This is the University of Florida's weight room for athletes. There's plenty of intensity, but you won't hear the yelling. No need for it. These guys are already highly motivated.
Welcome to an afternoon in the weight room, Rob Glass' domain at UF. This is where UF's Director of Strength and Conditioning oversees seven able assistants to train Gator athletes to be the best they can possibly be. Assistants do a lot of work, but Glass is not a supervisor who simply wanders around, hands in his pockets, taking in everything with stony silence. He's very active in the training process, not just what you see when he's got a weight room operating at peak efficiency, but in his office where he takes advantage of reams of research to design programs that are tailored to each athlete.
Glass laughs at the comparison to the local fitness centers. He knows how the "trainers" at the fitness centers do the in your face routine. That's not how it's done at UF.
"We're a little more scientific than that," he said with a laugh at a Wednesday interview session. "We know what each athlete has to have and it's our goal to train specifically to reach specific goals. My assistants aren't just encouraging our athletes, but they're teaching, too. To target the right muscles, to increase flexibility, reaction time, speed and reflexes, we've got to do things a certain way. We have to teach the kids the way we want them to lift, the way we want them to an agility drill, the way we want them to build their bodies."
It is in the design of individualized programs that Glass truly excels, a chief reason why he's considered among the elite in strength and conditioning programs in both college and pro sports. Individualized programs are not only designed to achieve personal objectives for each athlete, but also they are position specific. He's the first to tell you that in this area, strength and conditioning is light years away from where it was when he first took over the reigns as the director of strength and conditioning at Oklahoma State University back in 1989. Not only has it changed since he was at Okie State, it's changed in the years he's been at UF (he arrived in 1995).
"The volume of research in sports training and conditioning that have been published in the past seven or eight years is unbelievable," he said. "With athletes becoming more specialized, so has the training. It's not like people just go into the weight room to lift anymore. Sure, they want to get bigger, stronger and faster, but now we train them to be more athletic. We're working with them to increase their speed and endurance, but also to lower their reaction time, to increase their flexibility, and to give them better agility. We're position specific in that we design programs for our guys that work the muscles and simulate the movements that they will have in a game."
This is where Glass shows his skill and creativity. The strength and conditioning plan for Max Starks is going to be tremendously different than the program that will be designed for Mike Degory. Yes, they are both offensive linemen, but in a game situation, the bulk of their movements are different. Starks may see most of his snaps in a game in an upright stance that is designed to give him a quickness advantage in cutting off a pass rushing defensive end. Degory will spend every snap squatted over a football, and even the squatting varies, because his movements from a shotgun snap will be different even from those when the quarterback takes the snap under center.
When he designs a strength and conditioning program for Keiwan Ratliff, it will differ from the one designed for Guss Scott. As a cornerback, Keiwan is expected to jam wide receivers at the line in press coverage, and he's also got to have exceptional speed while backpedaling. From his safety position, Guss needs exceptional lateral movement and straight ahead speed to come up to meet a running back in the gap. Keiwan's requirements are complicated in that he also spends time as a wide receiver. He's more of a finesse player. Guss Scott is more physical. The workouts for each vary.
Understanding the movements of each position is where Glass has a certain advantage. Unlike most strength and conditioning coaches, he came to this field only after coaching football.
"I do think it gives me an advantage that I've coached football and I'm not just someone who knows the weight room," he said. "I was Houston Nutt's graduate assistant at Oklahoma State. He coached the wide receivers. I learned under him about the movements that are specific to wide receivers and also defensive backs, because in coaching wide receivers, we also studied the defensive backs. Having coached football, I know first hand what is expected as well as what is taught on the field."
Another part of the design is understanding that not every athlete can be in peak physical condition quickly, and some athletes are projects from day one. Some kids are motivated to succeed immediately while others face one discouragement after another until the lights, both physical and mental, go on. The challenge of the job is not simply adding muscle. That's the easy part. The challenge is getting kids to understand that they are works in progress.
"I think we're blessed at the University of Florida to get kids who are ready for success," he said. "They know that at UF, we put winners out there, and they come here to win, so there is a lot of motivation from the very beginning.
"But when they get here, most of the kids have to learn that there is a way we want them to do things. We usually have to teach them to lift all over again. We have a way we want them to work their muscles. Usually it's different from the way they learned in their high school weight room. We also have to deal with the fact that the kids we get here were the studs on their high school team and the studs in whatever league they played in. They were the best of the best. For a lot of them, they simply were bigger or strong or faster than everyone else and they've really never been challenged."
Perhaps the best way to describe it is that freshmen athletes arrive on campus thinking they are bulletproof. They were the very best at the level they were at in high school, and they come to UF thinking that it's going to be just like high school. Glass will tell you that there is a lot of shock in those first few days when they discover that they aren't necessarily the biggest, fastest, strongest or best athlete anymore.
"Kids all think they can run a 4.3 when they get here," he said with a smile. "We have to educate them, and we have to make sure they don't have their minds blown when they find out they're no longer the fastest or the strongest. The bad habits they learned in high school they have to unlearn, and they have to learn things all over again. They have to learn to do things our way, and that's tough for some of them.
"We take all this into consideration when we're figuring out how we're going to motivate them and get them ready to play. We have to take into consideration that there is a maturing process. Some kids are ready to play the day they get here. For others, it's going to take a year, maybe two, sometimes three or more."
Football Coach Ron Zook pointed out that Glass has a personality and way of doing things that kids buy into very quickly.
"He (Glass) has a tough job," said Zook. "He has to identify their needs and then get them to buy into what he's doing. He's able to get their attention quickly and he earns their respect. Kids understand that he wants them to succeed."
But, even though kids may buy into what he's preaching and teaching, for some it takes awhile for their bodies to mature. Starks and Lance Butler are two excellent examples. Starks came to UF at 6-8 and nearly 380. He played in a small school league in the Orlando area where he dominated simply by being the biggest kid anyone had ever seen. He was recruited by everyone in the country, not for the skills he already had, but for the potential. He had the height, long arms and was blessed with very quick feet. By the time the first game rolled around his freshman year, Starks was in the 360 range. His first year workouts produced far more fat loss than muscle gain. We can flash forward to this, his senior year, and Starks is a very strong 6-8, 349. He has probably lost 70 pounds of fat since he arrived at UF, replacing it with 35-40 pounds of hard muscle.
Butler came to UF at 6-7, 305 out of a small school in North Carolina. He had good feet but lacked upper body strength. It's taken two years of work with Glass to bring out the best in him. He's 311 pounds now, strong and growing much stronger in his upper body. His hands and arms are much stronger. He had quick feet when he arrived, but now he has much better agility and he's really adapted to the movements and quick reactions that he needs to play on the outside of the offensive line. He was voted the Most Improved Player in the spring and will enter his redshirt sophomore year as the man to beat for the right tackle position.
"Not every kid will be ready to contribute immediately," said Glass. "We have to challenge kids to get better and stick with it as they're learning to play a position while their bodies mature.
"It's our job to design a program that will get them ready to succeed on the playing field. Every kid is different. Each kid has a hot button and it's up to us to identify that hot button, then push it so the kid can reach the goals we set."
Finding the hot buttons also requires a certain amount of creativity. Glass knows that training is hard work, but also believes that the hard work has to be tempered with variety to prevent boredom which can lead to regression or lack of effort.
"Where creativity has to come in is in making sure that you keep the kids heads into what we're doing and you can't do that by doing the same thing over and over," he said. "We have staples that we stay with every day, but there are parts of the workouts that we change every day to give the kid a new challenge through adding some variety. We want them mentally into what we're doing, not just going through the motions like some robot. One day we'll be working muscles for overall strength, next day we'll be working more on balance and agility, next day on reaction time and speed. We have to keep it changing to keep them challenged and looking forward to working with us."
This is the time of the year when he's working daily with an incoming freshman class. The first couple of weeks involved a tremendous amount of teaching new techniques and breaking old habits. Now that the freshmen have begun to catch on with what is expected, each day something new is added.
"What we're doing now is ratcheting up the intensity level each day they're in here," he said. "When you start to raise the intensity level, you may see ones who may have been pampered in high school. They were the big man on campus in high school. Here they have to reformulate their thinking. This is a lot tougher than anything they've done before, but we're fortunate. This is a great group of kids They have an excellent work ethic and even though they get hit with so much on a daily basis, they're making nice adjustments."
It is when the freshmen come in that they start to bond with Glass. Zook noted that Glass spends more time with the football team than he or any of his football coaches, particularly at this time of the year when the NCAA forbids hands on coaching by the football staff. For some kids, he becomes a father figure immediately. For almost all of them, he is someone they trust, so they listen when he speaks.
"It's not all about strength and conditioning that we talk to the kids about," Glass said. "We talk to them about what's out there besides football, how easy it is to fall out of line, and how falling out of line just isn't acceptable behavior here at the University of Florida.
"A lot of kids are immature. They're away from home for the first time and a lot of them have more responsibility than they've ever had. There are a lot of factors we have to take into consideration. We want them to succeed. We want them intense, yet at the same time we have to remember that they're kids and they have to grow up. They're in a fishbowl here for everyone to see. They are expected to perform on the playing field, perform in the classroom, and every move they make is being watched by everyone in the state who has an interest in the University of Florida. We have to get them ready to play, but we have to get them ready for a lot of other pressures, too."
Glass is every bit as motivated today as he was when he was a young coach just learning how to be a full time strength and conditioning director of an athletic program. He loves his job, loves the coaches he works with, and never stops believing that there is always a way to make each athlete a little bit better.
"Take Coach Zook, for instance," he said. "You can't believe how easy he makes our job in here. He's so supportive of us. He's got so much energy and enthusiasm. He really wants kids to succeed and kids sense that in him. That's why they want to be around him. That's why he's such a great recruiter.
"I look at these freshmen and I go WOW! And I know that it's just going to get better because he's going to keep on bringing in kids like this for us to work with. People may think that this class is a one shot deal, but I can tell you it won't be. It's going to be like this year after year because that's the kind of coach Ron Zook is. Kids want to play for him.
"I love it. I look at these kids and I know I'm going to have a weight room full of kids like this. It's going to be a good ride."