1-on-1 With MSU Strength Coach Brian Neal

Mississippi State assistant strength coach Brian Neal talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about MSU Baseball strength and conditioning.

There are a lot of new guys on this team. How do you handle them as far as weight and conditioning is concerned?
"We try to slow it down as much as we can. We try to progress them as best as we can. We want to accommodate them but we don't want to slow down so much that we hinder the older guys. What I try to do is get the older players to help coach and mentor the younger players, set the standard that we have set over the past few years."

They are all in the weight room together, right?
"They are all in their together. Everybody is doing the same things. The older guys know my expectations, know my standard, know how to do the lifts correctly and safely. So, if we have 40+ guys in there we have a lot of older guys that are proficient with the lifts so they can bring the younger guys along."

How much does a veteran like Wes Rea help in the weight room? He is a five-year guy who has seen it all.
"He is great. He is such a good guy, not only on the field but also in the locker room. He's a great guy to have on your side in the weight room. He has a presence about him not just due to his size but due to his personality and smile. I think everybody looks up to him and looks to him for advice. He's a leader. He keeps things lite but at the same time lets people know to work hard. He's one of those guys who sees someone slack off, he's going to get on them about it."

You walk a fine line because you are trying to get the guys bigger and stronger but you also have to make sure they are ready for the fall scrimmages. How do you do that?
"It's tough, especially with baseball. They are still practicing, whether it is 4-on-1s or scrimmages. They are still throwing bullpens, still taking swings. Due to that, it is a little tougher to manage that. But the coaches here are great. They support me 100% with whatever I do. We communicate a lot. We know when we can push them and when we can't.

"Our pitchers like to be pushed. They don't want to be held back just because they are a pitcher. They know the work that we are putting in is an investment."

Where did the pitchers get that type attitude?
"I think it's from the older guys. We have had some really great guys in the past who have led the way. Kendall Graveman was a great one. Ben Bracewell was a really great one at learning how to compete and teaching everybody else what it is like to work hard and see the successes that come from it.

"And Coach Thompson, Coach Cohen, Coach Mingione, all the coaches, put a huge emphases on strength and conditioning. I think our coaches realize the impact that it has had on our guys' health and strength the past few years. their velocities, things like that. It starts from the top down and our coaches do a really good job of relaying how important strength and conditioning is."

Of the new guys, I hear Andrew MaHoney is a great one in the weight room.
"He is an animal. He has a motor. He is a competitor. We have our competition Friday and he's not going to get beat. He may not be the fastest person or the strongest person but he's going to try his best to beat you. That is really what we want. And our guys feed off of that. He's pushed a lot of our freshmen. It has pushed a lot of our upperclassmen to try and beat him in certain races.

"We have a bunch of guys like that. It's not just him. We have a lot of guys who really like to work hard."

As far as pitchers go, isn't your role more to get them strong enough to maintain their velocity deeper into a game. Am I right in saying that?
"You are right. My main goal is health, injury-prevention. Ross Mitchell can throw 90 miles per hour. But he doesn't because when he does throw his fastball at 90 it is flat. With Ross, he's more effective when he throws 82, 83 because he has the movement and sink. Trevor Fitts can throw 92, 93 but he's not as effective at that velocity because he can't locate it as well when he throws 88, 90. My main is not to make them throw as hard as they can. My main goals are to keep them healthy and to maintain whatever their velocity is over 70-something games so that they can win a national championship."

One guy who did gain velocity was Lucas Laster.
"Lucas Laster came in last year throwing 82 and he topped out at 92, 93 last year. I think that was during the conference tournament. He was finding new velocity that late in the season. That is what I want to do. When everybody else is losing velocity I want our pitchers to either be maintaining their velocity or increasing it at the end of the season."

How did that happen with Lucas Laster?
"I think the combination of being around a lot of great pitchers and one of the best pitching coaches in the country helped. But he also gained about 30 pounds during the off-season and maybe 1% of body fat. When you have that type of power and muscle behind you, combined with what Coach Thompson has taught him, it is pretty powerful.

"I think Dakota Hudson did the same thing. I think he gained 20 to 25 pounds last year and his body fat actually went down. I think his velocity went from 92 to 96."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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