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

Published: Saturday, May 28 2011 10:20 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) 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.

Quarterback Jake Heaps should benefit from BYU's  newly updated strength and conditioning program.    (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterback Jake Heaps should benefit from BYU's newly updated strength and conditioning program. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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 receiver Ross Apo says he can already tell a difference in the Cougar players' flexibility and speed.    (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) BYU receiver Ross Apo says he can already tell a difference in the Cougar players' flexibility and speed. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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."

BYU's #9 Jake Heaps gets warmed up prior to the blue white game.  BYU's football team holds their blue white game at Lavell Edwards Stadium Saturday, April 9, 2011.  The White team won in overtime 18-17.  (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)game at Lavell Edwards Stadium Saturday, April 9, 2011.  The White team won in overtime 18-17.  (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)     (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's #9 Jake Heaps gets warmed up prior to the blue white game. BYU's football team holds their blue white game at Lavell Edwards Stadium Saturday, April 9, 2011. The White team won in overtime 18-17. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)game at Lavell Edwards Stadium Saturday, April 9, 2011. The White team won in overtime 18-17. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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.

"I think the players have really responded well to the new trainers working with them," said quarterback Jake Heaps. "They've made things very specific to what we're doing and specializing on our workouts to improve our motion, speed and make us more flexible to do what we need to do."

FOR JEFF CALL FEATURE  - Kyle Van Noy runs drills during BYU's second scrimmage of the season at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010.  (Jason Olson, Deseret News) (Jason Olson, Deseret News) FOR JEFF CALL FEATURE - Kyle Van Noy runs drills during BYU's second scrimmage of the season at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010. (Jason Olson, Deseret News) (Jason Olson, Deseret News)

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy said he's noticed a difference with his group — that players have reacted differently as it's gone on this winter but he's noticed a real difference in speed and reaction time.

"People are buying into it," he said.

"We had guys running around with their heads all crazy and their bodies all over the place and their knees weren't popping up like they should. To have a specialist work on those things is very helpful and I feel blessed to have the attention.

"They're breaking us down to where we are young again, like right out of the womb young. They're teaching us how to walk and run again and it isn't easy. It's frustrating at times but it's working."

How productive is it?

So far, you only have testimonials. Mendenhall will time and test his football team in June and perhaps again in August.

We'll know when Mendenhall takes his crew through two-a-days just before the Cougars open the season at the University of Mississippi.

BYU's #45 Kyle Van Noy (left) (CQ) celebrates his defensive efforts after knocking the ball down as Wyoming's Quarterback #5 Austyn Carta-Samuels (CQ) tried to pass sealing the win for BYU.  BYU plays Wyoming at Lavell Edwards Stadium.  Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010. Photo by Scott G Winerton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's #45 Kyle Van Noy (left) (CQ) celebrates his defensive efforts after knocking the ball down as Wyoming's Quarterback #5 Austyn Carta-Samuels (CQ) tried to pass sealing the win for BYU. BYU plays Wyoming at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010. Photo by Scott G Winerton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

We might even know in a few weeks when Mendenhall does his annual Eco Challenge.

It will be interesting to see if BYU's team is actually collectively faster with fewer muscle pulls.

I asked a veteran observer familiar with the process what he believed to be the value of the new program.

"If done right, it will mean the difference of two wins this season," he said.

How so?

"It means perhaps not having a Harvey Unga on the sidelines or a Jacobson missing for a quarter of the season. It means more real physical economy by our athletes and fewer injuries, more efficiently run plays and quality depth," he said.

OK, since it's spring, I'll bite.

It sounds like good knowledge and valuable application of sound training and conditioning.

But we'll see. Definitely, it seems more with the times.

It's also nice to see that since BYU's College of Life Science preaches all these principles, the football team is actually putting the theories to practice.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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