As the majority of us ponder how this coming season may pan out, as we wonder who may burst onto the scene, who's improved, who some of the new guys might be, work behind the scenes continues in the 12-months-a-year process.
When it comes to those who provide major contributions to the team's success, no one may be more vital than Brett Gerch, the strength and conditioning coach.
At this time of year you will find the 33-year-old running the troops in the Foley Athletic Center, and working them in the weight room on the first floor of the Kimsey Athletic Center.
Among the coaches Rich Ellerson brought with him from his previous job at Cal-Poly, his S&C coach was one of them.
With the end of school only a month away, players will scatter during the summer. Some will take part in BEAST in June and July, others will report to one of several posts across the country, and some will be working out on their own.
For now, Gerch has the team in the weight room four times a week and has them working on their speed twice a week.
The improvements continue to be noticeable. "There's definitely been improvement,'' Gerch said, "in every physical way. Actually we cut out things when we got here. They did a lot of beating them into the ground, running them until they puked. They didn't do anything athletic or geared toward football.
"I changed it up. We don't do actually any basic conditioning. We probably don't run more than 25 yards. We work on short intervals that the game of football provides. It's mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, and then we start using some of the equipment to increase speed. It's all efficient stuff. Speed and explosiveness is all it is.
"We have gotten a lot quicker and a lot faster in these past couple of years.''
Some of the equipment includes weighted sleds and harnesses twice a week. He changes things up with cone drills, speed ladders and agility bags.
In what is called Captain's Practice, players also break off into position-related drills.
Two days of lifting is geared toward strength, with squats and bench presses. The other two days are geared toward explosive lift work. "Basically,'' Gerch said, "all our lifting is Olympic style; cleans, push-jerks.''
Asked to name some players who have had particularly strong off-seasons, Gerch offered more than a few.
The following are players he singled out, with comments on some:
• Mark AllenQuentin Kantaris: "He's bigger and has improved his speed.''
• Jarrett Mackey: "He's been a standout, and is one of the strongest guys on the team.''
• Corey Watts and Zach Watts: "Have done real well. They're some of the stronger guys we have.''
• Will Wilson: "Had a great off-season.''
• Brian Zalneraitis: "Great off-season.''
• Clayton Keller.
• Antuan Aaron and Justin Allen: "Both have stood out.
• Malcolm Brown and Raymond Maples: "They have had unbelievable off-seasons. Maples is probably the fastest guy on the team, and Brown is right up there with him.''
• Steve Erzinger: "He never changes. He's always one of the tops in everything. He's up there as one of the faster guys. He's pretty even-keel; has a strong upper body. He's one of the stronger guys we have, especially for his weight.''
• Waverly Washington.
• Frank Allen: "Everyone knows he's strong as an ox.
• Joe Bailey: "He's extremely strong.''
• Chad Littlejohn: "We tested 20s in January, and surprisingly he was second-fastest on the team.''
Closer to the end of this semester Gerch will test everyone in various categories, just before they move on to their next military assignments. "The rising sophomores go home and report back I think June 25,'' Gerch said. "They report to Fort Buckner, which is just 10 minutes from here. They'll do four weeks of military requirements and live there. It's more practical teachings; out in the woods; obstacle courses; night vision goggles; staying up all night to prepare for surprise attacks, just basically learning the nuances of the academy.
"We actually put together a weight room out there and they'll lift on the average of three times a week. They will rejoin the team two weeks before August practice starts.''
Meanwhile, incoming players, both direct and for the prep, will report to BEAST at the end of next month for about six weeks.
Several players in the junior class will spend most of their summer stationed at places like Fort Benning (Georgia), Fort Sill (Oklahoma), Fort Hood (Texas), Fort Carson (Colorado) and Fort Bragg (North Carolina). "At some of those spots,'' Gerch pointed out, "there will be coaches training them in the morning. Others will have to follow instructions provided and work out on their own.''
Noting that he has not been able to see the current prep school players, he did say that he has heard great things.
One word he hears repeated is, "athletic.''
"We have definitely improved in that area,'' he added. "Guys right now who will most likely be playing, the athleticism is improving.''
While Gerch designs and implements workouts, coach Ellerson certainly oversees the department.
"He will keep in touch and ask me how the guys look. At this time of year guys are getting academically killed, so he'll tell me to keep an extra eye to make sure if we have to back off the volumes and not take a chance of getting someone hurt because they're so fatigued. Or during spring ball he'll tell me there's going to be a pretty tough practice coming up, so take it a little lighter on their legs. But for the most part I'm pretty flexible with what I do.''
Come preseason camp in August, the routine changes. The weight lifting frequency decreases in both time and design, with full-body lifts the exercise of the day. Lifting is done on Sundays and Wednesdays during the season, and one day players hit the pool for rest and recovery to get the soreness out.
"Guys who don't travel, which is mostly freshmen, at least it has been in the past, lift an extra day on Fridays. That's more of a teaching day so when we get to January we don't have to start from square one with them and slow down the rest of the team.''
Besides working with Ellerson at Cal-Poly in 2007 and 2008, Gerch had stops at the University of Delaware, the University of Richmond, Western Carolina and North Carolina.
His familiarity with Ellerson was the reason he followed him east, and he obviously has a handle on Ellerson's role for the quick turnaround in the program. "He's embraced the military whole-heartedly. I think a problem in the past may have been that everybody's attitude here was, 'The military is holding us back and that is the reason we're losing.' His whole philosophy from day one is, 'We're gonna win because of what the military has to offer.
"Guys who go to camp Buckner, no one else in the country is doing that sort of thing. So when it comes down to the fourth quarter, those guys have been out in the woods, haven't gotten any sleep and were pushed so much, they've been through much more difficult times than the opponent's team. And that is going to help us in the long run. I think that's part of it.
"The other part is that the guys have really bought into his philosophy, and his style is so much different than everyone else with the triple option, which is a little different twist than Air Force and Navy have to offer, and the Desert Swarm is a bit different and more of a challenge to prepare for.''
For teams who have to prepare for the Black Knights this season, they will apparently be facing a stronger and quicker team than a year ago. "It's a good feeling and a good responsibility to have an impact on the players, when they come to you as a source that can help them. We see their improvement in speed and strength, and it's helping them on the field.
"But the reward comes on Saturdays getting the dubs (wins),'' Gerch said. "That makes everything worth it.''
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