Coach Fitz's Approach Motivates USC Players caught up with new USC strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald recently. Fitzgerald has grabbed the attention of both the Gamecock players and their fans with his competitive and unorthodox approach to one of the most critical aspects of a football team's success. Read inside for this in-depth Q&A session as "Coach Fitz" discusses how he motivates his players to excel.

Doug Jolley: Strength and Conditioning coaches are often the less visible coaches to the public, yet by the excitement you've created in the players and the difference they feel you've made, of the six new coaches at USC you're actually among the highest profile coaches at this point. What do you do to get your players so motivated?

Coach Fitz: Our guys are coming at a good time. These are all Coach Spurrier's recruits, and he recruited a bunch of eager players. We've got guys like Cliff Matthews that you can't keep out of the weight room, and Lemuel Jeanpierre and Pat Dimarco, guys who love training. They are our better players, and players follow them. I also think it is important to make it interesting, so we're doing what we have to do as far as the nuts and bolts from day to day – power clean, squats, conditioning. We're also trying to make the things that we can make interesting - we're trying to make those interesting. So instead of just having the guys go out there and train, we try to put something on the line every time, make it a little bit more of a competitive atmosphere. Just by judging, these guys are all Division I high caliber athletes, they love to compete. So I think that's one of the things. We have good leaders, and we've got a team that wants to compete on a day to day basis, so that's what we're doing.

Doug Jolley: Talk about how you use competition among the players to achieve your goals.

Coach Fitz: Absolutely. Well, the first thing you do is divide them up into teams. You have a choice: you divide them up and you pick teams, or – you're always trying to instill leadership, and that's the goal from the top down. Coach Spurrier wants to develop team leaders, so we actually let them draft the teams. So we have our eight seniors, plus our two rising juniors, and we have them basically draft the teams.  Each team leader will draft ten players, and once they have those guys, they're accountable for them. So it creates about ten mini-teams among the team, which is great for leadership. It kind of divides it up, so you can really get detail on who's working, who's not. The leaders are watching their ten guys, and they know. Also, every week we put everything up for grabs, so teams are competing. For example, they flip tires, seeing what team can flip the tire a hundred yards and back the fastest. It's pretty neat.

Doug Jolley: Which players have demonstrated the most leadership during the workouts?

Coach Fitz: All ten (workout captains) have done one heck of a job, they really have. I could separate them, who's the hardest workers, but I'll tell you what, as far as leadership, these ten guys are taking great ownership. I would say that Moe Brown has done a heck of a job. He's a guy you can point out, he's a guy that holds his guys literally accountable. Also, Nathan Pepper has done a great job. But they all have. If a guy's not working out hard, before I even get to him, that leader and maybe a couple other guys on his mini-team are all over him, and then they just kind of double team that guy.

Doug Jolley: Who are the other ten workout captains?

Coach Fitz: I'll do seniors first: Nathan Pepper, Scotty Spurrier, John Guerry, Moe Brown, Eric Norwood, Lem Jeanpierre, Garrett Anderson, and Darian Stewart.

My Two juniors are Pat Dimarco and Cliff Matthews.

Doug Jolley: Every D-I program has a strength and conditioning program. On game days, what do you think will set yours apart?

Coach Fitz: Well, everything we're doing now. Strength and conditioning, it's all inclusive, all encompassing. It's obviously the strength factor, the speed factor, flexibility, the overall conditioning, the overall toughness. You want your players to gain the team work, pride, the leadership you've developed. I think that's the goal for all that to carry over. It all started January 14th for the 2009 season. January 14th was our first team meeting, and we've been building that from that point on.

There's not one thing you can really point to. They all matter – It matters how fast our guys are, it matters how tough our guys are, so it's all inclusive.

Doug Jolley: In terms of trying to develop that toughness, some have described parts of your program as being unorthodox. Tell us about what you're doing that's not traditional in your workouts.

Coach Fitz: We try and hit the important things in our program at least twice a week, and one of them is conditioning. Before, in programs I've done or been a part of, we've done just straight conditioning twice a week, and I wanted to keep that going, but I wanted to do it once a week and try and create some variety on the other day, and to make it more football specific – more short burst, more full body conditioning. What we've done is, on the unorthodox day, what they may be talking about is we'll set up little rings around the field, and two players get in there, and they've got to push the other guy out. We do rounds like a boxing match. You're back in the ring, you're trying to push the other player out – there's competition points. We do tug-of-wars – just two man tug-of-wars, one-on-one – trying to expose the guys that need to build up their fight, and also expose the guys who do a great job, and how toughness is important.

Also, things like the sand pit – we'll do sprints in there to build up agility. We'll do things like sand bag carries for time and reps. It's actually a harder day, it's just different. The guys are really working hard. They love the variety. But everything you're doing is extremely hard – tire flips, things like that.

On the more traditional conditioning day, we do interval sprints. We try to do that instead of 100-yard sprints. We're actually doing shuttle runs. It's more specific to being quick, so we're trying to kill two birds with one stone. Instead of going out there and doing (100-yard sprints) or over-and-backs or running miles, we're focusing on doing interval sprints and 60-yard shuttles. That works on two things: You're getting in great shape because you're doing repeated reps over and over again, but you're also working on change of direction and quick bursts. That's something we've done, and the players have enjoyed that too because they feel like they're getting better and getting quicker.

Doug Jolley: Can you share some insight on how the player-only drills are going this offseason?

Coach Fitz: The player-led drills, that's really run by them. That's the goal. The Stephen Garcia's and Eric Norwood's of the world, they're the guys that take that leadership role after our strength and conditioning workouts are over. They run it, and they've done a great job this summer. It works out well because all of our players train together. When we're done with our strength and conditioning segment, then we let the players take over. Garcia runs the offense and Norwood runs the defense. Nathan Pepper takes the defensive linemen over to do d-line drills. Garrett Anderson and Lem Jeanpierre will lead o-line drills. They may go in the sandpit and do different things in there. It works out well. It's going real well, and I think it's important that the players do that. I think it's a leadership deal, and it's also more of a want-to thing than a have-to thing. That's important.

Doug Jolley: There's a spotlight right now on Stephen Garcia, as he's expected to step forward and lead the team. You're new to South Carolina and new to working with Garcia. What are you seeing from him during these workouts from a leadership capacity?

Coach Fitz: I think he's a guy who is developing into a leadership role, and the summer is really important to do that. Right now he's doing an excellent job. He's doing a good job of coordinating with Moe Brown and getting the skeleton drills going and getting the players to want to come back and throw the ball around. I'll see those guys throwing the ball around at night on my way home. Garcia will be out there with our receivers doing that, and I think that's a great sign.

I think you start small. You start with the offense, and he's been an excellent leader as far as working hard, pushing himself, and encouraging receivers to do a little extra.

Doug Jolley: One of the more intriguing things you've done this offseason is to dig a sandpit into the practice fields where players can do drills. What are you doing with the sandpit to help players improve?

Coach Fitz: First, the sandpit is great because we're by the state fairgrounds so there's not a ton of hills. It's good to do resistance running and resistance sprint-work, as well as resistance agility to build up the leg toughness. It's a little bit harder on your conditioning and your lungs so it gets you in a little bit better shape. Compared to a normal workout on the grass, you can do similar drills in the pit and it's much harder. That's been good overall for our whole team. We'll do one day of what we call 'sandpit training.' We'll let the offense come in first for thirty minutes and do sandpit training, while we have the defense do some stuff on the grass. Then we'll flip-flop. It's been great.

As far as linemen, specifically, they can work on things like pushing and pulling each other to improve their balance. In the pit, that makes it twice as hard. It's almost like two wrestlers standing up in the middle of a ring, trying to knock the other guy off balance by pulling his neck and pushing him back and so forth. The linemen will do that in the pit a little bit, and they'll also pull sleds in the pit. While the receivers are working more on speed drills, the linemen will go in there and pull some sleds, which obviously adds more resistance than grass. We're aiming to make it harder for those guys, and the pit helps us to do that.

Doug Jolley: What are the dimensions of the sandpit?

Coach Fitz: It's 20-yards by 10-yards. It's not that big. What we do is roll them through. We'll go in waves of about five guys and just wave them through. It's continuous reps. We can get the defense to do about thirty-five reps in about twenty-five minutes in the sandpit. It's constant movement, you're always moving. You're sprinting and jogging back. It's worked out great. I wanted a tight pit so we could watch the guys real close and make it an intense situation.

Doug Jolley: Can you talk about the new equipment you've brought in that is new to the guys?

Coach Fitz: There's a company right in Irmo that's called Sorinex. It's run by two South Carolina alums, Richard Sorin and Bert Sorin. They're father and son. Richard's the father, and the son is Bert. They've become one of the premier strength and conditioning (equipment providers) for collegiate and NFL teams in the country, and they're right in Irmo. What we wanted to do is expand our equipment line because we've decided to train our whole team at one time in the summer and winter. What that allows us to do is have the guys go out and do some football drills together afterward since they're all there together. It really helps them.

Plus, it makes for a lot more of an intense atmosphere. We couldn't do that with our existing room because we didn't have enough pieces or the right pieces. We decided to have (the new equipment) custom made by Sorinex, and that was nice because they're local. We went through this back and forth for a couple months, designing everything just how we wanted to. They manufactured twenty of what they call 'base-camp stations.' Right now we're set up for twenty power stations, and each power station can handle five to six guys at a time. That means five or six guys can be simultaneously doing a different exercise on the thing. You can have one guy doing a squat, one guy is doing a jump resisted by bands, another guy is doing a pull-up on the side of the station, and another guy is doing a shoulder press with an attachment on the side of the rack, while another guy is working on his core with a sandbag. So you've got five guys working at one time, and we do it in circuits. Now you're not only training them to get stronger, but they're getting in great shape because there's no time off. There's nobody waiting around the for the next thing. There's nowhere to hide. Everybody should be working, so there's no reason not to be doing something. We've done that for efficiency purposes so we can pack in more exercises in our little hour clock we're in the weight room.

Doug Jolley: What are the NCAA rules about how long you're able to work with the players during the summer?

Coach Fitz: We're allowed to have them for eight hours per week in the summer.

Doug Jolley: We've heard a lot about the intensity of a new drill you've brought this offseason called the 'dominators.' Can you talk about that?

Coach Fitz: The dominators are our 60-yard shuttles. What they do is, once a week I kind of surprise them on the day because I don't want them to be ready or thinking about conditioning. I want them to always be ready for the hardest day, whether it be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Our hardest conditioning drill is the dominators. What they do is 5 (yards) and back, 10 and back, and 15 and back. It's basically a 60-yard shuttle over and over again.

We do that instead of 100-yard sprints. When you do 100-yard sprints, you can get up to a certain speed and just kind of cruise. With a 60-yard shuttle, you're always changing direction and you always have to accelerate. The players are never cruising, and the time (requirements) are hard where they have to run all the way through the drill. Some days we'll do 18, and other days we may do 20 or 30. We just want to keep them off balance.

You have to go through certain rites of passage as a college football player, and one of them is the dominators. Hopefully that's going to help us when we get in those tight games. That's what we're looking to do, we're looking for our guys to be able to push through and push beyond.

Doug Jolley: Of the younger players, do any of the freshmen stand out to you as being ready to contribute and compete this fall?

Coach Fitz: Just from work ethic, I'll be honest with you - the first good sign is if a guy comes to the summer (session) early or graduates from high school early so he get in (for the spring) to compete for a job. You automatically know that they don't want to waste their time, they want to get here and compete. We saw that early on from Devonte Holloman and Stephon Gilmore and from Jarvis Giles. Those guys just came in, and they just want it. From day one in January, they were all business. They came here for a reason - they want to help us now. That's been a good sign.

Nick Allison came for Summer I, along with Corey Addison. Demario Bennett, and (D.J. Swearinger). Damario Jeffery has been around this summer training. They've done a heck of a job and have fit right in. We've all been very impressed with their work ethic. They're trying to get themselves ready to go, and I think they've got a good shot because of their attitudes and their toughness.

Doug Jolley: You've been around a lot of different college programs. Is there one thing unique that stands out to you about South Carolina?

Coach Fitz: I would say the family atmosphere has been awesome. From Coach Spurrier to the players, it's been great. The coaches and players are in this together, and I think that's neat. Strength and conditioning is important to everybody here, and we're trying to take advantage of our time. We have twelve months to get better, and a big part of that is strength and conditioning. The response from the players and coaches has been awesome. It's been a lot of fun. I've been really impressed with our players' work ethic, and the leadership is just going to keep getting better.

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