The 2015 Boston College football season has been unique for a number of reasons. Beyond all of the discussion of in-game struggles and coaching adjustments or adaptations, the Eagles endured an incredible amount of injuries. After starting the year with a number of wide receivers on the injured list, BC lost more than their share of players this year to the injury list.
Among the injuries included multiple quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive linemen, tight ends, and defensive cornerbacks. With that in mind, it's worth looking into the background of what happens in the weight room and just how far players have to progress from the start of their college careers to the end, not only in football but also across other sports.
One of the often-overlooked components of athletics is a team's strength program and what goes into it. Each school employs training and conditioning staff, designed to keep the train running as long as possible and at as high of a capability as possible. It's an everyday process that requires hours of research and analysis by strength and conditioning staff, all of which study the science of the body and look for new ways to keep players healthier for longer periods of time.
Anthony Morando is someone entrusted with helping the bodies of athletes prepare, train, recover, and more. A 2007 graduate of Springfield College, Morando is a former football player who received his degree in Applied Exercise Science. Following his graduation from Springfield, he became a graduate assistant on the Boston College football staff before going into the private sector as a personal trainer for a number of years, where he worked with players training in the NFL.
He came out of the private sector in 2011 when he became one of the strength coaches of Boston University's hockey team, becoming the head S&C coach from 2013-2015 and played a key role in the development of the team's Frozen Four run a season ago. Morando is now an EXOS performance specialist with Altru Health Systems in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Formerly known as Athletes' Performance, EXOS is an elite training facility that helps assist in day-to-day training to maximize performance while lowering the risk for injury. It also studies habits from workout regimens down to nutrition to assist in the process.
Having studied with teams like the San Jose Sharks and Carolina Hurricanes, he's a great resource to be able to speak with about the makeup of an athlete's body across many different fields. And while he doesn't work directly with Boston College, I've had the chance to speak with Anthony about strength and conditioning more than a few times, and he's a tremendous resource to educate and talk about the different aspects of working with young, developing athletes.
BCI: First off, Anthony, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about your work and approach with athletes. We've gone back a long way together, and it's always great when we can catch up. Let's get right into it.
BC is a team built around a lot of younger guys. What's the major difference physically between younger players against those that have a little bit more experience at certain positions?
Anthony Morando: Well the obvious is that the older athlete has a three or three-and-a-half year head start. Older athletes tend to have more physical resilience, which comes from knowing the requirements of the playbook. They also have a much better handle on what are stressors versus non-stressors - which come from the social and academic nature of going to school as opposed to sports. All of that plays a role in how to train and push athletes to condition.
Freshmen usually aren't on the same programs as the upper class athletes because there's an integration that needs to happen relative to their years. At EXOS and with BU, the first thing we did and do is perform a functional movement screen, which is an assessment designed to look at homeostasis in the body. It helps identify the weak links, which in turn helps us identify where we can strengthen and improve an athlete.
The goal is to restore or expand an athlete's range of motion before they're playing. Imagine if you're driving a truck - you want to make sure the truck has all four tires working. (The system) helps identify where the truck is driving with three tires instead of all four.
BCI: How much of a role does strength training play in the development of an athlete to their performance on the field?
AM: Well you can't score a touchdown from the weight room. You can only build so much before you start to focus on what's between the ears. But the goal is to maximize the potential and help them know what needs to be done on a consistent basis. An athlete really needs to know what they can and can't do so they can adjust and work on what needs to be worked on.
All Division I athletes have great instincts, so the goal is to physically get them ready so they can build on those instincts and get them ready for their game.
BCI: You've worked with both football and hockey players. What's the biggest difference between the way those athletes tend to train?
AM: Football players are a victim of gravity. The average play only lasts for about five to seven seconds, so there's a lot of blunt force trauma and constant collision. So the players need to be conditioned to avoid lower back, flexors, and hamstring injuries.
Hockey players deal with a lot more overuse, which is due to the volume of skating. So the focus is more on taking care of the muscles and dealing with a lot more of the overuse that comes with logging a lot of time on the ice.
BCI: What's your approach, with a system like EXOS, to taking care of those differences and avoiding those types of problems?
AM: EXOS in particular uses a systematic approach to an individual. We start with the functional movement screen, which helps to identify the weaker points of the body. This helps to enhance the strong points while creating a balance since the goal is to get the body moving like a locomotive.
From there, movement and training really goes in three different directions - linear, lateral, and multi-directional. This involves a focus on soft tissue - stretch and massaging.
It also deals with a pillar prep - an analysis of someone's pillar core. This works on activating certain muscles, getting hip extension, and movement integration. There's a lot of medicine ball work, speed dimension, and plyometrics.
And then there's regular strength work, which really doesn't change across the board. There's no cookie-cutter approach to someone's strength work, but there needs to be modifications at the individual level.
The last piece is called Energy System Development, and that really measures playing time and what's needed for an athlete. That takes a look at interval and anaerobic training to determine if more time is needed for a player based on how much they play during a game. You have to look at the person and determine if they need more conditioning time in practice because they're not playing as much during a game or vice-versa.
If you look at the average hockey defenseman, a long shift could be 35-45 seconds longer than his average shift. So there needs to be a balance to allow him to both develop horsepower while paying attention to avoid a lack of execution.
And then there's always the nutrition element, too. If you eat for pleasure instead of for purpose, you're not meeting the demands of your body. That's why athletes who have control over what they eat, how much, and when are able to play longer and at a high level - it combines with everything else that they're already doing to refuel properly.