Lewis, 'Tough enough to eat nails'

Ivan Lewis has made his return to the Trojan Family. This time, he's no longer an assistant, but USC's head strength and conditioning coach. Lewis spoke with Scout about his weight room philosophies, goals, and expectations...

Ivan Lewis has made his way back to the Trojan Family.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Lewis the Trojans strength and conditioning coach a month after accepting the head football position in December.

Lewis returns to USC after spending five years as the strength and conditioning coach under Sarkisian at Washington.

The Sarkisian-Lewis connection? It circles back to USC.

Lewis was a Trojan strength and conditioning assistant from 2006-08, three seasons in which USC made a run to the Rose Bowl under former coach Pete Carroll.

Sarkisian was also a USC assistant at the time.

"Coming back is a huge honor," Lewis told Scout. "It's been exciting to be back on campus. It's really just been a great experience so far and I'm ready to just keep going."

During his first three years at USC, Lewis learned the concepts of head strength coach Chris Carlisle. Carlisle, now the head strength coach of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks.

"Coach Carlisle has been a huge mentor for me ever since I first stepped foot at USC," Lewis explained. "He has a really clear vision of what he does and how he does things. Being around him for the three some years I was with him really helped develop who I am as a strength coach."

Lewis stresses consistency in the weight room to his athletes. He seems more concerned with addressing the question "why" rather than "how much", a philosophy he's cultivated in his own time as a head coach and a method he says differs slightly than his mentor's.

"It's not always about the weights, it's about the whys. Why we do things." Lewis explained. "Coach Carlisle's philosophy was really about how to, how fast, how much."

Under the direction of Lewis, USC players will be expected to workout in a competitive high-intensity environment. The movements in the weight room will mirror the movements they'll begin to make on the football field.

"We do everything with a purpose and we do everything fast," he said.

When speaking with Scout, Lewis emphasized multiple times the importance of players "buying in" to a strength program. In order to do so, Lewis explains, they will need to understand why they are training the way he makes them.

"We are training these guys for football," he explained. "So I kind of call it football speed."

Which means faster than anything USC has done before, as Sarkisian prepares to install his uptempo offense.

"We always say have a high sense of urgency," Lewis said. "So whether it is going to get a quick drink of water or running back and forth from the field to the weight room, everything is fast, everything has a purpose, and obviously the training changes too for that uptempo because whether you are on offense or defense, we still have to play and run and move fast so everything we do has been altered for that."

Redshirt freshman quarterback Max Browne says the short period of time in the weight room under the direction of Lewis already feels different. Lewis works one-on-one with the Trojan quarterbacks. "It's been challenging day in and day out," Browne explained. "I think a lot of the guys are seeing the results."

Now in his fifth season at USC, linebacker Hayes Pullard also welcomes the change Lewis has brought to the strength program. "He's in there to work 110 percent, we love that," said Pullard. "It's just a great staff who has been put together and we are just buying into that."

Throughout the 2013 season, the Trojans saw a staggering number of injuries. A roster already depleted by NCAA sanctions was crippled to nearly a standstill at times as scholarship players mounted on the sideline. Though the sanctions are now behind USC, roster numbers are still far from the 85-scholarship player maximum.

It's an issue Lewis is aware of and says he will take into account when training the Trojans both in season and out of season in order to prevent injury.

"We want to make sure that these guys are trained to play football and we train them to where everything that we can do to help them avoid injury on the field is what we are trying to do," he explained. "It's just about being consistent and smart with your program and knowing that we don't have as many guys and we have to make sure that we are smart about our reps, smart about how much volume we are doing and again just really making sure we are implementing things to keep us safe and healthy and ready to play the game."

Lewis was recently named the Samson Equipment and American Football Monthly FBS Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year for his work with the 9-4 Washington Huskies.

In his return to USC, Lewis echoes the standards set by Sarkisian at his first press conference.

"Expectations are high," said Lewis. "USC is USC and we are going to do everything we can and we're going to get these guys -- I like to call it eating nails.

"We're going to play 100 miles per hour and we're going to win. It's going to be great."

Notes: Prior to joining USC's staff in 2006, Lewis was a member of the strength staff for the San Diego Chargers for two years. He started coaching in the college ranks in 2002 at the University of San Diego, where he also worked for two years and earned his master's degree.

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