part of almost every team's regiment, it's turned into a year-round activity with athletes expected to workout in the summer, winter and during the season.
"I'm not saying weight lifting will prevent injuries, but I think it can help during the course of a long season," said Union Grove head football coach Scott Mason.
Mason believes it was strength and conditioning that helped carry the Wolverines through the grind of a long 10-game regular season and three games into the Class AA state playoffs last season.
Mason points to how conditioning and time in the weight room before the season began helped players such as Joey Waters and Antonio High stay fresh during playoffs.
Waters was the senior quarterback and High the senior running back on a team that finished with a 10-3 record helping the Wolverines win a region football title in just their third season.
"I'm not sure they could have taken all the pounding if it hadn't been for time in the weight room," Mason said
Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes says the Wildcats' approach to every season starts in the weight room.
"It's the cornerstone of what we do. We have weight lifting classes offered for our athletes and I can assure you it's very important for all our sports, not just football."
At Lovejoy athletes have weight lifting programs tailored to their own personal needs and each athlete writes down his progress in a log.
"We aren't trying to turn our athletes into body builders, but each athletes has a body-specific program. We can tell who is serious about it and who is just standing around and pretending," said Hughes, whose team is off to a 2-0 record and ranked seventh in this week's Associated Press football Class AAAAA football poll.
Mt. Zion head coach Jackie Green has been blessed with some massive lineman during his tenure as the Bulldogs' head coach, including 1999 when the team played for a state title.
Despite several successful seasons, a lack of depth has forced several athletes to play on both sides of the football at Mt. Zion.
For the two-way player weight training and conditioning are even more important.
"Our numbers have always been down, but we have always been a well-conditioned football team," Green said. "After the first or second game our guys are in great shape."
Year-round weightlifting can become a little bit monotonous, but Mason has found away for breathing a little life into the team's sometimes boring workout sessions.
At Union Grove football player's records are kept and progress charted inside the school's weight room.
Also, once players obtain set goals at Union Grove their name is sewn on the back of their game jersey.
Most players now accept weight lifting as a necessary part of being on a high school football team. For others, being in the weight room is just another way to get keep their competitive juices flowing.
Senior Chris Coggins, stopped playing football for a time in order to concentrate on baseball. When he returned to the Mt. Zion football team after a two-year absence it was his dedication to strength and conditioning training which helped him transition back to football.
"When I came back out I thought I was going to be a step behind," Coggins said. "Once I got out here, I had been concentrating on baseball and I found out I wasn't as well conditioned as everyone else, but I caught up pretty quickly."
Even younger players have caught on to the importance staying in shape through weight lifting.
Mt. Zion offensive lineman Ryan Harris is only a sophomore, but because of his dedication to getting stronger in the off season he has worked his way into the Bulldogs' starting lineup.
"Being in top condition can make a big difference to a team in the fourth quarter, especially if you are going both ways," Harris said.
Emphasis hasn't always been put on year-round weight lifting. When Green was an assistant coach on Bill Kennedy's staff at Riverdale, the Raiders won the 1988 region championship with a limited workout program.
"I think we only had two benches, and we probably had five dedicated lifters and they were all lineman," Green said. "Now, you have to have a lot more benches then that and everybody has some sort of year-round program.
Still, strength and conditioning doesn't guarantee football stardom.
"Sometimes you can be a very strong football player and still not very good," he said. "You also have to be able to tackle and know the game. Strength is important in the trenches, but we have had very good linebackers who couldn't bench a whole lot of weight."
Weight lifting is also part of Eagle's Landing Christian's football preparation.
For the past couple of seasons, the Chargers have worked out at private gyms, but a new weight room on campus has added a new dimension to ELCA's quest for success on the gridiron.
"There was an interesting dynamic once we added our weight room," said head coach Tim Luke. "They really took ownership of the facility and did a great job of showing up regularly. They are willing to go all out."