Morris Adjusts Attitudes

PITTSBURGH -- Buddy Morris is the Indiana Jones of strength and conditioning coaches, he's always searching for that holy grail.

Buddy Morris said he doesn't know if it exists as far as speed and strength training goes, but until someone proves that it doesn't he's going to keep reading and researching to look for more productive methods to train the University of Pittsburgh's football team.

So, one day, not far from Morris' discerning eyes, the Panthers could be found stretching with large rubber bands, strapped to a sled and pulling from 50-100 pounds in free weights or doing something with telephone poles.

"I just had them delivered,'' Morris said while Pitt went through a spring practice at the UPMC Sports Complex. "I'm thinking about what to do with them. Then, I have to come up with a way for them to swim the river over there. ... People say I'm unorthodox because they haven't heard of the things that I do, but my methodology and philosophies come from the old Eastern Block countries, the Russians, East Germans, Poles and Czechs.

"Now, it's the Chinese and Turks. They figured it out a long time ago, and we don't know how to train over here. They approach it as a science, and we don't. I believe in variation, challenging players and putting them in chaotic situations. That's what football is, and I believe in introducing them to different stimuli to allow them to continue to grow.''

Morris graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980, and this is his third stint at his alma mater as the Panthers' strength and conditioning coach. He first worked with Pitt's football players from 1980-89, returned from 1997-2001 and third-year coach Dave Wannstedt brought him back this year. Morris has worked with former Panthers greats like Dan Marino, Mark Stepnoski, Jim Sweeney and Curtis Martin, to name just a few.

Current projects include fifth-year senior defensive end Chris McKillop and fifth-year senior center Chris Vangas. Both are on their third strength and conditioning coach at Pitt, and Morris -- not unexpectedly -- stands out in comparison to previous ones Dave Kennedy and Mike Kent.

"Obviously, he makes you work, and it has to be done his way,'' McKillop said. "You have to wear a yellow shirt, tucked in, and blue pants. So, he's very strict, but it works. Last year, it took a couple practices to get into football shape. This year, I was in football shape the minute I stepped on the field.

"I really credit that to Buddy. His conditioning program is one of a kind. Since Buddy's been here, I've put on maybe six pounds of muscle. I'm leaner and stronger, and I'm getting quicker. We bench and squat and punch our lifts. More speed and power and explosiveness, that's what we need.''

Vangas noted that Morris never allows more than 24 players in the weight room at one time because it's easier to work with a smaller group. That way, the players get more individualized help from either Morris or the several helpers -- experts in speed and strength training -- that he brings in.

"I guess I've seen it all since I've been here,'' Vangas said. "Buddy, he treats everybody the same, starters and walk-ons. I like that. He's big on technique and doing things the right way. He worked with our technique.

"He taught us to bench differently, and that was tough. I wasn't as strong as I was before. But I can feel my (blocking) punches a lot better now. We're a more explosive group now, and that's what we needed.''

Senior Jeff Otah, Pitt's left offensive tackle, is huge by any standards at 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds. He probably was a little heavier last fall, his first season after transferring from Valley Forge Military Academy, and there's clearly a difference now.

"I'm about 335 pounds right now, but I lost a lot of weight and put muscle back on,'' Otah said. "And I'm a lot quicker and faster and stronger than I was. He uses weights to work on our speed, and that's real different. We're running, so we can work hard in the weight room afterward.

"I never heard of anything like that. The first practice, we weren't tired at all like before. It didn't take us long to get into it on the field because we were prepared from our workouts. We still feel good after every practice because we're in so much better shape than we were before.''

Wannstedt said Morris' biggest tangible accomplishment is knocking the big stomachs off Pitt's offensive and defensive linemen and got them to gain strength in the process. Morris believed the Panthers didn't accomplish much yet, mostly because they have such a long way to go in his estimation.

When Morris arrived, he conducted the Max Jones Quadrathlon tests on Pitt's players. They are used primarily in track and field to test power and speed athletes. He also worked with the University's scholars in exercise and physiology, as well as a nutritionist.

"We put (the linemen) in a tank, and quite frankly, we were fat,'' Morris said. "We weren't a very fit football team. Our big guys just can't produce the force needed to knock people off the line. The bottom line is that this game is violent, and it is not for little boys.

"We're going to train them to be prepared for that. Training is supposed to be hard, and we want to train them to be ready for that. We don't want to make it easy on them. We still need to decrease more body fat on our lines and become more fanatical about our training.

"We need to become unforgiving savages,'' Morris added. "That's what this game requires. So, we've got a lot of work to do this summer, speed work and power lifting. Honestly, I'm anxious for spring practice to be over so we can get back into the weight room and get back to training again.''

Until then, Morris can be found leading the Panthers in running drills, lifting blocks or pushing cars or digging ditches, until he finds that holy grail.

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