The camp has paired the exercises with the instructors, who are now well-built. Former Mountaineer football player Bernardo Amerson, a current strength assistant, works the squat bars. Other instruction includes proper power and hang clean form and the use of basic machines for arms and back. We bench press, and I'm paired with a 127-pound Keystone State wrestler. He'll drop 24 pounds to get down to the 103-pound weight class. That's not abnormal, especially in Pennsylvania, which produces the best crop of wrestlers of anywhere in the nation.
We set the bar at 115 pounds, because he has just had surgery. Fine with me. I remember six years ago not being able to lift more than 135 pounds. I'm not sure how much I want to press, but the two sets of 10 reps come easily, as they should, even when we move our hands in to work the inner pectoral muscle.
I breeze through the back and arm machines, and when they tell us to jump 10 pounds in weight, I jump 30.
"Fine," says an intern who is overseeing the lifts. "Blue and Gold News, you're paired with me on the next drill."
It is the worst of the day. I'm a cardio/speed guy. Weights are not a strength. He takes a three-foot long rope and holds the two ends, giving me the middle.
Everyone else pairs up with a fellow camper. It's supposed to be maximum resistance training. I'm Popeye, minus spinach, standing in front of a duel-earringed Brutus.
"Pull up, while I try to hold the rope for max effort," he says, "then resist me all the way down."
Ten reps, rest 45 seconds, for three sets. I get through six and start to feel the burn. He isn't giving much, making me earn every inch. I like that, but his biceps are comparable to my calf size. He also takes his time lowering the rope.
First set is fine. I see other campers are through two sets.
I get through five, and he says I'm not working enough. I think that's his fault, but don't say anything.
"I'm not raising it until you grunt."
He wants me to squeal like a pig.
I show I'm working, and we get through what he calls 10 "good ones." It was really 12.
My arms have been used in benching, five machines and this, and the muscle enlargement is setting in, where one can't touch their shoulders. I'm a little tingly.
"Get a drink and get back here."
I'm supposed to be able to return it to him, get him back. I wouldn't be able to do much, but would love the rest. The third set is the longest, and for the last three reps he holds the rope with one hand.
He times it so that just as my third set, the worst because of fatigue, ends, it is the end of the period. I shrug Atlas. Revenge another day.
The athletes huddle for a quick word from Amerson, and break with a cheer, as we have all day at the end of each of the drills. It's varied from "Team" to "Mountaineers" to "Young Mountaineers."
I hate the last one. Oxymoronic for me. It's lunch time.
The jog down is replaced by a sprint up for food. Turkey and other meat on subs, a bag of chips, Gatorade and cookies.
It's convienent, yes, but chips in the middle of a camp like this? Some athletes douse the subs with mayo. Death by condiment.
There are four hours left, and with the hour break for lunch, three will be running-based. I leave the fried tators in the bag and huddle with McClain and the other GAs.
The afternoon is mainly speed and footwork. Sprints, work in cones, and some larger work on running (stride, bursts, flex off ankles and how to get the foot on the ground and up again quickly).
We work the rubber bands again, this time focusing on the larger one and strength drills, like how to use them with bench press. From there I'm put through the gritty running mechanics segment. Little wonder WVU produces more All-Americans in track than any other sport.
"Montani Semper Accursus." Translation: Mountaineers are always running.
The cones come back into play. They are set up so we sprint to them, circle and sprint to the next. It's designed to improve on tight turns and ability to break down. We practice getting up off the ground, recovering from slips and agility in getting to the spot quickly, then exploding to somewhere else. I roll through it, but some others are winded.
In the finale we're paired against another group in a relay race. Competition -- finally.
They have five runners, we have four. Somebody has to run twice. I'm the starter and anchor. If we're going to do this, we're going to win. Heck with these prep guys. We easily win the first race, and the team challenges us again.
I volunteer to run it again.
"I don't think they can beat us."
Fate intervenes and we lead early, then a slip pulls us to even and we get beat in the stretch, even as I try to cheat and merely go around the cones as opposed to circling them.
Ethics are for writing, not sports.
At the next drill, fourth to the end, a rope is strung between two poles.
"Ever seen this before?," the Huntington, Pa., wrestler says. He hasn't.
It's an agility drill. Dodge the rope, jump over it, roll under it, whatever. I hit the ground to roll, recover and jump over the rope, backpedal, do it again. More complex drills are added. The turf burns mount. Knee, elbows, side of hand. It burns when mixed with hot water and soap. I know the post-camp shower will be fun.
Medicine balls are next. Throw and catch, have them dropped at the head, designed to be caught and fired upward. I say I'm ready and glance away, and the first drop I half-catch as it hits me in the mouth.
We finish this area, run by Amerson, with overhead tossing of the balls, much like the strongman contests. The athletes discover newfound respect for the Strongman competitors, who hurl keg-like barrels over 35- and 40-foot walls. Nobody, including Amerson, could hurl the larger balls over a 40-foot wall.
Fatigue is mentally setting in, and the instructors know it. We practice basic explosion at the next site. It's less taxing physically, as we bounce and hop over cones on different feet before jumping on top of boxes, and back down, repeating 10 times. Pushups and situps, as well as stretching are done. I can tell they are cooling us down slowly.
I'm more wasted by the endless drilling than actual fatigue. I flirt with a quick trip to the weightroom to see if I can put up my body weight on the bench press. Only 40 percent of in-shape Americans can.
I stick for the last sets: Cones again. We sprint and backpedal and practice getting the hands in front of the body and shuffling, like a lineman would do while blocking.
Somebody comments that he thought fall football two-a-days were hard. No doubt the heat is worse, but it doesn't go eight hours, either. I'm mentally ready to be finished, and await the word for final sprints to end it.
The call never comes, and all that's left is a binge of water drinking and the speakers. The coaches have been in meetings with Barwis and other educators, and they emerge, papers in hand. Some will gain credit toward degrees or career advancement by writing a paper.
Hartzell speaks, and tries again in vain to snap one of his golden achillies heels. It's a disgusting site to watch, but the ankle never gives.
Olympic wrestler Cary Kolat, who trained and coached at WVU, speaks on hard work and dedication and commitment to everyday work. He is one of the few that can back what he says. I've seen his workouts, first-hand, and they guy refuses to stop or give in. He's mentally as strong as he is physically, and he is a perfect choice.
Mountaineer soccer All-American and second-round Carolina Courage draft pick Katie Barnes was slated to speak, but couldn't because her professional team had an unexpected flight time to an away game.
Barwis dismisses the campers, though I'm already on the way to the Puskar Center. I throw 135 on, with the bar. I'd like to jump to 175 pounds, but a 60-pound weight increase is unintelligent, especially with no spotter. I lift 135 easily, then 155.
I add 20 more pounds and manage three lifts. I could do more, but one of the biggest points was to have a spotter. No use pressing it, even though there are several GAs milling around. I've surprised even myself. While 175 isn't a load, I wasn't sure I could still manage my body weight.
In reflection, I learned a lot. The speed, strength and conditioning program at WVU has very impressive background experience and knowledge. Athletes at West Virginia are demanded to work and are given proper instruction. They deserve support and whatever monies they are awarded.
I learned that Barwis, the GAs and interns work very hard in preparing the workouts and the camp. It was well-run: Very fluid, highly informative and intricate, and, in many respects, cutting edge. The one thing missing was nutrition education for the older campers. It's tough, and probably wrong, to tell a 10-year old that he can't eat some things he wants. Moderation, moderation.
It was also wise for WVU not to show younger campers weight training. It's been proven to hurt musculo-skelatal development.
I also confirmed that the turf burns do burn, and that a full-body workout like that takes it's toll over a seven-hour period. It proves true for even the hardest, most dedicated workers.
I see Brutus three days later while renting movies.
"Sore?" he says.
"No, not really."
He says he was. My comment is a half-truth. Three days later, no, I'm not sore. The day after I was. He didn't ask me that.
I also learned that, in speed, strength and conditioning, I'm somewhere between Elvis Grbac and Elvis Presley, the later years. That's good enough for me, as long as I stay competitive enough for softball.
BlueGoldNews.com would again like to thank the entire Strength and Conditioning staff for their gracious help and cooperation, and especially for putting staffer Matt Keller through the wringer.