Rays of Light: On S&C and Recruiting Rankings

Former Michigan standout and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray weighs in on the fan debate about Michigan's strength & conditioning program and shares his opinion on why recruiting rankings don't always translate to success.

Many are asking questions about strength & conditioning in light of Michigan’s recent struggles, but it seemed to be a hotly debated topic even when the Wolverines were experiencing.  The disparity in S&C acumen was amazingly apparent a few decades ago, but many athletes will tell you that gap no longer exists.

“I would agree wholeheartedly that I don’t think there is a drop off between even schools in the Mid American Conference through the top level in the (FBS).  Mike Gittleson was the very first strength & conditioning coach, way back in the 70’s.  That was a creative position because of his presence in the Michigan program and how Bo Schembechler met Mike and hired him.  Mike Gittleson developed a lot of pros.  But in today’s world, the way people train is a lot different.  I think there are more innovative strategies and things that you can do, so what Mike Gittleson did was good at the time for 30 years.  Then as the game started to change, then you started to train the athlete a little bit differently.  So, enter a Mike Barwis, who I think is probably at the top of the tops in not only just collegiate strength & conditioning, but also he trains professional athletes.  Mike Barwis essentially gave Larry Foote, along with (Michigan women’s track & field coach) James Henry down the street, another five to six years added to his career because of the way he trained physically.” 

Henry’s expertise has long been tapped into by Michigan football players, and numerous.  Former all pro (and Detroit Lion) cornerback Dre Bly was one of a number of pros that have been seen in Ann Arbor working with the longtime track coach.

“He’s always helped out Michigan football players.  I would, right now, encourage any Michigan football player to utilize Coach Henry’s stretching services and some of his track services right now because it’s free.  Now, he is going to charge you once you graduate.” 

“Coach Henry knows what he’s doing.  He actually helped Ty Law.  He helped Biakabutuka, Tyrone Wheatley.  I mean, we all used to go to James Henry for stretching and learning how to run a 40.  But you know, Gittleson didn’t like that but we got the best of both worlds.” 

Gittleson’s techniques are still used in multiple college football programs (including Michigan State) to this day.  Barwis is one of the most renowned strength coaches in the country, training multiple professional athletes in multiple sports, and is now the trainer for the New York Mets. Aaron Wellman has developed professionals at every stop, including Ball State.  What’s the point in laying all of that out?  They’re all good at what they do.

I think from what Gittleson has done, to watching Mike Barwis and the guys that he has trained, I think Barwis has got you more NFL combine ready and I think Gittleson got you more ready to play football. 

 Barwis had more of an emphasis on speed, times, and diet, and all of that stuff.  I think Aaron Wellman was doing the same thing.  Some of those kids over there (in Michigan’s football program currently) have drastically changed physically. To say that Michigan is not being successful as they compare to other programs (in strength & conditioning), I think is ludicrous.” 

For more commentary from Ray on this topic and why recruiting rankings don’t always translate to success, press play below.

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