Plan to increase Tide strength continues

Back in January of 2001, new Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione made clear his commitment to building his team for the long haul through a renewed emphasis on strength and conditioning. <br><br>Tide fans have generally hailed the change, but the question remains. Just how long will it take to build the team's strength levels to where they need to be?

"When we started this process to gain strength, I didn't know exactly how long it would take," Franchione said. "We made a giant leap from last January to last August. And I'm hopeful by this August we can say we're about where we need to be as a football team.

"That might be being a little optimistic, but I think it's realistic to think that way."

Systematically improving the Tide's overall team strength is a principal component of Franchione's long range plan at Alabama.

The commitment to weight lifting is reflected from Franchione down through the entire staff. But Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Pollard has been the point man. "If your players are doing what they're supposed to do, and the program is put together well, then they'll be getting stronger. If your program is set up properly, and the athletes are working hard, then you're going to have success. If the kids are working through the summer and spring, things will happen. "It's just a matter of them being there and being motivated. And we'll get them plenty of motivation."

Now well into their second full season with Coach Pollard, the squad continues to make progress. Franchione explained, "Though we have not done all our testing and we'll have our Night of Champions at the end of April, I think the off-season lifting program has gone well.

"It's possible physiologically to actually get stronger from one week to the next," Pollard added. "But we don't test guys each week."

Earlier this year quoted Pollard as being firmly in favor of in-season lifting. Some staffs allow the players essentially to take the season off in the weight room. But a recent conversation between Franchione and senior defensive tackle Jarret Johnson explained the change in society.

"Jarret was very adamant about how strong he felt," Franchione related. "He told me, ‘Coach, this is the first time I've lifted like this during the season.' He used the comparison of a couple of seasons ago when he started the season bench pressing 400 pounds, but by December when the season was over he was back to 350, because he did not lift very much.

With Coach Pollard spotting behind, senior wideout Joel Babb squats in the weight room.

"With the way we continued to lift during the season, Jarret said, ‘I'm starting at 400 pounds and building on that, instead of dropping back down to 350 and adding on to it.'"

In fact, the only ‘break' the players have gotten since spring practice began, is a reduction from four-day a week lifting to three. "In a typical week, we lift four times," Pollard explained. "They'll be in for about an hour and 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes devoted to warmup and then we'll lift. Then following the lifts, we move to different running and agility drills."

"We'll know more as we get further into spring testing," Franchione added. "But we're going to continue lifting three days during spring practice, continuing to try to gain strength. You don't want to lose those 15 days of spring. Continuing to lift is important to us."

Once again, the goal of every healthy Tide player will be to win his own "four-by-four" T-shirt. "We call it ‘four-by-fours,' which is our criteria for testing," Pollard said. "We test four lifts (flat bench press, incline bench press, the squat and the hang clean). The athlete is expected to show a certain amount of improvement in all four every time we test."

Last spring virtually the entire squad earned his T-shirt. But this time around the going will be much tougher, as every lifter already has started getting stronger.

"I'm not trying to make weight lifters, I want to build better football players," Pollard explained. "And if the athletes see themselves having success as a result of improving in here, then the motivation part is over. If it's helping them, then they're going to keep doing it.

"Ultimately, all our goals are the same. For them to be the best football players possible so we can have the best football team we can have. Success leads to success."

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