Todd Rice Interview about Cal Strength Gains in Offseason

March 16, 2001

BERKELEY - While spring football practice officially begins this coming Monday (March 19), the team has been hard at work for the last two months in off-season strength and conditioning workouts under the direction of Coach Todd Rice, the school's Director of Strength and Conditioning. Earlier this week, Associate Athletic Director Kevin Reneau sat down with Rice to find out about his evaluations of the off-season program.

Kevin Reneau: Todd, obviously this is a critical period of time in terms of player development and physical progress. Give us an overall assessment of how the off-season program has gone, particularly in comparison to other years.

Todd Rice: There just isn't any comparison. By far, this is the best off-season program we've had in the four years I've been here. Our players seem to have taken it on themselves to get the job done. There's been some times in the past when it was a struggle for me to get up in the morning and come to our early morning sessions because the players didn't seem motivated. It's like night and day this year. I can't wait to come in every morning because the guys want to work, want to get better. Nobody ever misses a day. Plus, they can execute what we're trying to do. They can do the lifts, they can do the drills. They understand the work they put in now will make a big difference this fall.

KR: Describe what your program is all about.

TR: We're an Olympic lifting program. It's a training philosophy based on certain types of lifts, such as squats and cleans. Bench presses aren't as important because they don't translate to the football field. We're about explosiveness and power on the field, not pointing out how many guys on our team can bench press 430 pounds. Football is a game about acceleration and deceleration, stopping and starting. It's a philosophy I've always believed in and there's hard data to back it up. When they did some testing on the 1968 Olympic team, they compared the athletes on the team and the guys who timed fastest in the 10 meter or 25 meter distances weren't the sprinters, they were the Olympic lifters. They also had the highest vertical jumps and they were the most flexible athletes. Flexibility is a big part of what we're about. You have to be flexible to do many of the lifts we do. It takes athletic ability. We spend a couple hours every morning doing the training, but we also ask our guys to come in every afternoon for an hour and do their stretching and flexibility exercises If the guys do what we coach them to do, they're going to be bigger, stronger and faster. You look at guys like Reed Diehl and Andre Carter and you see some results. Diehl just went out and ran a 4.82 and a 4.85 for the pro scouts. The scouts told me that's the fastest time any offensive lineman has run this year in the pro scouting drills. The stuff we teach really works.

KR: What exactly is the time commitment during the off-season workouts?

TR: We're here every morning for two hours beginning at 6:30 a.m., Monday through Friday. We also recommend that the guys find an hour in the afternoon to do stretching, improving their flexibility. And nobody misses. If it's raining, they're here. If they're injured, they're here. If they have the flu, they're here. I credit the leadership on the team. They've put up a chart in the football office with marks representing who attends and who misses. The attendees have a blue mark and those who miss have a red mark. You look at the chart and it's hard to find any red marks. I thought, when I came here, it wouldn't take this long to get to this level of commitment. But, it's here now. I would be absolutely shocked if we didn't have almost the entire team here this summer, working out and getting better. We've kept improving in that area the past few years, but this seems like a whole new level of commitment. There are always reasons why it's hard to be here in the summer. It costs a lot to live here and guys have to get jobs to help pay their expenses. But, this group will find a way to be here. That's the way it is at the top programs like Nebraska or Wisconsin. That's where we need to be.

KR: You talk about the leadership, who are the guys on the team providing that leadership?

TR: I hesitate to name all the players, because it's across the board. Guys like Scott Fujita, Chris Ball, Matt Nixon, Joe Igber and Kyle Boller. Maybe more significantly is we're getting leadership from guys who used to have issues to committing. It's exciting to see guys like Saleem Muhammad and Dewey Hale step up. Even a guy like Ball. He always talked a good game about workouts, but now he's really doing the things he needs to get bigger and stronger. He gets up at 3 a.m. every day so he can drink a weight supplement and then goes back to bed. He's pushing hard in the weight room. Players respect that. It's less talk, more action. Chris played about 205 last year, but he's now 221 pounds. That's going to make a big difference.

KR: What about some of the guys who have made dramatic improvement?

TR: Everybody is improving, so I could just go down the roster. Joe Igber is up to 200 pounds and he's gotten faster. He's also helping other players in the weightroom. He's not as shy as he was. Daniel Nwangwu has lost about 20 pounds, which is a positive. He's a solid 275 pounds and he's stronger. Terence Dotsy is another guy who has dropped about 20 pounds. He was up around 300, but he's back at 280 and shown really good work ethic. Igber has sort of taken him under his wing and helped him understand the lifts and how to execute them. Scott Tercero is finally to the point where his knee pain is 90 percent gone and he can do all the lifts. James Bethea and Atari Callen have really worked hard. There's so many more.

KR: What about some guys who may be surprises?

TR: Watch out for Wendell Hunter. Physically, he has a chance to be as good as anybody we've ever had at the linebacker position. He's got it all, speed, strength, power. Sometimes it takes him awhile to get the routine down, but once he does, he's impressive. Eric O'Brien is up to 305 pounds and his knee if fine. He's a young kid with a lot of potential. Charon (Arnold) was lazy last year, but he's made a complete turnaround. A guy who's made a lot of improvement is Nick Shaefer. A year ago, we weren't sure he was a Division I player, but he's improved a lot. Physically, he is now competitive.

KR: How's the development of Nolan Bluntzer, as he enters the spring as the likely starter at center?

TR: Nolan's healthy for the first time since basically he's been here. He just hasn't been able to train on a consistent basis until the last six to eight weeks. He's up to 265 pounds and we hope to have him in the 270 to 275 pound range for the fall. That's not huge, but remember he played last year at just over 250 pounds. That's suicide in a league like the Pac-10. He's coming around.

KR: How's Kyle Boller?

TR: Kyle's fine. He's down a few pounds to about 205, but he'll be at 215 in the fall. He hasn't been able to lift as much as we'd like because his back has been bothering him a little. Nothing serious, but just little tweaks. The problem for him and a lot of our players is that they've had to throw and often train on the artificial surface on Kleeberger Field because of the field demands in Memorial with the lacrosse team using it. That's just brutal on their bodies. It's something that has to be solved in the future.

KR: Anybody made any drops in speed times?

TR: Guys like Igber and Ball are definitely faster. Scott Fujita just ran a 1.7 electronic time in the 10-yard test. Right now, were focusing more on strength than speed. Over the next four weeks, we'll do more speed work You'll see much improved times when we test in early May before finals.

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