Chris Carlisle interview

WeAreSC sits down with Trojan strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle to get an update on summer workouts, to check on the progress of several players since spring ball and to discuss a wide variety of topics relating to the USC training efforts. Click below to read more:

Tell us about the summer schedule of workouts and what the players will be doing in the coming weeks.

The NCAA limits us on when we can workout the athletes and it's pretty specific about what you can do. We have to give them so many weeks off between our last game (January 4th) and the first day of fall camp practice. You have to count nine weeks back from the opening of fall practice and that is when you can hold your first summer workout. Now, between the time of your first summer workout and the last game of the upcoming season you must give them a certain number of days off. There are a lot of rules and dates to follow.

We begin our training in June but summer school started on May 17th so you have some players who are in school that are working out right now, it's a "discretionary" period where the kids can workout on their own if they want. Once we start, we will go through the last week of July and then the kids have a week off where they go home and visit their families before fall camp begins. Once fall camp starts, we're locked in pretty good with our schedule.

The summer workouts are a little different than the winter workouts. During the winter we are focused more on building our strength base, maximizing those efforts, and we hold our strength testing prior to spring ball and then after spring ball we hold our combine testing for those athletes who are returning. We've done it that way for the past five years and we've seen great results. We want to wait until after spring before running 40's because the last thing you want to do is have someone tweak a hamstring or an ankle and not be available for spring ball. Let's say someone like Antwine Perez, if he gets hurt during testing prior to spring and isn't available for practices, the main reason he enrolled early was to take part in spring practice so that would not be a good thing. During spring we aggressively maintain strength while not taking away anything from the athlete's ability to play during the spring.. After that we get ready for the combine testing and that's a good break somewhat for our kids because it gives them something else to compete at. Our guys are such goal-oriented competitors that we need to put those short-term goals out there, "OK, today we're going to strength test" and all of them compete to see who can be the best at that. It's a neat thing to watch these kids compete. We talk about the system that Coach Carroll brings to this program and it's based on competition.

One of the things we have to guard against is burnout. Not only mental but physical. I mean, the season is long. After the last game they take two weeks off and then they are right back in the weight room. After the semester is done they get more time off and then we get into summer workouts. I know it's cliché to say "we work harder than anybody else" but how do you account for the success that we've had after losing guys like Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu, Mike Patterson, etc and yet we keep winning? Coach Carroll has brought a system in that keeps growing and developing so that you get guys that nobody has ever heard of before who are able to step up and contribute. That's because of the work they put in. It's a great system, the kids believe in it and it's how they go about their work.

It wasn't that long ago, not even ten years ago, where college players went home for the summer. Now, most teams stay on campus to work out together.

The kids make the choice to do that because they see the efforts pay off. All the summer workouts are voluntary, the kids have a choice of being here or not. They also know to be in a position to play and stay healthy that they need to train at the level we train at. It's not a case of having to twist their arms to be here, they see the results, they see the successes their teammates have had before them and they know if they want to be part of that train they need to be there when the train takes off. Look at the kids we had enroll early, we had three guys this year (Perez, Gerald Washington and Walker Ashley) and I think you'll start to see that trend even more. When they get here early, they are able to be a part of things earlier. Kevin Ellison is a great example from last year. Here's a kid who came out of Redondo and was a great part of this team until he got leg-whipped while making a great interception. Nobody made a big deal about the fact that he was a freshman out there because he had been through spring ball. I think it's going to be the same way with Antwine. All these guys were pretty good coming out of high school, they've all got fancy letterman's jackets and a ton of newspaper clippings, but it's a huge step they've got to make from the high school level to the college level.

Do you see that recognition in a player when he first gets here and realizes how much work it is going to take?

There is a time for most every player where he gets that look like "oh my goodness, Toto, I'm not in Kansas anymore" and it just hits them right between the eyes. You see them double their efforts after maybe they came in thinking "hey this is football, I know what I'm doing, I know how to work hard." Sam Baker is the best example I can use for that. He was a young man coming out of high school, highly recruited, who came in here and didn't buy off right away. He voiced his opinion and said "hey, this is BS, this isn't football, wait until I get my helmet on, etc" and he carried that through part of his first year but then he had perhaps the greatest turnaround, in terms of attitude, by the end of that year and he completely bought into the system. You can see the results from there, in his redshirt freshman year he was a Freshman All-American, last year as a sophomore he was a first team All-American and this year he got to spend time in Arizona with the Playboy Bunnies after making the Playboy pre-season All-American team. All the success that Sam has seen is because of his work ethic. He saw that this BS does matter and it can make a difference in what we do. He turned from a "got-to" guy to a "get-to" guy, he gets to workout. He's just one of the great workers we have and he does it so well. He's a great example of the maturation of a guy who looked into the abyss and he steps back and says, "I'm not ready for this, what do I need to do to prepare myself to compete at this level". We're seeing it from Walker Ashley after spring ball. He has really doubled up his efforts since he first got here. Last summer he was kind of "hey, this doesn't matter" and then when he came in this spring he was kind of the same way but then he got out there on the field and saw Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker, Chilo Rachal and these other men he has to go against and he's realized he has to step his game up. The thing about Walker, he has so much talent. Physically he's such a talented young man and when we get his tools set you are going to have a guy who will be a big factor in where this team goes for the next four or five years.

Any dynamic this spring that stood out to you?

I thought we saw development all over the place. When you look at the defensive line, and the way they grew together, guys like Kyle Moore, Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson, Fili, Travis Tofi and Jeff Schweiger. You have to rebuild a dynamic on the line. Guys like Kenechi Udeze, Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody were the heart and soul of the teams that accomplished so much and you don't just throw something like that together. Now, this spring, you start to see their clones. Oh, where is Mike Patterson? Is that him or is it Sedrick Ellis? You start to see guys with similar traits, maybe a Jeff Schweiger doesn't have the size of Kenechi but he does some things that Kenechi couldn't do. Someone like Kevin Ellison in the secondary, he weighed in at 224 the other day and I told him he was four pounds heavy. He looked at me and said "why do you say four pounds?" and I said because that is the Darnell Bing suit you are trying to wear. You see the traits between what we had in Darnell and now you start to see them in Kevin. Dallas Sartz and Brian Cushing. Lofa Tatupu and Oscar Lua. You start to see the same body types and you realize what the coaches are looking at. How about a Matt Grootegoed and a Kaluka Maiava. You see it over and over again with a certain body type, a certain way they play the game. You realize there is a formula for the type of player they are looking for and it's simple to see. They want big, fast, smart athletes.

I thought it was interesting, because we have so many new faces, that many media and fans outside of the program think we're in a rebuilding year.

I don't think there's anybody here who thinks we're in a rebuilding year but the nation perceives that anytime you lose a Heisman Trophy winner, and the guy who won it the year before that, you will need to rebuild and reload. That's the normal process of operation with the way things work. Well, the last time we lost a Heisman Trophy winner we won the national title the next year. For us, our goals remain the same as they are every year; winning the Pac-10 and owning the Rose Bowl.

On his speaking tour to Trojan Clubs, Coach Carroll says this will be the most talented team since he's been here. What are your thoughts on that statement?

Absolutely. Overall, position by position, we're better now than we've ever been. Look at the guard position, for instance. We had John Drake, we had Deuce Lutui and now we have Chilo Rachal. We may have lost some body weight along the way but we've gained athleticism. Chilo is a better athlete than Deuce and Deuce was a better athlete than John. It's just a symptom of recruiting and bringing in better athletes. The biggest difference between now and when we first got here is that now we have really talented and athletic guys ready to step in for a spot whereas when we first got here that wasn't always the case.

Talk about some of the performances that stood out in the spring testing.

We had a very good strength testing period with school records from Sedrick Ellis, Matt Spanos and Averell Spicer. Sedrick went 510 in the bench, which tied the school mark, and that's Sedrick going in one year from a best of 475 to 510. Averell beat Kenechi's squat record with a 635 squat and then Spanos tied the power clean record with 364. The important thing about Spanos is that he is 6-5, 306 and it's usually easier for smaller guys to powerclean because they have to lift the weight a shorter distance. For Matt to bring that much weight up as high as he did, when you combine that with how athletic and powerful he is, it shows what can happen in this program. We're not focused on "how much". We think about great technique and great speed, then the numbers will come. We knew someday Sedrick would get to 500 but it wasn't a number we pushed him to, it happened naturally because of the way he works.

I look at someone like Terrell Thomas. He is coming off an ACL, his previous best 40 time was a 4.41 and he came out this spring and ran a 4.42. I think that's a great indication that he's back and ready to go. I look at a Sam Baker who improved in every one of the physical tests that we have. We test the 40, the vertical jump, the standing long jump, the overhead med ball throw, bench press, 3-cone and the pro agility. Sam is a guy who has been in the program for four years yet he improved on all seven tests. That's an All-American who is still improving. Some people may ask "how much does he need to improve?" and we say "he needs to improve as much as he can". These tests aren't something we prepare for but they are a measurement of everything the athlete does in terms of training hard. Ryan Kalil went from a 4.79 40 to a 4.72 and he weighs 285 pounds right now. He took his 225 bench press reps from 29 to 33. Sedrick went from 30 to 41 on his bench press reps. Sedrick also improved in all seven of his measurable tests. To me that's as important as anything. People are always worried about who is the fastest or who is the strongest but if I see a measurable increase by my best guys across the board, I know we're doing something right.

When I was at Tennessee one of our coaches asked me about the combine numbers, he said "what does this all mean?" when you look the numbers our guys are putting up vs what the NFL guys are doing. I started putting together a list of the top vertical, the top bench, the best numbers anybody put up in an event and I did this for each position group. We put a point total to each number, I had to use all my math skills on that one, and I came up with a number system. Last year, a guy like Alex Morrow had 72 points total and this year he had 90, he basically went from a "C" student to an "A" student. Now, you hope these measurables translate to the field but it doesn't always happen. It would be easy if that were the case. This spring we saw improvement from Alex on the field after he improved in 6 of the 7 testing areas. He went in his powerclean from 309 to 331, his vert went from 32.5 to 36.5, standing long jump from 7'11" to 9'9" which is a huge gain and his 40 went from 4.89 to 4.71. It's not always about numbers though. Look at someone like Lofa Tatupu, he ran a 4.83 at the combine yet was still drafted in the 2nd round and he was out there playing in the Super Bowl and he was an All-Pro as a rookie. Lofa has football speed which is better than anything you can measure with a stopwatch.

Someone like Morrow is one of those company guys who has been waiting his turn and he should be ready when he gets his opportunity. Jeff Schweiger is another guy who has really stepped up in our testing. When you look at guys who are going through it for the first time, look at a Rey Maualuga who scored a 94. Think about that, all the best of the best guys and the top marks they have put up at the combine in the last seven years, Rey measured in at the 94th percentile. That's amazing. Now you look as he prepares to battle with Oscar Lua for the middle linebacker job. Oscar may not have the athletic ability of Rey but I'll show you a tape of Oscar Lua against Arizona State where he just went up against the guy and won at the point of attack. Here's a kid who has fought back from two ACL's and has never once complained or asked "why me?" He's just listened to his coaches and worked hard to get better.

That's what this Trojan thing is all about. People can worry about winning Heisman's and crystal balls and all that but, to me, being a Trojan is about working your tail off and playing all out on the field. When I talk to guys like Ron Yary and Brad Budde, that's what I take from them and that's what I see in these kids today. It doesn't matter if they run a 4.83 or a 4.33, they work hard. Look at someone like Reggie Bush, now there is a guy who didn't need to work hard and he still would have been better than anybody out there. He was just gifted that way. Yet he was one of the hardest workers we've had and the rest of the country is going to see what we've seen for the past three years. Troy Polamalu, we saw how special he was here and now you've got John Madden proclaiming that he may be a trend-setter for his position, that people are looking for a "Polamalu-type". I watch Troy play and he's doing the same things now that he was doing when he was here. You can't tell me he all of a sudden learned how to play football. No, these guys learn the game in high school, they get coached well here and they work hard along the way. Carson Palmer, he's not a surprise. Matt Leinart, he will not be a surprise. LenDale will do great, Deuce will do great. All those guys will just have wonderful careers because they know how to work. We're already getting reports back from Arizona that Deuce is elevating the intensity and energy of their offensive line and that kind of energy is what this program is all about. He took that from here and is applying it at the next level. Coach Chow is just ecstatic about the opportunity to work with LenDale because he knows him, a guy who scores 57 touchdowns in college while sharing a backfield with two Heisman winners is someone you want on your team. If a 40 time matters more to you than having someone who broke the records of some of the all-time greats, and did it in only three years, then I think you're looking at the wrong thing. People will find out how special LenDale is when he gets in the swing of things.

You've mentioned a few players, let's talk about some other guys who really looked great in spring. Brandon Hancock

Yeah, I had a lot to do with that (laughing). Brandon is just a gifted young man. Did you see he went out and beat Notre Dame in a debate? Isn't that great? He came in here afterwards, he didn't care that it was a debate, he was just so fired up to beat them. He's always been a tremendous physical guy and he's gotten to a football body. He can now do everything and, knock on wood, he's healthy. He's such a great worker, he's a guy who is constantly training and he works as hard as the hardest workers on this team. There's even been times when we've had to tell him "stop riding your bike 4,000 damn miles" because he was training too much. We had to do a similar thing with Malaefou MacKenzie, another great worker. It wasn't until Malaefou learned to pull back a little that he was able to make it through that sixth year and he had a great season because he was able to stay healthy the whole year.

Fred Davis

What we've always seen in him is finally coming out. He finally bought in to the academic, the social and the physical life of being a college student. He also accepted that he could be the best tight end in the country but he had to put his physical and mental energies toward that end. The new position right now in the NFL is that big, athletic tight end like Antonio Gates and Fred could be one of those guys, a guy who can stretch the zone yet still be a blocker. I think that's where Fred really has a chance to shine. He weighs in the 255 pound range these days and he's so well put together that it's almost scary.

Dwayne Jarrett

He's a great worker, he's golden. He's around 215 pounds these days and he'll be 220 by the time we hit the season. He's strong. He's a 4.5 guy. He's so smooth and his stride will just chew up anybody who tries to guard him because he doesn't look like he's moving that fast. He's just a big, long, lean, powerful athlete. Coming up behind him is Patrick Turner and he's another great worker. That's the neat thing, everybody looks at someone like Patrick and says "oh, he's a 5 star player" but he's also a 5 star kid. He understands that every day is a work day and nobody gets a free ride. If you see a player who comes in here looking for a free ride, pretty soon people are going to be asking "hey, whatever happened to that guy?" but our coaches just keep bringing in these great kids and they understand how to work. We're getting the cream of the crop right now. There will be times we don't get a recruit and people may be wondering what happened but chances are there was a reason for it.

Talk about the return of Chauncey Washington

I think Chauncey is going to be very prepared when the season comes because he knows his window of opportunity is now. This is his time. We are on these guys all the time about academics and we try to tell them that it doesn't matter if you're Matt Leinart or Reggie Bush, at some point your playing career is going to be over and you're going to need to go to work every day. You look at someone like Magic Johnson, he's made loads more money after basketball than he ever did as a player because he was a smart businessman about it. He's also impacting the community now in ways that he was never able to as a player.

What is the status of John David Booty?

He's doing tremendous, doing great. He is ahead of schedule right now. I don't know if you can ever say that an injury was good timing but he'd always had issues with his back going to his high school years. This surgery he had took care of all those issues and he was able to have the surgery in March instead of August. Now, he is able to be without that constant pain, not having to worry if he is going to tweak it. Dr Robert Watkins, who I think is the best surgeon ever, was able to get done what needed to get done and it was a very non-invasive procedure. For someone like Dr Watkins, it was pretty routine stuff and by all indications the rehab is going well and he should be good to start throwing the ball soon.

Anybody else stepping up that maybe we don't usually hear about?

I thought Clay Matthews really had a great spring. He stepped in there when we didn't have Dallas, we didn't have Brian, we didn't have Thomas Williams and yet I didn't see much fall-off. Clay is one of those guys who just shows a lot of "want-to" and I'm sure a lot of it has to do with genetics as well but it also shows that he is a young man who saw some improvement in the weight room and then he was able to take that development out onto the football field and see it pay off. Now, he's to the point where it was with someone like Collin Ashton where you didn't mind seeing him in there. You aren't worried about a walk-on being in there because you know he will do his job. Collin Ashton was a cagey player, smart, a good athlete who understood the game of football and played hard. Those same traits apply to Clay. Kyle Moore is another guy who has really developed to the point where he's putting up some nice numbers. Right now his movement numbers are comparable to a Kenechi Udeze and the only thing he doesn't have is the strength numbers Kenechi put up. Well, strength is something he can gain and he has done that since he got here so another great summer of working and this kid is going to be tremendous. He's not gonna be Kenechi but he also brings things that Kenechi didn't have. That's saying a lot because Kenechi is one of the great ones.

Talk about the importance of putting on clinics. You and your staff host three Explosive Speed Clinics each year in addition to various coaches clinics.

I was a high school coach for over half of my career. I was the one searching out the ideas. Don't get me wrong, just because I am hosting them now does not mean I've found the answers but I have found a lot of ways NOT to do things. I also think a lot of what we do is very adaptable to a high school system. If you can get the kids to buy into your system I think we've shown that the numbers will follow. You also see sometimes, with high school, that the sound of a different drummer can have an impact. We're saying a lot of the same things their coaches are saying but when you hear it from someone else in a different way it all of a sudden clicks and they are able to start accomplishing more of their goals. We open the camps to all skill levels, all sports, boys and girls and we will train them in the same fashion we train our athletes. We will teach them the same techniques that we used with Reggie Bush. I really enjoy doing the camps because I want to help kids who are hungry to get better. It's also nice when you hear from programs that have implemented what we're doing. We had a coach stop in today, his team was 0-10 two years ago before putting in our system and they went 6-4 last year. It's neat when our coaches come back off the road from recruiting and talk about how many schools are using our system. It shows that you don't need multi-million dollar facilities, you just need a bunch of kids who understand that it's about hard work. It's about learning movement and drills that allow you not to have to spend your entire time in the weight room. We had one school from Georgia, Augusta Christian HS in Martinez, who sent me a state championship ring. It was very humbling. They came out here last year for a camp, stopped in to see what we we're doing and they ended up staying an extra day to watch us and talk with us about what we do. After that they would e-mail me 2 or 3 times per week with questions. They ended up winning the state title at a school that had never won one before and they sent me a ring with my name on it. The ring says "WeAreAC" on it for Augusta Christian. Very humbling. They were the ones who did all the hard work. Top Stories