Safety is first, Geoff Collins assured. Via group text, social media and perhaps even old-fashioned phone calls, the Georgia Tech coach and his staff have stayed in touch with his players, scattered back to their hometowns or holed up in apartments near campus after the spread of COVID-19 has halted the routines of the institute and its football team.
“Just trying to do the right thing and trying to be safe and trying to make sure that all the people we care for and love, and even people we don’t know, are protected, and we’re kind of taking care of each other through our actions and the things that we can control going forward,” Collins said Wednesday on a teleconference with media.
But after safety, Collins has another high priority – protecting the pounds of weight that the Yellow Jackets have accumulated since the start of his tenure, as well as the strength gains made in the weight room.
“The strength gains that we’ve made, and the size gains that we’ve made over the last three months have been really, really positive, and so just trying to find creative ways to make sure we’re keeping that going,” Collins said.
For the Jackets, and perhaps every college football team, the matter of making sure players continue to maintain muscle mass and weight is a multi-pronged challenge. Normally, players do their weight training in a supervised program with no shortage of weightlifting equipment. They’re surrounded by their teammates in an environment of high accountability.
With many athletes now lacking access to a weight room, not to mention coaches and training partners, they’re also having to be creative to keep up their lifting programs.
“I’m probably on a (group text) message with the strength staff probably 15 times a day just to try to be innovative and creative,” Collins said.
The team’s strength staff’s Twitter account has posted videos featuring head strength coach Lewis Caralla demonstrating workouts using a weighted-down backpack, a chair and his own children as equipment. Coaches have posted videos of themselves going through their own workouts.
“We can’t make any of the workouts mandatory, and we don’t, but I think the cool thing about having such a young, energetic coaching staff is that our coaches are actually doing the workouts that coach Lew and his staff provide to us,” Collins said, “and I think that’s motivating and inspiring when our players know that the coaches are in it with them.”
At the same time, before the combination of the outbreak of COVID-19 and spring break sent players away from campus, many were on meal plans in which they were charged with consuming as many as 8,000 calories a day. That’s the equivalent of three Domino’s large pepperoni pizzas or seven Big Mac medium-size combo meals. While they presumably won’t be trying to meet their quotas with only burgers and pizzas, it’s not difficult to imagine players wanting to take a break from such consumption patterns.
“Once you’re full, you really don’t want to eat anymore,” offensive tackle Zach Quinney said before the cancelation of spring practice.
For that matter, it’s likely not a grocery bill that many families of team members can sustain for a prolonged period of time. To that end, Tech dietitian Leah Thomas, her assistant Chandler Knox and strength-and-conditioning coach Zach Reed assembled care packages to send to about 16 Tech athletes, including football players, as picked out by coaches.
The goal is to help players more easily meet their fueling standards and perhaps give their families a break. Gathering snacks such as peanut-butter crackers, jerky, trail mix and oatmeal that are available to athletes in a nutrition center at the Edge Center, as well as post-workout protein powders, the three staffers packed boxes Tuesday to send off to athletes specified by coaches. More could be on the way.
“We were just filling them up full to the brim,” Thomas said.
The boxes weighed about 10 pounds each. Coincidentally, 10 pounds is the average per-player weight gain that Collins had challenged the team to amass after the season ended. Collins said that several position groups had far exceeded that goal, and that the team had also made significant strength gains.
There are other challenges – school will resume Monday, with classes to be conducted in a “distance learning” format.
“I’ve been trying to become adept at Microsoft Teams, which is what our team is going to have to use and, really, Georgia Tech is going to use to stream the classes,” Collins said. “The tutoring sessions, study hall, all of those things are going to continue to happen starting Monday.”
An unprecedented time will have its impact on Collins and his team. Across the college football landscape, the outcomes of seasons may well be shaped by how teams and players handle the extended time away from campus and each other.
“We are just constantly in touch with our guys and motivating them, inspiring them, connecting with them, making sure their families are safe and protected,” Collins said. “So I think that we’re predisposed to be able to handle this at this time really well.”
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