Part 3: Sports Performance, Medicine and

It's a quiet Wednesday June morning within the confines of the Athletic Alumni Center. Coaches are either looking at film, participating in a youth camp or vacationing, but the sports performance staff (better known as strength and conditioning), along with the athletes, are hard at work – which is magnified by the sounds of weights clanging in the air.

In today’s article, we take a behind the scenes look at the sports performance staff headed by Co-Director of Sports Performance, Brian Odom and their relationship with the training staff (headed by Michael O’Shea) along with the team nutritionist, Tara Boening.

The Ada, Oklahoma native has been a busy man since being hired in mid January as he tells it, “When they (Rich Rodriquez with Arizona, where Odom had been the associate director for sports enhancement since 2007) got hired up there they let our whole staff go. I came and worked out with them for about a week before my immediate boss got hired at NC State. He gave me a call and I worked with them for about a week before Coach Levine called me, so I basically started three offseason programs this spring.” So why become the man at UH? “Why not,” says the former Oklahoma Football Iron Man Award winner (for his work in the weight room). “With everything that’s on the horizon with the new stadium along with the season they had last year and going to a new conference (in 2013). On top of that it’s an attractive deal. In Arizona, high school football is not quite near what it is in Texas – where there is so much more of an emphasis placed on football, coaching and weight training. In Arizona, when we recruited kids we had two big areas of California and Texas – since Arizona was right in the middle. Arizona will compete for some of the second and third tier kids in Texas and California. Kids in California were maybe more athletic but really raw where kids in Texas were almost as athletic but very well coached from high school and probably prepared a little better to play college ball right away. Basically it was an easier transition (for them). Being in Texas, wherever it is, you’re gonna get players. To have an opportunity to be around and coach players that grew up wanting to play football is a very attractive deal for me. And obviously being able to be in charge was a big deal too. I felt I was ready to take that next step in my career.”

Odom dedicates 90 to 95 percent of his time to football, despite being labeled as the “Co-Director of Sports Performance,” which doesn’t bother him, “A lot of the schools across the country are splitting up the duties between two directors. You have a co-director for Olympic sports and a co-director for football. It’s split up that way from an athletic department standpoint to protect this entity, whether something really good or bad happens. Basically if a staff gets cleared out (because of football), you’re not leaving the other sports hanging in the wind, so it’s a move to protect the other sports. The most important thing is the two directors have to be on the same page, and Coach (Kelly) Spriggs and I have had a great working relationship. That was one of the things I was concerned about coming in that in being a co-director I wasn’t going to be totally in charge but working with her couldn’t have gone smoother.”

For football, Odom has one full time assistant and a few interns who rotate among sports, “I was able to hire a guy by the name of Antwan Floyd (who was named the Associate Director of Sports Performance), who had been at Missouri for the past ten years and he’s been a great addition for me. That’s probably been the best decision I’ve made since I’ve been here. And one of the interns we have, Jeff Schuh, only started helping in football since January. I’m not sure how long he had been on the staff before that, but he was putting in fifteen hour days and carrying himself like a full time guy would, even though he wasn’t getting a dollar. He’s been a great asset as well. The bottom line is we (staff) can all do a great job but it’s really the players that will determine how great a job they’ll do, which will be determined by their work ethic and how they get after things. That’s one of the first things I noticed when I got here. That’s why they won thirteen games last year; good solid players. It’s just how I imagined, you come to a school in Texas and the kids really want to play football and they understand what it takes to be a good player and that makes my job so much easier. You’re just not fighting with kids all the time. When it’s time to get in here and work, they work. They do what they’re told and they trust us, and from January to spring ball, my number one goal was to get them to feel comfortable with me and to be able to trust me and learn how I coach and my philosophies and such. I feel like we’ve done a good job with that. They trust us and have bought into it completely.” Odom’s staff is certified in a combination of CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), CSCCa (Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Association), USAW (USA Weightlifting), NASE (National Association of Speed and Explosion) and in first aid as well.

Workout and schedule breakdown

May 30th was the first day of summer workouts, and the team is doing a great job, according to Coach Odom. Since he was hired in January, the schedule starts backwards from pre-season camp, with six to eight weeks total before summer, in which the team is allowed to work with the staff for only eight hours per week (during the offseason), per NCAA guidelines. Coach Odom has the team working out in two large intervals, with the first being from mid January until right before spring ball had started (March 22nd), and after a small maintenance period after spring ball until semester finals were over, for two more weeks. The team is in its last phase of offseason workouts which began in June, according to Odom, “We’ll go Monday through Friday during the summer, but on Wednesday’s we’ll let them sleep in before a team workout, or run, in the afternoon. One of the foundations of my program is to work in small groups, which is more difficult on our end as coaches, but if they’re out on the field by position – why should it be any different in here? We shouldn’t have 40 to 50 guys in here at one time as you can only focus on so many people at once and you don’t want anyone falling between the cracks. We hold guys accountable in everything we do from the time they walk through that door, your warm-up, your work-out and your post work-out stretch. To be able to do that with the amount of coaches we have, the groups have to be kept small. I’ll be with six to ten guys as will Coach Floyd and two to three interns will be with smaller groups.”

Workout Breakdown

The basics of all workouts are the same, but they branch out by position. Workout tempo is also a key, just as it is during a game, “With how fast a tempo we practice it’s unique in that we have to train a little different than the norm, “according to Odom. All of the athletes from the offensive linemen to the receivers “have to be prepared for a 15 play drive with the ball snapped every 15 seconds.” Balance is key, according to Odom, “On the other hand we have to be smart with the amount of conditioning and rest time we give them. We don’t want to burn them out, especially once the season starts. There is a fine line between getting what we need to get from these guys but not pushing them enough to where they start to break down. June is a tough month. We’re getting a lot of volume in. A key in our practice tempo is shorter rest between reps, and the volume is determined by rest time. A lot of it is on the athlete to give a full effort during that rep. The rest time is there for a specific reason, it all goes back to trust,” explains the coach harping on the relationships he’s trying to build with his athletes.

In speaking of the different types of workouts, Coach Odom explains, “If we’re going to have a short sprint day we’ll have power lifts to work the lower body. It’s short explosive sprints so it’s short explosive lifts; some power cleans, dead lifts and any variations of squats. If we run more than 30 yards, we do things from the hang position which is not quite as explosive, with more endurance lifts. On upper body days, running wise it’s going to be a tempo type run or agility day and it’s a flush from the quick movements that we did the previous day, while also getting the abs. And on Wednesday’s we run as a team in the afternoon, and then we have a competition period where two teammates are picked at random, (while not knowing the drill) and go 1-on-1. It puts the spotlight on two guys and it shows what they have on the inside and what they’re made of in front of their teammates. After that they’ll go do their voluntary 7-on-7s.”

During the season the volume of the workouts tones down, according to Coach Odom, “depending on the playing time of each athlete. We probably have three or four different programs varying from a heavy to an easier workload. You have guys who play 80 to 85 snaps per game to guys who travel but maybe don’t play a lot and then you have freshman and redshirt freshman who don’t travel and will have a heavier workload (in the weight room). And of course the freshmen are on a whole different program at this point as a lot of them are still learning how to work out. This all needs to be coordinated by schedule as well. You have class and study hall to worry about as well. The academics staff gets me their schedules and I coordinate all of the groups.”

Training for Speed

This is a subject that fascinates many fans as it’s a philosophy that separates UH from a lot of schools, and there are indeed ways to teach, or train, for speed, according to Coach Odom, “Sure, a lot of guys are born fast, but whose to say they can’t improve? There are two ways you can go about it; 1.) The stronger you are the more power you’re going to put to the ground, which further distances your traveling when you run, and 2.)  Sprinting is a skill, as is being a proficient runner. The more proficient you are the less energy you use which equals the quicker you’ll be.” Odom then breaks it down in its most simplest terms when he says, “Hey, if you can run, you can run. For example, in this incoming class we have quite a few 100 Meter guys with some sub 10.5 times, which is pretty amazing. The entire time I was at Arizona we had maybe three or four guys that were sub 10.5 runners. This class alone I think we have five, which is pretty awesome. They already know how to run because they’ve been coached in high school in such a good way that we’re just basically working on power – which they’ll develop more of as they get older. We teach how to sprint but these guys can run across the board. Again, that’s one of the things that makes Houston so good.”

A Quiet Intensity

One thing you’ll notice about Odom is that he isn’t very outspoken if he doesn’t need to be. He’ll work with you, if you work with him, “I’m currently working out 115 to 120 guys and only 105 can go into camp,” per NCAA rules. “Fifteen guys who are working out today (remember this interview took place in mid June), who are doing everything right may not make it to camp. Now they can rejoin the team once school starts and anyone that wants to get better I’ll be more than happy to work with. It doesn’t matter what their background is, but if they want to be a part of this team they will be held accountable. They’re expected to work, but they understand it’s for their own good. During the season players will workout with their required groups and will be held accountable for being in those groups and if they don’t show up, it won’t be a good deal. I told them this from the get-go; things happen, people oversleep or get flat tires. I’m very easy in that if you communicate with me I’ll be more than happy to work with you, but if you don’t then I won’t. If they miss and do their punishment it’s over with and we move on. I won’t hold things against them if they’re trying. You can’t really punish guys anyway in the summer because they’re ‘voluntary’ workouts, and guys have done an outstanding job of wanting to be a part of their group. That’s their group and they owe it to their teammates to do it. Now during the school year is when you can really hold them accountable for that stuff from their end, and I would hope that they appreciate where I’m coming from on that. I’m not going to treat them bad but if you screw up you’ll pay for it and then it’s over with, just like in life.”

During our interview Coach Odom could not have been more gracious but as Raymond (Moore – Coogfans Web admin) told me after our interview, “One of the comments that he said gave me chills.  He said that he will work with students who work but do not cross him.  It will be VERY unpleasant for that person.  When he said that he had a very sober tone and serious look.  I have rarely met anyone with that kind of (quiet) intensity.”

Sports Medicine

And how is Odom (and staff’s) relationship with the training department (led by head trainer Michael ‘Doc’ OShea)? “It’s been tremendous. We work together everyday and I have a tremendous relationship with his staff as I did the previous staffs. We get along great and that’s the only way you’re gonna exist and make things work,” explained the veteran trainer who has been with the athletic department for nearly nineteen years (beginning in 1993), after serving with Louisville (1985-93) and Miami (79-85) when they upset Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win their first national championship in 1983. O’Shea began his career at Blinn JC as a student assistant trainer in 1963, “I’m originally from Texas (Brenham) and graduated from the University of Texas (1968) and Annette (whom he has been married too for 41 years) is as well. We were away from Texas for over 25 years and when we got this opportunity she told me that this is it, we’re staying in Texas. I love Houston and I love the university. I also love where I’m at so that’s why I don’t even look at other places, even though I’ve had other offers through the years. With the progress we’re making now I plan on staying much longer because it’s unbelievable driving through campus with everything going on,” O’Shea explained after I asked him why UH?

Changes in the Industry

“Oh, obviously the different types of modalities have upgraded but the biggest change is that you have so many advanced ways to diagnose injuries. MRI’s make everybody’s job much easier, as to before the doctor has to guess on a diagnosis. The biggest change lately is our ‘concussion management plan.’ Years ago we didn’t know what we know today about the symptoms. A lot more technological advances and research is being done but what hasn’t changed is that you still have to communicate with the athlete and treat him/her.”

Daily Schedule

Doc’s schedule is the same twelve months a year; he wakes up at 4 A.M. and gets to the AAC around 4:45. After his own personal workout, team workouts usually begin around 6 (for the summer). During the season (August through January) treatments will start around 7 in the morning during the week, and around 1 P.M on Sunday’s (the players only ‘off’ day). After Sunday’s treatments ‘Doc’ will give the coaches an early injury report, which gives them an idea on who will and who will not be able to play the following week.

Training Staff

John Houston—Associate Athletic Trainer-Men’s Basketball

Hide Okuwa—Assistant Athletic Trainer-Football

Haji Takashima—Assistant Athletic Trainer-Baseball

Amanda Barbee Helms—Assistant Athletic Trainer-Women’s Basketball

Michelle Malloy—Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer-Men’s and Women Track and Field

Jill Hancock—Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer— Women’s Softball

Jenna Duffek—Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer— Women’s  Volleyball

Danielle Keyes—Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer— Women’s Soccer

Brad Newton—Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer-Football

Corey Newton—Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer-Women’s Swimming and Diving 

All of the staff has various responsibilities such as Medical Insurance and claims, budget, post op rehab, policy and procedures, inventory, physicals, student trainer education, drug education and testing, daily physician appointments and general maintenance and upkeep of the athletic training room, besides their main job description of the care and prevention and rehabilitation of the student-athlete.

Tara Boening has been the team nutritionist (and the only full time one in CUSA) since April of 2010. She also works with Coach Odom on an every day basis, “He does all the weigh-ins, and then I’ll help out with weight issues that week – this guy needs to gain so I’ll give him some extra protein bars or shakes. I’ll ask that guy what went wrong this week, why did you lose or gain the extra weight? I’ll sit down and make a plan for that week or the long term if that needs to be the case. We work with the trainers as far as hydration, especially in August and we all look at the weight reports together. This guy’s lost eight pounds during practice so we have to monitor meals between practices for example. So we manage that and also anything clinical such as if we had a diabetic athlete,” explains the graduate of Texas A&M, where she earned her Bachelors in Nutritional in 2006. She worked for the Aggies athletic department through undergrad and graduate school (receiving her Masters in Kinesiology in 07). After moving to Katy because of her husband’s job transfer, she worked as a personal trainer for 18 months before starting the nutrition program at UH because as she says, “it’s exactly what I wanted since it was what I went to school for and had experience working in college already.” There are only around 30 full time team nutritionists in inter-collegiate athletics as it’s a new trend. According to Boening it’s really exploded within the past six years, “though a lot of schools have consultants, such as for eating disorders. When we move to the Big East we’ll join Louisville who has one and Notre Dame who has two nutritionists.”

Other responsibilities include writing the menus “for everything the team eats during the season and then I’ll contribute to the pre game meals on the road,” Boening said. Once the season begins a ‘training table’ will be available four nights per week on top of meals on the road, per NCAA guidelines. She also meets with the team once per week and hands out ‘fact sheets’ on nutrition, “last week we talked about fast food as an example. Basically my main responsibility is anything and everything food related. The guys will run recipe ideas by me, etc.” For the summer she’ll see the volleyball team, women’s hoops team and will attend a football workout each Monday. Every Wednesday she see’s the football team at 4:45 (during the summer). Some of her scheduled meetings with the various teams are set but not all. This will change come August when she’ll be at all the teams’ meals.

Supplements and the NCAA   

Athletic departments are hamstrung when it comes to this issue, according to Coach Odom, “Nutrition stores are worried only about making a buck, not the students’ welfare. We had a guy at Arizona who wanted to take some supplements on the side. The store told him they were NCAA compliant so he took them. About a month later he took an NCAA drug test, failed and was off the team. You educate them and tell them to bring in anything you buy and let us look at it, but they’re still kids. Plus there are limitations to what we can give them (supplement wise). If we don’t have a contract with a company, we can’t supply it, though we are getting better at that. We just recently got a smoothie machine that gives the guys a little more protein.” In conclusion, as Odom has emphasized on nutrition, “a lot is on the players. Do you consider yourself a Ferrari or a Ford pickup?”

In next week’s “Behind the Scenes” we’ll take a look at the Equipment Operations staff, led by Jay Takach.


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