In the pre-dawn, Georgia Tech players sprinted, shuffled, changed directions and backpedaled, minute by minute approaching exhaustion. Spring break could not arrive quickly enough for this profusely perspiring group.
The Yellow Jackets were in the midst of their annual “coaches’ runs,” early-morning conditioning sessions supervised by the coaching staff that bring the team’s winter workouts to an end. They conclude this week, followed by Tech’s spring break and then the start of spring practice the following Monday, March 25.
“It’s going to do something for you physically, but it also is mentally just learning to push through limits,” said coach Paul Johnson, following the workout last Thursday.
Johnson, whose periodic whistle sent players sprinting station-to-station across the Brock indoor practice facility, gave his approval to what he has seen during the first winter program led by strength and conditioning coach John Sisk.
“You can really tell when we start spring ball,” he said. “But I think it’s gone good. Guys have gotten stronger, bigger.”
Hired last May from Furman, Sisk jumped into summer workouts midstream, learning players’ names and implementing his program in the final months before preseason practice began. When Tech began workouts in January shortly after returning from its Sun Bowl victory over USC, both Sisk and the team had a better grasp of each other.
Said Sisk, “I think we’re getting to where we need to be.”
One of the tenets of Sisk’s training philosophy is to change up workouts, which does not allow players’ bodies to get adjusted to any particular lift or drill.
“They’re having to learn something new all the time,” Sisk said. “They can’t just go through the motions.”
Sisk also incorporates kettlebells, which promote grip strength and provide an alternative to the traditional Olympic-style weight lifting. Jeremiah Attaochu, who is moving from linebacker to defensive end, said players have been making gains in their power lifts through kettlebell workouts.
Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke set a record for defensive linemen in the power clean — the lifter pulls the barbell from the floor to the thighs and then up to the shoulders — with a 365-pound lift. He is one of numerous players to set personal bests in a variety of lifts this winter.
“That stuff translates to the field, the power clean, as far as explosiveness,” Attaochu said. “Hopefully we see those results when we start playing.”
The team has lifted Monday, Wednesday and Friday and done conditioning work Tuesday and Thursday. The conditioning has focused on developing straight-line speed. Change-of-direction and position-specific drills will become more of a priority in summer workouts.
After seven consecutive bowl losses, coming off a bowl win for the first time since the 2004 season has raised morale. Center Jay Finch, who recently had shoulder surgery and will miss spring practice, said the “mindset has been totally different. It’s something to build off going into next season.”
Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, defensive backs Jemea Thomas and Louis Young, defensive lineman Euclid Cummings, offensive tackle Ray Beno and quarterback Vad Lee are among players who have shown leadership in the weight room, Sisk said.
After spring practice, which concludes April 19 with the spring game, Sisk will oversee the summer workout program, which is where he took over last year.
“Everything’s a little different,” Sisk said. “I think a lot of guys know that the expectations will be even more so.”
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