Q&A with Chris Carlisle

WeAreSC.com caught up recently with Trojan strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle to get an update on the in-season training methods, the pros and cons of keeping a successful program going and the steps he and staff take to get the players prepared to play in the heat. Click below to read more:

What is a sample week like for the players during the season in terms of their workouts away from practice?

"There are two different schedules, one for players who are playing and one for the guys who don't travel, are redshirting or just need more development. It is all factored on the timing schedule of how many hours we can spend with them from Monday through Saturday (20) and we have Coach Slutak who monitors that. Everybody comes in on Monday, there are different groups in the morning, and the workout is 45 minutes long. We push them hard in that time, I tell them "it's an hour and a half workout that we need to get done in 45 minutes". It's important also that we allow their bodies time to heal before practice because we're usually on the field by 3:45 for stretching and we're going by 4:00. The guys who are playing will lift twice during the week, they do it on Monday and then they have the option of lifting on either Tuesday or Wednesday depending on their class schedule. The others who are not playing will lift on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We are able to get a third session in because they are not playing in a game on Saturday and so they have more available time each week in their 20 hour schedule.

"It works out because most of the guys who are not playing or who are redshirting are doing so for physical reasons and to rehab from an injury. A guy like Jeff Byers can work out four times per week because he isn't using any practice time, we did it with Shaun Cody when he was out, Dominique Byrd, Oscar Lua, guys who miss big parts of a season are able to stay close to the program by being in here and when they are ready to go they can come back ahead of the guys who just finished a season.

"With someone like a Jeff Schweiger it's a fine line because we want to take this opportunity to build his upper body up but we're not able to balance that out with the lower body work because of the nature of his injury. If we build him up too much in the upper body his leg won't be able to support that as he goes through his rehab process so we need to keep that balance of not getting him too big yet keeping him as strong as we can for when he returns. I think that's one of the key things that people don't see is how these kids go through the process of being injured, rehabbing, staying strong and then return to playing field as quickly as possible ready to go. It takes a lot of communication between our staff, the trainers and Russ Romano, the team doctors, etc".

How do these workouts differ from the off-season drills?

"We still work footwork, we still work hip flexibility, we still work agility. We're able to work all the same things we do in an off-season workout but it's just at a quicker pace. We have a saying "the bar never rests". I want our guys getting used to working for 6-8 seconds and then having 30 seconds of rest. If you have two guys working a bar, that's about 30 seconds of work after each set to change places, change the weight, etc. We're conditioning the body to work hard for that period and then rest, work hard then rest, just like it happens in a football game. Our kids work all the time at fast level, it doesn't matter if it's down here or on the practice field, they are used to going hard so they don't need to do running drills at the end of practice to get conditioned."

How much easier does it make your job when a player is buying into the system?

"I tell the freshmen there are three ways to do things. You can stand still in the current and let the water bash against you, all kind of rocks hitting against you and you're standing still. You can swim against the current, go as hard as you can to fight against it but you aren't going to get anywhere. You can also choose to swim with the current, swim as fast as you can and as hard as you can and pretty soon you're going to catch up to the current and whole game will slow down for you. It's neat when you see that moment of clarity when the game slows down and the player really gets it. Then you have someone like Matt Leinart right now who is faster than the current.

"Take a guy like Kevin Ellison, he really bought off on what we were doing from the time he came in during spring and he worked hard in the summer to the point where he is able to do things this fall that make it hard to notice when Scott is in and when Kevin is out. Same with Josh Pinkard, he can go in there for Darnell and there's no dropoff. Josh is a guy who came in last year, learned under the wing of Jason Leach, was taught how to work hard and now he is getting it done. There's a sense of playing the game of football and there's a sense of understanding what's going on. Jason really taught Josh the difference, the upperclassmen do a great job of teaching the younger guys how we work. This is the Trojan way to work. There are certain rules that apply to football and rather than waiting until Kevin gets on the field to learn for himself, guys like Darnell and Scott taught him what they knew in the spring and over the summer and when it came time to play this fall he looked like he had been around for five years. Well, in essence, he had because he had five years of experience handed down to him.

"We keep reminding these kids of why we are successful and we are successful in my mind because we are consistent in the way that we work. We've lost Heisman Trophy winners, we've lost All-Pro defensive backs, we've lost first round draft picks yet we still manage to win even when they are gone. We hear everybody worry, what are we going to do without Carson, what are we going to do without Mike Williams, and it's not that those guys aren't important but it just shows that it's not one individual making this happen. It's the team. It's a concept, it's believing in how we work. The trickle down effect that we talked about earlier is what I believe is the strength of this team. It's the message being passed down from the head coach to the assistant coaches to the players and then to the players coming in after them. When I look back on the notes from Coach Carroll's very first meeting they are the same notes that are being used today. They don't have to change because they are cutting edge ideas that are working. The first thing is "it's all about the ball". That philosophy is still at the forefront of what he talks about. When you look at the turnover ratio every year we're either at the top or in the top 2 or 3. We're winning because we're doing the things we always do. Our work ethic stays the same. People always ask me "how is the team working out?" and I say "the same" because they don't know any other way to work. There are no surprises when somebody succeeds on the field because it almost becomes predictable after you see them put in the work. I'm no Nostradamus but you can tell in off-season workouts which kids are ready to bounce up and take it to the next level. It's easy to tell when you see them every day and see how hard they work".

What are the pros and cons to the way things are now?

"There's a book on Japanese philosophy called The Hagikuri and in that book it says "continue to spur a running horse". The program right now is up and running but I can't just sit in my office and say "hey, this is great". I've got to continue making the program fresh and offer variations. On one day we'll run ladders and the next day will be dots. On one day we'll run hurdles and they will be horizontal, the next time we run them they will be vertical. One week we will lift with free weights, the next will be with machines. It's those little differences in the program, a little change in their routine.

"It's all about keeping your tools sharp. There is a book that talks about keeping your tools sharp whether you are a craftsman or a warrior. In football, our players tools are speed, explosiveness, power, understanding of the game, etc. It's our job to keep those tools as sharp as possible so that when they are called on they're ready to go. Look at someone like Sedrick Ellis, when we came into the year everybody was worried about losing Cody and Patterson but when Sedrick came out of high school he was most highly recruited DT around. Guess what, he's still the best guy and he's been spending the last two years getting stronger, sharpening his tools and now that he's getting his opportunity he's showing everybody what he can do."

The Trojans will face intense heat in Tempe this weekend. Is there anything special that you do to get them ready for games like this and the heat they faced in Hawaii?

"We try to keep kids hydrated, we remind them a lot about it but really it goes back to everything we've ever talked about in terms of preparing and practicing at a high level. Our kids went through the heat in Hawaii as if it was just another day of practice. To see the defense out there for 32 straight plays in the first quarter, that's a marker right there to show what kind of shape these guys are in. They were playing as hard in the fourth quarter as they were in the first quarter. How many times do you watch a game and you hear the announcers talking about how a team in the fourth quarter is dead tired? That doesn't happen with our guys. It all goes back to the players buying into the system".

What's your favorite part of the job right now?

"Being around these kids. I always say "there's not a hard day". I'm not saying we're not busy, it's busy as can be but it's a great feeling because these kids appreciate so much and care so much about what we're doing. It's not just about the Matt's and Reggie's, those guys have been hard workers since they got here, it's the time when you see the light go on for a certain player and you see that they finally get it. One player came up after the Orange Bowl and said "Coach, I didn't always understand when you were getting on us but now I get it. You just wanted the best for us and you only got on us when we didn't give you our best". That's a great thing to hear".


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