The Transformer: WSU strength guru Loscalzo

LEWISTON — You won’t find the game-day TV cameras doing close ups of him, but rest assured that Jason Loscalzo’s presence within the WSU football program is huge. Literally. The number of physical transformations he’s presided over since becoming strength and conditioning coach in 2012 are so numerous he couldn’t begin to narrow the list of the most impressive examples to just two or three.

So in a recent conversation in Lewiston, Cougfan.com chose one offensive and one defensive player for him to analyze. In short, Loscalzo (pictured above) was asked to describe where each is right now and how they arrived there.

FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR QUARTERBACK Connor Halliday dreamed of having his 6-4 frame tip the scales at 200 pounds. But when he dropped down to 169 after sustaining a lacerated liver late in the 2011 season, that goal seemed a pipe dream. Even more so given the pain he felt just trying to jog during that first winter of conditioning drills implemented by Loscalzo.

While Halliday couldn’t do much that first winter, it’s been a shared mission to increase his strength and mass ever since, Loscalzo said.

“He plays the game. He knows he’s getting beat up and he knows he’s got to get durable, and everybody knows you’ve got to get bigger if you want to be more durable,” Loscalzo said. “So it was a mutual thing.”

Loscalzo didn’t get into the details of nutritional or lifting strategies. After all, he said, it’s not like he’s building rockets. Rather, the fitness and strength gains of the Cougars stem from a philosophy of using lifting numbers as a milepost and nutrition as a tool. They aren’t ends unto themselves. The broader aim is to put the most dynamic athlete as possible on the field.

Halliday had to work hard and eat right to be able to check in for fall camp at 204 pounds, Loscalzo said, but it’s a lot more than just the exercise and nutrition.

“We’re about improvement on the field, we’re about winning football games, we’re about winning Pac-12 championships,” Loscalzo said. “Those (weight room) numbers and things like that, we just like to keep as our guidelines for the kids. The No. 1 thing they need to do is come out and win games and perform.”

And that means tailoring each player’s workout plan around strengths and weaknesses – and position played.

Halliday does different exercises than other players, simply because he plays quarterback. He doesn’t bench press or participate in certain shoulder exercises so that he can maintain his ability to throw the ball.

“We’ve got to be a little more careful with him than other people, mainly because he’s the No. 1 guy and he’s throwing way more balls than everybody else,” Loscalzo said. “We’ve got to be kind of careful on what we do volume-wise with him.”

The hard work required to achieve top physical condition is something the entire roster embraces, Loscalzo says.

“Just like anywhere else, you’ve got to get after them sometimes, but this is a good group of kids,” Loscalzo said. “These guys are a self-motivated group. Our biggest message we give to these kids is grown men stand on their own two feet. They’ve got to come and bring it to the table every day. If I’m sitting here motivating them, we’re not going to be any good on Saturdays. If I’ve got to motivate them all the time, if any strength coach or any coach in general has to motivate their kids all the time to get them to move and work, then you’re not going to fare to well on Saturday.”

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BALL STANDS 6-1 ½, 301-pound nose tackle Toni Pole. Like Halliday, he’s a fifth-year senior. He story is more complicated than just striving to gain strength and weight.

His weight has fluctuated considerably during his time with the Cougars. He came in as a true freshman in 2010 weighing 291 pounds, but thought defensive end was his destiny so he worked to drop weight. By the time Leach kicked off his first spring on the Palouse in 2012, Pole was at 265 pounds.

Loscalzo, who came to WSU following five years at Boston College and four at Auburn, said he teases Pole about playing DE because he was so obviously made for clogging up the middle of the line.

By the end of that 2012 season, Pole weighed more than 300 pounds – and not necessarily good pounds. Which made his 65-yard overtime rumble with a tipped Keith Price pass in the Apple Cup all the more memorable.

“We always kid around with him that he could’ve been the hero had he not gotten fat,” Loscalzo said, laughing. Pole was stopped on the Husky five-yard-line – no TD, sadly, but the winning field goal duly set up.

Kidding aside, 2013 was the season in which Pole began the transformation to what he looks like today. It took between a year and a year and a half to accomplish, but now he looks and feels like a presence on the defensive line more than ever.

“That next season, in 2013, we started to change his body,” Loscalzo said. “We’ve got to get rid of the fat, we’ve got to build that muscle. We’ve got to get you to be a 295-300 pound kid, but it’s got to be the right kid and the right muscle mass-to-fat ratio.”

Today, Pole possess greater energy levels and is starting to show more muscle definition.

“He’s a strong cat now. He’s one of the strongest guys we have.” Loscalzo said. “He and Xavier Cooper work out together -- they’re great partners, they motivate each other, they get after each other so they kind of feed off of each other. That’s been good for both those guys.”

For Pole, it was more about a mental change than a physical one.

“I am stronger, but I think breaking bad habits is more of my biggest change,” Pole said. “Coach Loscalzo really pushes me to not take plays off because there’s a big difference from when I’m not and when I am. And if I can consistently put my best out there, I can really change the game.”

During the most recent offseason, Pole didn’t take any days off, either. Loscalzo said that even when Pole was sick, he was training in some way.

“He’s a self-starting kid now. He gets after it,” Loscalzo said. “He knows me pretty well too. He knows how I am, he knows my tendencies, my routines on how I do things, and what I want them to do. He’s done a good job of preparing other people for that, too, especially the young guys.”

TONI POLE LAST SEASON.


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