FOOTBALL: New UA Strength

FAYETTEVILLE — With his shaved head and gruff voice, Jason Veltkamp looks and sounds like a drill sergeant who has no problem barking orders at the men he's in charge of shaping.

It doesn't hurt that Arkansas' new football strength and conditioning coach uses military terms like "squad" and "unit." He also puts players through grueling workouts he refers to as "Full Metal Fridays."

But despite his resemblance to Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, the no-nonsense drill sergeant from the film Full Metal Jacket, Veltkamp has never served in the military. He just acts like it.

"These guys think I am (a veteran) for some reason; (maybe it's) the hair and the barking orders," Veltkamp said Wednesday, sitting in his office inside Arkansas' weight room. "They always ask me, but I got that at Louisville also."

After Bobby Petrino was hired Dec. 11 as Arkansas' football coach, one of the first people he called about joining his staff was Veltkamp, who was Petrino's strength and conditioning coach at Louisville.

Veltkamp, 34, accepted the job without hesitation, and whether Arkansas' players like it or not, he has begun implementing his boot camp-like workouts over the past few weeks.

It's not uncommon for players to lift 100-pound quarry rocks, push heavy sleds through sand pits and go through grueling exercises meant to "grind them down" to the point where they must carry their exhausted teammates.

This is a radical change from the fitness program the Razorbacks went through under former Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Don Decker.

"By their reaction, I would guess they've never done it before or anything like it before," Veltkamp said of the players. "They are craving it, though. And in a sick, demented sort of way, I think they love it."

Veltkamp said the goal of Arkansas' offseason workout program is to increase the team's overall speed, get players lean and strong and address the mobility and flexibility problems he noticed when he first arrived in early January.

But there is another issue that Veltkamp said several players brought up when he met with them after this past season: They wanted to get mentally tougher and closer as a team.

That's where Full Metal Fridays come in.

Players lift weights four days a week, but on Fridays, they must also go through grueling boot camp drills that are more common to the Marines than the Hogs.

Last Friday afternoon, for example, Arkansas' offensive and defensive linemen had to scale the rock wall that surrounds one corner of the team's practice fields.

The only problem: The wall doesn't offer many cracks or crevices for the players to put their hands and feet. The drop, if a player falls, is a few feet.

"They're gripping with their fingertips, and they're gripping with their toes on any little ledge they can get on," Veltkamp said. "And if one guy falls down, the whole line goes back. And if one (defensive) linemen falls down, the whole D-line goes back."

Veltkamp started Full Metal Fridays when he was Utah's director of strength and conditioning from 2001-03. The point of the workouts is to build camaraderie and teach the players that they must sometimes carry a fallen teammate in order to finish.

"We're going to be the most physical team on the field," Veltkamp said with a hint of a smile. "And we're going to try to help that out in the offseason."

Jason Veltkamp

Arkansas strength and conditioning coach

Age: 34

Hometown: Bozeman, Mont.

Notable: Veltkamp played football for the elder Bobby Petrino at Carroll College in Montana, starting four years for the Fighting Saints and serving as a team captain in 1994. He also began his coaching career as a student assistant and volunteer coach for Carroll College in 1995. Veltkamp spent the past four years as Louisville's strength and conditioning coach, including the first three years with the younger Bobby Petrino.

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