Illinois has a new offense and defense this year under new head coach Tim Beckman. Strength and Conditioning Coach Aaron Hillmann must take the needs of the team into consideration when preparing football players to play their best on the field.
Some teams want their offensive linemen as big and strong as possible. Others need them lean and quick. Illinois fits the latter category according to Hillmann.
"We are going to run an offense of various tempos, but it will be fast-paced. When we are training them, that must be taken into consideration. If you're running a traditional offense where you're huddling every time, we go up to the line, get into a three-point stance and run a power iso, the demands are really different than a team that's not going to get into the huddle much and go, go, go.
"I know Tim Beckman believes that because he's been a defensive coordinator. He knows what kind of pressure you put on a defense when you're wham, wham, wham.
"In terms of our offensive linemen, which is a really good group of kids, we need to be able to move. We need to be able to have great stamina so that our performance skill-wise isn't diminished because of that. We want lean and strong, which equals fast, quick, efficient and enduring. That's what we're interested in."
Weight and body fat control are not limited to offensive linemen. One running back that graduated recently had trouble regulating his diet, and there were others as well. But focus on proper nutrition is a major aspect of a good training program according to Hillmann.
"The biggest thing with losing body fat, it is calories in, calories out. Their nutrition is absolutely critical. The person we've dealt with on that is Susan Kundrat, the sport nutritionist here. Nutrition is not my gig. I have dangerous knowledge; I can't even get my own diet set.
"So we're going to defer to experts. For me to sit, pound the table and tell you that I'm an expert on nutrition, you look at my educational background, you'll see that I took a nutrition class. Susan is a registered dietitian. She's at every training table, she's doing body composition analysis, she's available.
"One of the things affecting the success of nutritionists with our football team is accessibility. The more you're around, the better job you're going to do. That's one thing we need to do in this department, her position is not full-time. It needs to be because accessibility is the key."
Self-discipline can be extremely difficult for some athletes to maintain, especially when it comes to proper nutrition. Hillmann, his staff and Kundrat must be psychologists as well.
"It's not easy, but yet we become behavior modifiers. I told the kids this the other day, the word accountability gets thrown around a lot. What does accountability mean?
"Just like in the accounting of your checkbook, balancing your deposits with your charges, is the balance between expectations and behaviors. We're going to be nothing but honest with the kids. This is the expectation. Your behavior is gonna have to balance that out."
Hillmann has some ideas on how to get the best results.
"I'm big on goal-setting. You ask a kid what his goal is. He says, 'I don't know.' How is he ever going to get there? He's not. We have a couple kids in the offensive line who need to lose weight. How much do you want to weigh? I make them say it. If I tell them how much I want them to weigh, that's my goal. You need to take full ownership of this.
"I have some benchmarks for individuals that simply target where they're supposed to be to meet their goal. So now if you have a goal, you can modify your behavior. If your behaviors don't match your goals, you're never going to get there.
"This is your goal, you said it. You understand why you'll be better when you reach that goal. Now we need to modify your behaviors.
"It's our job to educate that with the nutrition because some kids just don't know how to eat or drink. They don't know the basics. We start out our first four weeks here with basic training in the weight room and on the field, and also basic training with nutrition.
"We instituted a program called nutrition school. That was required. Every day at 9:00 am, you lifted at 7:30 am, and at 9:00 am you got a little protein shake, went to the team room and went to nutrition school. They learned the basics."
A major problem trying to modify behavior is the misunderstanding many have regarding what is good nutrition and what isn't.
"I've heard horror stories of kids telling me, 'I don't know why I'm not losing weight, I don't eat anything.' What do you drink? 'I drink 8 Mountain Dews a day.' So he's right, he isn't eating excessively, but he's getting a boatload of sugar."
In the final part of his interview, Hillmann talks about his players, especially his senior class.