Strength coach has orders from Spurrier to build a stronger, faster Gamecock
By JOSEPH PERSON
Mark Smith knows squat about strength training.
Unlike former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, who believed squats would shred knee ligaments faster than a Cuisinart, Smith, the Gamecocks? new strength coach, thinks the leg exercise is the foundation for any football training regimen.
?That?s a core lift,? Smith said. ?Leg strength is tremendous in football. You have to be strong in the lower body, and I think squatting is a great lift.?
While Steve Spurrier spent much of his first 2? months at USC searching for future players, Smith and his staff were behind the scenes trying to make the Gamecocks? returning players stronger and faster.
?A few guys need to gain some weight, and most of them need to lose a little bit,? Spurrier said. ?That?s basically it ? stronger and faster. Not necessarily bigger, but stronger and faster.?
To that end, players lift four days a week and have mandatory 6 a.m. conditioning workouts three times a week ? a schedule they will keep until spring practice begins next month. The winter program is similar to that employed by Holtz?s staff with a few notable exceptions.
Quarter squats are out, replaced by full squats in which a player gets his backside parallel with his knees before returning to an upright position. Spurrier also is working on his players? diets, encouraging them to substitute grilled chicken for the fried chicken that he discovered was a prepractice staple in years past.
?They?re trying. I don?t think we?re near where I hope someday our players will be as far as diet is concerned,? Spurrier said. ?But they?re making an effort. It is something completely new for probably 50 percent of our guys to tell them to eat vegetables and lettuce and salads and things like that.?
USC head athletics trainer Rod Walters has a nutritionist working with the team, and student trainers police team dinners at the Russell House cafeteria to make sure players are eating right. Defensive end Moe Thompson said he was flagged one night attempting to order pizza.
?I tried to sneak a pizza, and they were like, ?No football players in that line,?? said Thompson, who instead choked down a supper of baked fish, green beans and salad.
Holtz?s teams were not known for their finishing strength, posting a 3-15 record in November during his six seasons. But Spurrier refused to speculate on whether the late-season collapses were the result of Holtz?s teams being out of shape.
?I don?t know if they were or were not. All I know is that our goal is to be the very best conditioned team we can be,? Spurrier said. ?If that?s the best in the league, fine. If there?s some other teams out there working just as hard as us, there?s nothing we can do about that.?
Smith, Spurrier?s strength coach at Florida and with the Washington Redskins, left his post with the New Orleans Saints to reunite with Spurrier and return to the Carolinas. (Smith grew up in Kannapolis, N.C.)
The 40-year-old Smith weighs nearly the same as he did as an N.C. State linebacker from 1983-87. Smith lifts four days a week, does cardio three days and tries to ?eat pretty clean,? as well.
As Spurrier said, ?He looks like a strength and conditioning coach.?
Smith believes keeping his Arnold-like physique is part of the job requirement.
?If I came in and didn?t look like I was in condition, what kind of example am I setting for the players?? he said. ?If I?m asking them to do it, I have to do it myself, too.?
Spurrier has a similar attitude about the early-morning workouts. Though he does not do the running, Spurrier recently made 10 conditioning sessions in a row after getting a 5:20 a.m. wakeup call at his Columbia hotel. The former Florida coach was pleased to report that players have had few alarm clock malfunctions.
?The other day I was in there and I counted how many bodies we had working out. We had the whole team. … We had 88 guys in there,? Spurrier said. ?Everybody was on time. Everybody was hustling. Everybody had a good attitude.?
Added tight end Andy Boyd: ?I think a lot of guys like doing (the workouts) early. You get them out of the way early in the day.?
Boyd said the conditioning drills feature more speed work than in the past. Depending on their position, players are required to make specific time goals for as many as 30 50-yard sprints across the width of the field.
In the weight room, Thompson said the biggest adjustment has been getting his legs acclimated to the full squats after three years of pseudo-squats.
?I think they were in pretty decent shape,? Smith said. ?The squats were the big thing. They weren?t used to going to the depth that we wanted them to, so we had to get them used to that.?
They seem to be getting the hang of it. During a recent workout defensive linemen De?Adrian Coley and Brook Antonio each had 435 pounds on the squat rack for their final set of three reps.
After finishing with squats, the players followed Smith across the weight room to a row of wooden boxes for plyometrics work. Positioned between two of the boxes, Smith stared intently as players jumped up one by one, then climbed off the platforms.
Smith clapped his hands occasionally and encouraged a few players to ?push it.? Other than that, he said little. A visitor remarked that Smith likely only had to tell players to do something once.
?When he walks in, it is more intense,? Thompson said. ?He?s just about business.?
?He?s stern,? added offensive line coach John Hunt, who worked with Smith at Florida and with the Redskins. ?It?s amazing. It takes time, but after a while everyone will get it and it will be a walk in the park.?