A Q&A With Assistant S&C Coach Erik Korem

Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Erik Korem talks about how he wound up at Mississippi State, his philosophy of athletic performance, and about him training several of MSU's senior football players for the NFL Pro Day.

How did you wind up at Mississippi State?
"I did my graduate assistant work in Applied Exercise Physiology at the University of Arkansas in 2004. I started by working with women's athletics and football. I had seven teams. Obviously, Arkansas track and field is good. And I've always been obsessed with speed development because it was something that I lacked personally. So, I started hanging out with Brauman who is the sprint coach and watching John McDonnell. And I starting working with some of the athletes and with Rolando Greene who is the women's track coach.

"After my first year (at Arkansas) Veronica Campbell had won the gold medal in the 200 and the 4x1, and a bronze in the 100-meter dash. Lance brought her to me and told me that he would like for me to work with her in the weightroom. I started working with her and got to go to the 2005 World Championships with her as her strength and conditioning coach.

"After I finished my graduate assistantship, I was the head strength coach at Fort Valley State. When the staff was let go, I went back to Texas A&M as a volunteer coach. And that's where I met (current MSU head strength and conditioning coach) Ben Pollard. From there, I got the head strength coaching job at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and stayed there for a year. Then, Ben called me and brought me to Mississippi State."

You mentioned Veronica Campbell as a sprinter that you helped train. She's obviously one of the elite sprinters in the world. And she's not the only elite athlete that you have worked with. Who are some others?
"Currently, I work with Tyson Gay (the reigning World Champion in the 100m and 200m dashes). I started working with him in January (2008) to help him get ready for this Olympic year. I also work with Natasha Hastings who was an All-American at South Carolina. I work with Sekou Clarke, who is a sprinter from Florida. Lance (Braun) brought me down (to Florida) to do the strength and power development. Speed is not just running mechanics. You have to learn how to develop it in the weightroom and intergrate it with the mechanics on the field. If coaches don't know how to blend the two, they fail to reach optimum results. That's after doing a lot of research and a lot of reading, and talking to coaches. That will separate a good speed program from a bad speed program. You can try to run as fast as you want with good mechanics, but if it's not coupled with the appropriate power development tools you aren't going to get optimum results."

Am I right in saying that it's not as easy to increase the speed of track sprinters as it is with the speed of football players?
"It depends on what their deficiencies are. For instance, we often see the final product at the Olympic Games. What you don't see is those great athletes when they came in their freshman year. Each year, they continued to drop their times. Then, when they finish, they are still getting faster, but the changes aren't as great. They may not be dropping a 10th of a second, maybe 500th of a second. But 500th of a second is the difference between a world championship and finishing 5th sometimes. This year the World Championship had the closest finish in the women's 100 meter dash. It took them about 15 minutes to sort out who had won. We are talking about a blink of an eye, the knee being in the wrong position. So, the changes in track athletes are just as drastic because the timespan that we are looking at is a little bit smaller. But those small changes can result in gold medals or not medaling at all."

As a speed and strength coach, what do you look for in a great athlete?
"I can't speak for our football coaches, but when I was at Fort Valley State I helped with recruiting. They would bring the athletes to me and ask me about them. What you look for is reaction. You look for hip flexibility. The mobility to control their center of gravity. And if they can accelerate well. And if they are accelerating well and they have bad mechanics, you think, wow, look what can happen if we just change a couple of things. Then, if we can train that to be an automatic response, they are going to be lightning fast."

You were involved in the training of several of MSU's seniors for the NFL Pro Day. Who did you train?
"I trained Lance Long, Tyler Threadgill, Dezmond Sherrod, Jason Husband, Justin Williams, and due to class conflicts with Eric Butler I trained him about 50% of the time."

Earlier in this interview, Lance Long came in and told me the pressure of Pro Day wasn't pressure - training under you was pressure. What do you do that puts them under more pressure than they will be under during Pro Day?
"There are two reasons why they have to train under pressure. One, there is a fatigued factor when they do Pro Day because they only had one hour to get all the events in. And your adrenalin is at an enormous level. I can't stimulate adrenalin, it's just going to happen because it is a physiological response. When you are going as hard as you can for one hour, your central nervous system will blow out. Then, when it is over, you are totally exhausted. So, you have to train them under stressful situations. My background is in behavior profiling. My dad wrote the book The Art of Profiling. We figure out how somebody interacts, then I can predict how they will perform tasks, makes decisions, how to sell an idea, how to negotiate with them. It's used by some of the largest Fortune 100 countries in the world, military groups, some elite special forces units. I've been trained in it, so I go out and help teach it.

"One of the things I learned in one of the military groups is that you have to train people under duress. If they aren't training under duress, when you put them in a stressful situation they are not going to know how to react. So, what I did with them is be as detail oriented as I could be. I would try to frustrate them a little because on test day it had to be an automatic response. On test day there couldn't be any nervousness or apprehension because there was going to be a lot of stress due to having 16 to 32 coaches with stop watches that could determine the possibility of them getting into an NFL camp. So, I would play different mind games on them. I demanded that they knew every single drill inside and out. If they couldn't repeat to me exactly what was going on, I would just get ticked off at them. They are grown men, so I'm not going to punish them, but I wanted them to realize that this is serious business. This is their chance, their opportunity.

"That was one aspect of it. Another aspect of it was that I wanted them to understand every detail about everything. When I talked to them about the central nervous system, they knew what the central nervous system was. When I talked to them about reactivity or acceleration mechanics they understood all of it. And because they had made it a part of who they were, they started being able to coach each other. So, by the time we were about four weeks out, I would videotape them and we would watch one person's drill. Then I would tell one of them to coach up the one on video on what he did wrong. It took them about seven to eight weeks to get to that point."

How did the guys do on Pro Day compared to when you first started training them?
"One thing you have to take into consideration is they are all beat up after football season. So, when I got them they were still a little beat up. When I first got them we took pictures of them and measured their body fat. We then did their training and had very, very good results. You can look at their training this way - you put water on a rag, then you squeeze the water out, then you squeeze it again over and over. That's what I wanted to do with them. I wanted to squeeze everything I could get out of these guys. And they worked hard at it."

Give me a few examples of where the players started from and what they ended up doing on Pro Day?
"Lance Long's first vertical (jump) with me was 32 inches and he jumped 39 on test day. Justin Williams went up 3.5 inches. Tyler Threadgill went up 5 inches.

"In the forty, Lance started out with me at 4.68 and I got him at 4.37 on test day, but the NFL coaches added some time to it due to the surface and the different stop watches. They have to have a uniform NFL time. So, they recorded his at 4.5."

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

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