Dick Harmon: BYU football program doing its best to get bigger, faster and stronger

Published: Saturday, May 28 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

BYU receiver, Ross Apo, catches a pass during practice at the BYU's outdoor practice field. August 9, 2010. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News).

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

PROVO — Well, the theory is sound.

So is the application in circles that study physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, orthopedic impairments and anatomy.

You don't train a work horse the same way you do a greyhound; you don't put a thoroughbred through the same regimen you'd work a prized border collie. So, you don't condition offensive and defensive linemen the same way you'd set motion to receivers and running backs in football.

Since leaving the New Mexico Bowl, BYU's football team has fine-tuned its strength and conditioning program for football to reflect a more modern approach. Bronco Mendenhall has enlisted the help of training experts from BYU's nationally ranked track and volleyball programs to break down the Cougars' football team and rebuild it from the toenails up.

In past years, head conditioning coach Jay Omer and assistant Justin McClure did the bulk of preparing Mendenhall's players — with the regular dose of weightlifting and running. Now they've specialized all of it and are directing work according to positions.

Omer checked out what other top programs were doing and with how much help. BYU then reacted for 2011.

BYU didn't double the help to do so, they almost tripled it. Add in new experts in nutrition, and expertise has definitely tripled.

"Our O-linemen will hopefully no longer look pregnant," quipped one player.

BYU studied the nutritious aspects of the U.S. Olympic training facility eating establishments and could incorporate those menus into Legend's Grill, where many of the athletes eat several times a day.

BYU football went from two strength and conditioning coaches to five this offseason in an attempt to center workouts on specific position groups. The move is designed to increase speed, flexibility and zero in on specific muscle movements position by position.

And it's working, according to Cougar players I spoke to this past week at a golf tournament at Riverside Country Club.

Receiver McKay Jacobson isn't working out like tackle Matt Reynolds. Halfback J.J. Diluigi isn't doing all the routines of tight end Devin Mahina.

"You can tell a difference already in our flexibility and speed," said redshirt freshman receiver Ross Apo.

Offensive and defensive linemen are grouped with D-linemen and have their own trainer. Linebackers and tight ends are grouped with fullbacks. Receivers, defensive backs, running backs, corners and safeties are in a skill group with quarterbacks. Each has its own professional conditioning coach now.

"It's kind of position specific," said quarterback James Lark. "They work on our fitness and athletic ability and not just strength only. I like it. I feel like it brings out our speed. We all have it in us — it just helps bring it out because we don't know how to produce it. It helps with our form and flexibility. I think it's helping."

Apo said he's noticed a difference in the receivers. "It's made us faster," he said.

The new workouts, combined with new receivers coach Ben Cahoon, have made a significant difference, he said.

"Cahoon has done so much since he's come. We do a lot of technique drills and footwork," Apo said. "In spring, he really emphasized catching the ball. We'd catch 50 balls each before we'd go to skelly (7 on 7) or team."

Breaking down the groups and focusing conditioning efforts is something BYU has needed for a long time and was underscored by a rash of hamstring pulls during two-days in August in recent years.

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