Fullback dynamo Tant bench-presses a quarter-ton

Like offensive lineman Justin Geisinger, sophomore Matthew Tant, the Commodores' bull elephant of a fullback, reached the 500-pound bench-press plateau this summer-- all the more remarkable when you consider that Tant weighs almost 100 pounds less than Geisinger.

Vanderbilt offensive lineman Justin Geisinger has garnered plenty of attention this summer for setting a personal record in the bench press of 550 pounds. But there's another player on the team who bench-pressed a quarter of a ton this summer-- and it's not a name that would immediately spring to mind.

Sophomore Matthew Tant, the Commodores' bull elephant of a fullback, also reached the 500-mark this summer-- all the more remarkable when you consider that Tant weighs almost 100 pounds less than Geisinger.

"I did it this summer," said Tant. "Right at the end of summer we were allowed to set a p.r. (personal record). I got up to 470 and Coach [John] Sisk was like, 'Put 500 on there and try it once.'"

As he lay on the bench, the whole team gathered around Tant, sensing that something special was about to happen.

"That pumped me up," Tant said. "I just put it on there, and blew it up, chest to the rack."

To get an idea of how remarkable that is, many college teams boast about the number of players who have bench-pressed over 400 pounds... and typically those are 300-plus-pound offensive linemen. Tant is a diminutive 5-foot-11, 228.

Tant's feat had Bobby Johnson raving in speeches on the rubber-chicken circuit this summer, and provided him with a new one-liner. "I bench-pressed 500 pounds right after Matthew did," Johnson recently joked to a Commodore Club audience in Chattanooga. "I lifted 100 pounds, and I did it five times."

Tant is symbolic of the efforts the Commodores have put forth in the weight room in the offseason. Under the direction of Strength and Conditioning Coach John Sisk, players have been setting personal records by the boatload.

"We set so many personal records in the weight room this summer," Tant said. "We had 16 or 17 people who could bench-press over 400 pounds, and two over 500. That's the most we've ever had.

"I don't know the squat numbers, but everybody's squatting out the roof, up in the 600's. Everybody's stronger, and better conditioned."

Quarterback Jay Cutler increased his weight by about 15 pounds in the offseason to a sleek 222. Guided by Sisk, he also increased his bench press to 270, and his squat to 480.

"Coach Sisk is doing a heck of a job with us," said Cutler. "Our whole team has gotten bigger and stronger. That's what you have to do to be able to compete in the SEC."

Johnson also recently singled out starting offensive tackle Kenan Arkan as a player who had made great strides. "He was about 265 last year, and now is close to 300," Johnson said of Arkan. "He's a lot stronger too... his bench press has probably gone up 150 pounds."

According to Tant, the team reported to fall camp in measurably better condition than last season. Each player must pass a conditioning test at the beginning of fall practice-- a series of 110-yard sprints which must be run within a specified time that varies by playing position. Players who have not passed the test must do extra running after practice until they pass.

"I came here in May and passed the conditioning test before we even started training," said Tant. "But there were several other guys that did it with me, and half the team was done with the conditioning test by July. So that shows you how much further we are ahead."

Unlike last year, all of the incoming freshmen passed the test on the first day of practice.

Tant is convinced that the overall conditioning of the team is the best in the three years he's been on campus-- a factor that that should make a big difference in the fourth quarter of games this fall.

"As I look around and see all the other young guys out on the field, mostly sophomores and juniors, people say we're young," Tant said. "And I say, yeah, we're young, but we've got a lot of talent. We're really athletic. We fly around on the field-- we're really aggressive. That's what Coach Johnson has instilled in us."

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Tant (5-11, 228), who rotated snaps at tailback last year with Bara Cola, is a virtual lock for the starting fullback position in 2003. But the position of backup fullback is being hotly contested by a pair of seniors, Clark Lea (6-0, 230), and Zeke Brandon (6-1, 228).

"Clark and Zeke, I think are both competing right now to see who's going to be second-team," said Tant. "They're both doing well. They both have different things they do better than the other."

Photo of Matthew Tant scoring vs. Ole Miss in 2002 courtesy of Associated Press.

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