Building a stronger, faster Idaho

WHO IS IDAHO'S STRONGEST PLAYER? Who is the fastest? Who has made the most gains this off-season, and what is the driving force behind Idaho's reshaped offensive line? We caught up with Idaho Strength & Conditioning head coach JACOB SCHARNHORST to ask these questions and more, and to gain a better understanding of his philosophy in terms of conditioning and the progress the program is making.

Many thanks to University of Idaho Strength and Conditioning Head Coach Jacob Scharnhorst for taking a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk with us recently. For the casual fan, the success of a program is measured almost exclusively by wins and losses during the season. However, the true sign of a program's strength and direction is the progress made by its athletes during offseason training. More specifically, improvements in strength and conditioning are the first step to yielding improvements in competition during the season.

When the new weightroom was completed in 2004, the new facility brought instant credibility to the strength and conditioning program at Idaho. The first strength coach hired to prepare Idaho's athletes in the new facility was Aaron Ausmus who came to Idaho from USC with newly hired football coach Nick Holt in 2004. Ausmus immediately set the tone that strength and conditioning would be a cornerstone in the Vandal football program.

In 2005 Ole Miss of the SEC hired Ausmus away, but Idaho's new facility (as well as an emphasis on conditioning by Holt and his staff) netted significant interest in Ausmus's replacement. The Vandals got another solid coach, hiring Scott Gadeken from LSU, where he was an assistant strength coach for the football team and the Head Strength Coach for the men's and women's basketball teams.

Four years later, in the summer of 2009, Gadeken left Idaho for the University of Washington (he since has taken over as the head of physical conditioning at the IMG Performance Institute). In his place Idaho went back to its roots and hired Jacob Scharnhorst as its new strength and conditioning head coach. Scharnhorst, a native of Genesee (Ida.), came to Idaho from Utah State where he was the head strength and conditioning coach, after serving three years as an assistant at Ole Miss. Prior to that he actually began his career at the University of Idaho as an assistant under Jon Francis and Aaron Ausmus.

We recently sat down with Coach Scharnhorst to talk about the transformation of the team under second year head football coach Paul Petrino. The Vandals run a more up-tempo style of offense and are building an attacking defense, all of which requires speed and more agility, in addition to strength development.

Iverson Speed & Strength Center

How does Idaho's strength now compare to year's past, and what measures do you use to benchmark progress?

"That's a hard question to answer, because every year the team's different. When we test we average out bench press, back squat, power clean, and then we average out a relative strength compared to the kid's body weight. But every year you're losing seniors who have been in the program; junior college kids two years, some three; other kids four, some five. You're losing some guys who are your stronger guys every year, replacing them with new guys. So, in terms of how the strength has improved, our averages this year are right where they were last year, but we have a lot of younger kids, this was their first winter offseason, and we lost some seniors that have been in the program for four or five years, some since '09.

Each year is different. How many new kids do you have? How green are they in terms of training, in terms of how many cycles have they been with us in training? And how many seniors did you lose? So, each year is just different.

Do you aim for anything like the number of guys that are benching 400, squatting 500?

"Not necessarily. The benchmarks that everybody always talks about are benching 400 and squatting 500 pounds. But to be honest, the biggest numbers are your relative strength numbers. It's great to see, for example, Cody Elenz squatted 535 pounds, one of our offensive linemen. But how does that compare to your body weight, what do you squat? For example, if you want to be a fast kid like Richard Montgomery, who ran a 4.29 forty for us, he squats like 2.31 times his body weight – THAT'S why he's so fast. He weighs 162-pounds and squatted 375-pounds deep. Jacob Sannon was the best relative strength squat, squatting 430 weighing 182 pounds.

That's why those kids are fast. So to me, it's not necessarily how many of them are over 500, over 400, over 300. Number one you want to see personal bests – is the kid improving each phase. That's number one, because if we're getting better we're on the right track. Number two is relative strength. If you're benching, how much can you bench compared to your body weight? How much can you power clean compare to your body weight? And how much can you squat compared to your body weight? And the squat is one of the biggest ones in terms of relative strength, because like I said if you want fast kids you've got to have great relative strength compared to your body weight. So we're looking at guys squatting at least two times over their body weight."

Can you talk a little bit about who has made the most progress this off-season?

"Really, all these freshmen and junior college kids that came in, some of them came in last winter. Some of the junior college guys like Marc Millan, Jerrel Brown, Kris Olugbode, and Juan Martinez, those guys made big gains from winter to summer to now. But in terms of guys that came in the fall or the summer, that really helped us as freshmen, Jacob Sannon has made huge gains. Richard Montgomery, a runningback -- I've seen it all spring in terms of how he takes on tacklers on the field, his power, and his cuts. His squat has gone up 80 pounds, his one rep max. His bench has gone up, he's gained body mass. Matt Linehan has gained 10 pounds of body mass, his clean has gone up 50 pounds, and his squat's gone up about 50 pounds.

So, all those freshmen, that's really on average for those guys. All those freshmen, you come in during the summer, and you get a summer cycle. But in that cycle you're learning how to lift. Some of them, like Richard, he came from a background where he didn't have weight training. So he didn't know how to do a dumbbell row, let alone a power clean, or to squat right. So you teaching them for the summer cycle, and then in-season most of those kids played. During the week they're playing and traveling. Ideally, once we get more depth those freshmen will come in and lift four days a week during the fall. Those kids that were playing were lifting three, that third day being more auxiliary type stuff, because games are on Saturday and that third day was on Thursday. So in terms of the weight we're handling we're still teaching a lot of them. Really the first big cycle was this winter offseason. I expect that in spring ball a lot of them have already gotten stronger. Tony Lashley, he just came in in January, he only back squatted 330. Well, he hit that for five in spring ball already. So in only four weeks in spring ball he's already gone up a ton. A lot of these kids, we get another cycle under our belt in the summer, our strength is going to be way better, because really a lot of them have only had one good cycle of training."

The offensive line seems a lot leaner, more nimble, than in the past. Is that accurate, or is the group of guys just a little different?

Last year we came off the 2012 season and a lot of our linemen were too heavy. Last winter, the 2013 off season, we trimmed those guys down a lot. We did extra conditioning sessions three times a week, on top of their drills outside, on top of their weight training and mat drills. So we trimmed those guys down. Part of that is just buy in, in terms of the style of offense, the up tempo, and knowing that they needed to be leaner. Seeing that helps with their agility and mobility on the field. It started last year and it's just continued on. Now they know, ‘Hey I can't be as heavy as I was with this system.'

It seems like there's a lot more movement on the line, not so much straight ahead banging.

"Yeah, and just more up-tempo offense in general. Trying to get the plays off faster, you have to be in good shape. And practice -- our practice is a lot more up-tempo than it was in the past, so you've got to be in good shape. It started last year, and it's carried over."

How does Idaho's program compare to what you saw at Ole Miss and Utah State?

"I came up under John Francis, who is at San Diego State now -- he was the head strength coach here. I was with him about a year and a half, two years. And then Coach Ausmus, who was with Pete Carroll at USC, he came here with Coach Nick Holt [2004]. I was one of Aaron's assistants. A lot of what we do is based on the philosophy I learned from him. We took that to Ole Miss in terms of how we squat, the Olympic movements we do, the agility, and the conditioning we do. Since then, Aaron's gone to North Texas, Tennessee, and then back to USC. He's a good friend of mine, he brought me with him to Mississippi and we keep in touch.

"A lot of what we do is based on that philosophy. And you're always progressing. You're either getting better or you're getting worse, so you're always progressing in the field. But the nuts and bolts of what we do comes from that USC tradition -- Chris Carlisle (formerly with USC and now Strength & Conditioning Head Coach with the Seattle Seahawks), all the way back to John Stucky (formerly the long-time strength coach at Tennessee) and that philosophy. And then there are tweaks along the way. You have to evaluate the team you have each year. Based on the team you have, what do these kids need the most? Well, we'll never go away from back squatting deep and heavy, and front squatting, and single leg movements, and hamstring/glute development, and Olympic movements. But there will be some slight modifications here and there in that system."

Were you here when this facility [The Iverson Speed & Strength Center] was built? It was a pretty big change from that old weight room.

"Yeah, we were in that old weight room in 2002, 2003 with Coach Francis in there. Then in 2004 Wendell Richards, who was an assistant at the time, we moved all this equipment in here. Francis designed this, and then Aaron came in right after spring break in 2004 and that's right after we got it all set up."

Do you still have everything you need?

"We're always looking to improve it in certain ways. Each year we've added some stuff. We've added glute-ham machines, we've added five more platforms, we've added the kettle bells, and the battle ropes, and some power sleds. But you know each year – there are always things we need each year. Some of them are bigger ticket items, some of them are smaller.

"It's not just football, it's all 16 sports that are training in here. We're training everybody, over 300 athletes are touching this equipment every week. Plus we have PE classes in here, so once a day, five days a week, we have physical education classes in here too. It gets a lot of use.

"But it's a functional facility."

Can you share some of the top performers right now on the team?

"I'll give you some overall weight totals, some testing numbers that some people may want to know. As far as overall weight totals for clean, squat, and bench, the best on the team is defensive lineman Ryan Edwards at 1,312 pounds. We've got another D-lineman, defensive end Quinton Bradley, who's about 255-pounds now -- he should have a great year -- his overall weight total is 1,170 pounds. Mike Marboe and freshman Steven Matlock, both offensive linemen, are both at 1,158 pounds. And then freshman defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu, is at 1,148 pounds. He came in at a weight of 250-ish, and he's at 295 pounds now. In spring ball he's gotten even stronger.

"So, just looking at that how much better the program is now, two of the top six guys I just mentioned are freshmen. That shows you the type of guys we're bringing in now.

"In terms of speed, we'll talk about squat-relative-strength and how fast these kids are now. Jacob Sannon, 182-pounds, squatted 430-pounds, so that is 2.36 times his body weight. Richard Montgomery weighs 162-pounds and squatted 375-pounds, 2.31 times his body weight. Montgomery ran a 4.29-40 because he's got that strength in his lower body. Sannon ran a 4.40-40. Dezmon Epps ran a 4.39-40. Doyin Sule ran a 4.38-40. Jordan Grabski ran a 4.36-40. Bradley Njoku ran a 4.43-40. Jayshawn Jordan, a corner, ran a 4.48-40. And Desmond Banks ran a 4.40-40. Desmond will keep getting faster as he gets stronger, he has a big frame. He's put on some weight, but he can put on another 10-12 pounds easy and you won't see it because he's so long. Right now he's playing corner, but if he puts on weight the right way they may move him to safety, or if he keeps gaining they may move him to linebacker, you never know. But he has the frame to put on a lot of weight.

"Jerrel Brown ran a 4.58, that's not bad considering he's 216-pounds … he's a pretty big ‘back, and he's a lot stronger now too. Delency Parham, our corner, ran a 4.50-40. Joshua McCain is in the 4.40 range, and he's been doing really well at wideout too.

"In general, we can get them faster – we do get them faster – but if you want to be faster you have to recruit fast kids. You look at some of these names, some of the fastest kids on the team are brand new."

ALL Vandals Top Stories