Strength In Place

When changes are implemented in any program, especially those involving new personnel, the first year is always a period of adjustment, and to some degree uncertainty. Year Two often sees more stability, and a settling in of the new regime. That's been the case for WVU's football strength and conditioning program as well, where Director Mike Joseph now has his program fully in place.

"There have been a few changes, but the biggest difference between this year and last is that we have all of our programs in place, and everyone is really buying in to what we are doing," said Joseph, who took over the program shortly after head coach Bill Stewart was hired last year. "I really think that's where the biggest differences are. We still focus on the basics of strengthening the core, injury prevention, flexibility, speed and explosion. The techniques we are using are getting to where I want them now."

One of the staples of Joseph's program is variety. During the winter program, for example, each day during the week is different, focusing on different areas of the body, and different attributes for that part. That helps not only in recovery, but also in keeping players' attention. Doing the same thing over and over can be mind-numbing, but by establishing a program with a different focus each day, interest can be, if not piqued, at least pushed a bit.

"We don't spend a whole week on, say power or speed, and then another on volume," Joseph explained. "There's a program set for each player. Day one might work on extension and explosion. Day two might focus on the lower body. And then, for each of those, we also rotate on maximum effort, or volume (number of repetitions), and among the different body parts."

The goal of Joseph's program is to build a foundation of strength and explosiveness, while also working in more football specific exercises. Those mimic movements a player will make on the field (for example, coming out of the stance for an offensive lineman, or backpedaling for a cornerback) to help them improve in precisely the ways they will be performing. Another key is injury prevention, which is something that Joseph has emphasized since his first day on the job. He believes that his program has been successful so far in that area.

"We've gotten good feedback from the trainers and from the players in that regard," he noted. "Some injuries are going to occur, because it's a violent game. And some are just freak things that just happen. But we think that we are doing better in preventing or lessening the severity in some injuries, especially those involving soft tissue.

"We're also really emphasizing working on injuries that players had last year during this offseason. We are trying to strengthen those areas around an injury and help prevent them in the future.

Those sorts of programs are a staple of the winter workout season, which just completed Week Six. With two more weeks to go before the close of winter drills, Joseph's efforts are concentrated on making sure his players are as strong, flexible, and explosive as possible for the start of spring football practice. He isn't trying to get them into peak game shape (that comes in the late summer) but rather to be ready to bump and bang some during the 15 practices allotted during March and April. So far, he has been pleased with the results.

"I really don't want to highlight just a few players, because I really believe that we are better overall," he said. "We rate each player each day with a gold or blue or brown rating, and those have been excellent. I think the biggest difference and improvement this year is the consistent effort and attitude that we have had. I can probably name 100 guys that have improved during the winter."

Joseph, in his daily contact with the team, has also seen the natural evolution of leadership that occurs on every college squad. Gone are leaders such as Patrick White, Ryan Stanchek and Mortty Ivy, and the voids they leave must be filled by different players. While not an all-inclusive list, Joseph notes that a number of players are evolving into the next crop of team leaders.

"Jarrett Brown has been around, so he's a natural for that. I think he's assumed that role well," Joseph said. Alric Arnett, Selvish Capers, Noel Devine and Donnie Barclay, I see those guys on the offensive side. On defense, of course Reed Williams. He's helped offset Pat's loss a lot. He had been a leader, and his consistency there has really helped. Scooter Berry, Sidney Glover, and Eain Smith, even though he's young, are some of the others on defense."

Joseph is quick to note that there are others involved in those roles on both sides of the ball, and that the team appears to be motivated by some unrealized goals of a year ago.

"I think any time you win your bowl game, it sets your offseason in the right direction," he admitted. "Any time you have success, it helps. But not winning the Big East, I think that has our guys driven to get that back. Getting off to a good start in the winter program helps, but right now it's all about mental toughness. We're at the six week mark, we have a couple of weeks to go, the weather is bad, classes are tough, it can all combine to make you hit the wall."

Dealing with those challenges is another part of the winter grind. With no games or on-field action to look forward to, getting through the winter session can be tough. However, those that do so, and do so with continued improvement and effort, will see the benefits throughout the summer and fall.

Up next for the team, following the last two weeks of the winter session, is spring practice. During that period, Joseph will cut back on work in the weight room. Players will have two weight room sessions per week (accompanied by four days of on-field practice) until the spring session concludes on April 18.

"It's more of an in-season style of lifting and working during that time," Joseph explained. "We are in more of a maintenance mode during that time. We want to keep everyone sharp and ready to go on the field."

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Joseph will also be helping some former Mountaineers in their quests to become professional players. Following WVU's Pro Day on March 12, he expects a number of players to work out at WVU prior to the NFL Draft and the free agent signing period.

"A lot of the players have been working out at locations across the country to get ready for Pro Day, but after that I think a lot of them will train here," Joseph said.

Among the players expected to work out at WVU's Pro Day are Patrick White, Ellis Lankster, Ryan Stanchek, Greg Isdaner and Mortty Ivy.

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