There is no depth chart in WSU weight room

PULLMAN – There is no depth chart, literally or figuratively, in the Washington State weight room. Head football strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo doesn’t care if you’re a Cougar starter or walk on, if you’re 100 percent healthy or recovering from an injury. There is only the mantra he wants Cougar players to adhere to: live by design, not by chance.

I recently had a compelling chat with Loscalzo about Gabe Marks, Destiny Vaeao, some of his favorite Cougar player success stories and more.

Gabe Marks
According to Loscalzo, Marks’ redshirt season in ’14 due to injury was a great learning experience for the wideout.

“When he had the game taken away from him you could tell that he was growing up,” Loscalzo said. “When players are injured they have to grow up a little and deal with the process of healing and being held out of playing the game they love. Gabe really grew up during last season’s training and recovery. I’ve always been impressed with his competitive nature, and you knew that he was working hard to get back with his teammates.”

As you might expect, there isn’t nearly as much lifting that goes on during the season compared to the offseason. Currently, lift sessions are anywhere from 25-35 minutes, Loscalzo said -- they’re in, they’re out and back on the field.

However, for injured Cougs, or players not traveling with the team, recovery work is their main objective, he said.

“If guys don’t travel, they spend Friday in the gym working out. So it was tough on Gabe to be here on Fridays instead of with his teammates,” Loscalzo said.

Marks had almost a full year of recovery work, according to Loscalzo. But there was really nothing unique about it, said Loscalzo. Marks simply put in the time and he competed hard at it – just as if he was going through a practice.

There is no cookie cutter plan for a player’s recovery process from injury, Loscalzo said. The recovery plan and strength regimen is always different and depends on the severity of the injury.

“We have to modify,” said Loscalzo. “We work close with the medical staff, but we don’t change our mindset. We’re just making sure the players can get back there, at their own pace. There’s no sense in pushing a guy, or bringing him back before he’s ready. There’s no sense in getting him hurt, (that) just hurts the team.”

From the day he arrived in Pullman, Marks has been swimming in confidence. He never had big stars in his eyes nor was he intimidated. That was one thing different about Marks, Loscalzo noted.

“You don’t see freshmen like that,” said Loscalzo. :There’s a reason some freshmen, like Gabe, come in and play right away. Marks just came in with the mentality of ‘I can beat you’ and if anyone challenges him, he will show you he can beat you.”

That mindset served Marks well this past season when he was injured. Competing through his recovery and continuing to get stronger in the manner Marks did -- that is the definition of a competitor, Loscalzo said.

Destiny Vaeao
Vaeao's is a different story than Marks', Loscalzo said, being down in the trenches and slamming bodies with the big boys. He’s been bitten by the injury bug a number of times his first three seasons. Vaeao has played through it when he could, and he’s also missed time, Loscalzo said.

“Destiny isn’t just getting bumps and bruises, he’s getting beat up,” Loscalzo said. “However, he’s continued to fight and come back and play.”

The strength team and the medical staff made modifications here and there for Vaeao’s injuries, said Loscalzo.

“He just comes in and puts in the work. He continues to do what is best for him to recover,” Loscalzo said.

Vaeao’s matured and had to learn that his progression and his process are different from other guys on the team. It’s not all going to fall into place all the time, Loscalzo said, but one thing that can be counted on: Vaeao is always going to put in the work.

“Like I said with Marks, (Destiny) needs to take a different path than everyone else, and that’s just how it is,” said Loscalzo.

Vaeao is quiet guy but he also always holds players accountable, Loscalzo said. Vaeao at times will call other players out, or take them aside for a talk, and he also leads by example.

“I’ve never seen him lose it, he’s never blown up,” said Loscalzo. “He’s very professional about what he does.”

THERE IS NO difference between a walk on or a recruit on scholie in the WSU weight room. Not to Loscalzo.

“There is no depth chart in the weight room,” said Loscalzo. “There’s no classification of this guy starts or this guy doesn’t. We’ll modify things depending on who needs to be ready to play on Saturday, but the approach and what we expect out of our guys doesn’t change.

“My whole approach is do you want to live by design or do you want to live by chance? We want our guys to live by design, not chance. Good teams always seem to have a knack for having the ball bounce their way. We worked a lot on speed and development in the offseason, but we worked on making sure we live by design, you can’t leave it up to chance.

The most underrated part of the strength and conditioning program at Washington State? The maintenance crew, said Loscalzo.

“Arguably, the guys coming in and maintaining everything, cleaning the floors, making sure the weights are ready are just as, if not more important, that us getting the players reps.

THERE ARE ANY number of things Loscalzo enjoys about his job, but helping to foster a player’s development over the course of his WSU career is way up there on the list.

“First, I love seeing guys come in, and then compare it to where they are or where they end up,” he said.

A textbook example is Joe Dahl. He came in as a 248-pound walk on. Now he’s right around 308 pounds, Loscalzo said.

“He’s a big guy, and he works at his craft,” said Loscalzo. “He’s come a long way, but it’s still impressive to look back and see what he’s become for this team.”

Another Loscalzo stand out: Luke Falk. He handles pressure well, and his body matured as he’s worked hard to increase his arm strength, Loscalzo said.

“It’s a different pressure being the starter versus the back-up, but he comes in and works hard no matter what,” said Loscalzo. “He’s actually a guy you have to pull the reins back. He just wants to get better and sometimes you just need to make sure he doesn’t overdo it.”

At this point, Loscalzo noted were too many other players to mention, so many have improved and pleased over his time at WSU. But I wanted a defensive guy to round things out so after pressing him a bit, Loscalzo tabbed corner Charleston White -- also no stranger to being bitten by the injury bug.

“He’s probably the guy who was a surprise,” Loscalzo said. “His mentality, the ‘want’ to get after it -- he’s like Marks. Chuck is a competitor.”

At the end of the day, Loscalzo said he just wants to have a positive impact on the Cougar players.

“I’m not going to be here forever. God’s given me a chance to be here, and I’m going to make the most of it. I want to make sure I make my mark helping these guys grow and mature in any way I can,” he said.

Loscalzo made it a point to say he didn’t want credit for a player’s progression, but that if he has made any positive impact on their lives, then he’s happy about that.

“I’m not their position coach, or helping them learn or run plays, but I love watching them compete when the lights come on,” Loscalzo said. “I can’t pinpoint one thing and say ‘Yeah, I caused that,’ but I’m going to do what I can to make these kids stronger and for some, prepare them for the next level.”


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