SALT LAKE CITY — Even though he is literally within shouting distance, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham can't even walk down the stairs and a few yards up a hallway at the Smith Athletic Center to the weight room to watch his players work out.
At least he can't for the next seven weeks, according to NCAA rules.
The Utah football summer training program is already in full swing — it started June 1 —and nearly 100 Utah football players are working out four days a week. More players will join the workouts June 24 and except for a mandatory week off around the Fourth of July, the Utes will work out until the start of fall training camp in early August.
"I can't check in on them or anything," said Whittingham, sitting in his office on a recent summer morning. "That's the rule. Like the majority of the rules, you have to have integrity and character and adhere to them."
Thankfully, Whittingham has players who are willing to work out on their own under the direction of Ute strength coach Doug Elisaia.
"It's a tough thing to do and mentally hard, but you've just got to go do it and give 100 percent," said Victor Spikes, a redshirt freshman defensive back from Texas. "It helps us out a lot and makes us faster and stronger. It's totally voluntary, but all the players want to do it."
Spikes and his teammates get up around 5:30 in the morning to work out, running some days and lifting weights most days with each day a little different.
Elisaia has overseen the Ute football strength and conditioning program for the past five years and has been "instrumental" in the Utes' success on the field, according to Whittingham.
"In my estimation he's the best in the country," said Whittingham. "The kids respond to him and have a great deal of respect for Doug, which is critical in that role. If you break down the hours of the entire year, the players spend more time with the weight coach over the entire year than they do with us. Look at all the hours and conditioning; he has more contact with the players. It's an absolutely critical position."
The 38-year-old Elisaia, came to Utah from the University of Kentucky, and after serving a year as the assistant strength coach, took over in 2006. He said he has learned from various sources and has come up with a program that is successful for Ute athletes.
"Over the years you kind of learn what your philosophy is and what systems work best," he said. "Everything you do has got to bring the athlete to train them within the environment they're playing in. It's different for a cross-country runner than a football or basketball player, where you have to train for short explosive movements."
So when the Ute football players come out of the Eccles Fieldhouse sweating after an hour and 15 minutes of running on Monday morning, it's not because they ran three or four miles in a circle.
"That doesn't do us any good at all," said Elisaia.
Instead, he has them doing linear speed drills with speed cables, which will help the players with the short, quick movements required on the football field.
After that, some players will go straight to the weight room for "max effort lower body movements," while others will go to class and come back in the afternoon.
On Tuesdays the players don't run and just do lifts in the afternoon for "max upper body" lifts. Wednesday is a recovery day, so players don't even come to the weight room. Thursday is a day for more running with emphasis on change of direction, acceleration, etc., and in the afternoon the players return for biometrics, which includes hang pulls and lighter weights.
Elisaia calls Friday "our endurance day" as the players work out with higher reps on lighter weights to develop their muscle mass. Then it's off for the weekend and they start all over again on Monday.
So what percentage of players work out in the summer? According to Whiitingham and Elisaia, it's everyone.
"We've had 100 percent attendance going on six years now," said Whittingham. "Division I college football is competitive proposition and our guys have a great work ethic and our guys understand that if we want to be a good football team, there's a price to pay and part of that is showing up for summer workouts."
Whittingham says there are no repercussions if a player chooses not to come to summer workouts.
"It's all volunteer, nobody's making them do it," he said. "But they'd be compromising their chances to play just because the other players will be working out."
"What happens is the guys that are here, are going to be that much better than the guys that aren't here," adds Elisaia. "If you don't show up for summer workouts, the guys in front of you is getting that much better and you're staying stagnant."
Elisaia gives a lot of credit to his staff, which includes three full-time assistants, a graduate assistant and a couple of interns depending on the time of year. He also has high praise for Ute head trainer Paul Silvestri and his staff and Beth Wolfgram, the U.'s sports dietician.
It also helped to have a the strength room remodeled last year.
"It's been a big help; it allows us to work out the entire team at one time during two-a-days," Elisaia said. "We can accommodate that now whereas before we couldn't do that."
But the Utes' success comes down to the players, says Elisaia.
"Our guys have that kind of blue collar mentality," he said. "That's part of the reason we've been so successful. Our coaches know our mentality and what kind of athletes are gong to fit in here. Not only do you have to be talented, but you have to be a guy who's disciplined and be able to handle the regimen. We run a pretty strict and pretty hard program, so the players can't just be talented, they better be mentally ready."