Army Strong, part I

In watching the Army Black Knights football team practice recently any observant fan can't help but notice the improved fitness and speed of the players. That transformation started when Rich Ellerson hired Army head strength coach Brett Gerch in February 2009. Gerch had worked with Ellerson at Cal Poly where he oversaw the strength and conditioning program for all twenty varsity sports.

Rich Ellerson says that "Brett Gerch understands exactly what it is we're looking for, he really compliments what we're trying to do offensively and defensively."

In an interview with ARMYSPORTS.com Brett Gerch discussed how he couldn't be happier where the team is physically at this point in time. Gerch stated "We made great strides this off season. Trent Steelman (quarterback) added twenty five pounds, most of it muscle. Steve Erzinger (Rover) added fifteen pounds. A bunch of guys put on weight yet they all got faster. They look a lot faster on the field but when we also did testing they were much improved in times as well."

After being hired Gerch completely revamped the weight training program that was in place for the football team. During the Stan Brock era the players weight training was focused on using exercise machines and kettlebells. Under Brock the team's lifting routines didn't really feature the use of free weights. It produced bulkier players that were slower. Coaching at a military academy allowed Gerch to receive the player's commitment almost immediately. He started to see tangible results towards the end of spring camp in 2009. However, team-wide improvement in testing, on field performance and in appearance was really noticeable during this year's spring practice. Gerch felt with two years of speed work under the player's belts, the team has embraced the techniques he incorporates. The speed work is designed to improve players running mechanics and maximize their performance and features a unique series of drills that at times seem to resemble a "silly walk" you would see on the old Monty Python's comedy television show. The results however are no laughing matter; the team has shown marked improvement in skill tests like the twenty-yard-dash and pro agility.

Coach Gerch's program philosophy comes directly from the top. Head coach Rich Ellerson focuses on speed and explosion over size. Since Army doesn't land the biggest recruits the program is designed to maximize each player's speed, quickness and explosiveness at the snap. Everything is geared towards achieving those results. Coach Gerch's workout program features plyometrics which are exercises designed to develop explosive speed. Plyometrics focuses on maximal power by compressing the force of muscular contraction into as short a period as possible. The lifting includes Olympic style lifting, speed squats and lower and upper body plyometrics. The goal is to develop functional football strength that maximizes on field performance.

Being a strength coach at a service academy presents unique challenges not seen at other FBS college programs. Part of a cadet's life at West Point is the tremendous demands place on their time. A football player at another FBS school can train throughout the day. An Army football player has to cram everything into a two hour blocks due to time restrictions. Coach Gerch views this simply as a work around. "We make the workouts really efficient. The pace has to be a little faster and the players have to hustle due to the length of the workouts."

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