As you drive on Benton, you’ll notice the auxiliary fields at Carroll College occupied once again with football players.
Spring ball is here.
As new techniques are passed from coaches to players, and modest drills prepare the team for the upcoming fall season, it’s Carroll’s overwintering that got it here.
That process started in the weight room and was supplemented with conditioning drills.
“I think the players going into the offseason program in terms of the weight room are looking for personal bests,” Saints coach Mike Van Diest said. “They’re looking for the 500-pound squat, the 315-pound power clean. We probably have more guys squatting 550 or more this year. We have more guys benching 400. That doesn’t always indicate they’re good football players. It indicates they’re working hard. There’s improvement. The weight room certainly serves us twofold. Number one, be stronger and be a better athlete and prevent injuries; and the second thing is to be build confidence.”
The correlation between prowess in the weight room and on-field results is imprecise, at best. Certainly, becoming a larger, more mobile athlete is an advantage in any sport. But how a player learns what to do with added muscle and agility is equally important. Many weight rooms around the country yield a rendition of the motto, “Championships are built in the weight room,” but it’s only part of the formula.
At the very least, Van Diest believes his players, more so than last year, have built confidence in their offseason training regime.
“I think that’s one of the things we accomplished this year,” Van Diest said. “I thought last year we had a good offseason in the weight room. This year our lifts were greater and our confidence just went through the roof. Older players as well as younger players.”
Van Diest noted that he was impressed with his team's approach this season, but in particular a few players set the bar.
Unsurprisingly, the Saints’ first team all-conference offensive lineman, Chris Emter, was of note.
“Chris Emter, had a great year,” Van Diest said. “He’s improved so much. Our expectations of him are that great, too. Hopefully he carries that over to the track season and the outdoor throwing the shot and discus and that will parlay into an outstanding senior season for him.”
The Saints, who return seven starters on both sides of the ball, are being led by some of those starters in the weight room, according to Van Diest.
“Reece Quade improved a lot with his strength,” he said. “He was average strength last year, now he’s above average. He’s still not where we’ll hope he is in the fall, but, boy, he’s off to a better start.”
“Joel Kramer and the offensive line,” he continued, speaking of his team’s offensive line. “Those guys’ strength in the weight room is outstanding and that’s a big plus for us.”
Other standout defenders, second team all-conference defensive tackle Beaugh Meyer and defensive end Alec Basterrechea, who led the conference in sacks for a majority of the season, also drew some attention this winter.
“You look at Beaugh Meyer on the D-line and Alec Basterrechea,” Van Diest said. “Those guys’ strengths are off the chart. Those are the guys benching 385, 400, 410. They’re squatting 550, 540 pounds for reps of three. Those are the things we’re looking at. Craig Kein had a great offseason in the weight room. He’s a young outside linebacker. He’s squatting over 500. Isazah King. Major Ali, mighty mouse, he’s one of our smallest players in terms of height. Pound for pound, he’s one of our strongest players.”
While those lifts don’t necessarily translate into wins on Saturdays, the Saints can at least feel assured they’ve set themselves in a position to be successful in 2017 and rebound from consecutive 4-6 seasons. Each lift plays a small role on the field.
“I think when you look at it, it goes back to a confidence level,” Van Diest said. “If you can squat, your legs are your best friends at any position. Power cleans, the Olympic lift, that’s an explosive lift. It correlates. Bench press, it’s a good upper body lift. It doesn’t mean you’re a great football player.”
To further his point, Van Diest pointed to the NFL Combine.
“There’s a lot of guys that can go to the NFL Combine and rep out 35 reps of 225 or 230 in the bench press; they can’t play,” Van Diest said. “McCaffrey does it 10 times. He’ll be a first-round draft pick as a running back. No doubt about it. If a guy’s confidence builds up because he’s lifting more and he thinks good and gets his teammates excited, then we get to the next phase, which is execution and technique of the actual position.”
That execution and technique practice comes on the field throughout the week -- in spring ball.