With the start of spring practice now exactly a month away, we talked to Washington State football strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo about how he’ll get the Cougars ready for spring ball and what they’ll work on between now and the beginning of fall camp in August

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With the start of spring practice now exactly a month away, we talked to Washington State football head strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo about how he’ll get the Cougars ready for spring ball and what they’ll work on between now and the beginning of fall camp in August.

Qn: I know you guys finished Midnight Maneuvers on Feb. 11. But give us an idea of what you’ve had the team doing since the bowl game.

Loscalzo:

Well the first three weeks were predominantly spent on linear speed work. We lift four times a week, run four times a week and then hit Midnight Maneuvers. We get eight Midnight Maneuvers in in a two-week span, but also continue to lift four times a week. After Midnight Maneuvers, we have another three weeks of training, but here we’re working more on explosive change of direction stuff and we also continue to work with the acceleration portion of it. It’s a lot of technique stuff. Running is just like lifting. You’re never going to see somebody run fast and run ugly. A lot of it is technique like foot strike and knee drives. We do a lot of 10 and 20 yard sprints and a lot of resistance sprints.

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Then from March 7 to 11 we have our testing, and then it’s spring break and then spring ball. We’ll lift throughout spring ball, but we don’t condition because we’re playing football. They then get a big chunk of time off after spring ball, and they can get away for a bit and get their academics right.

Qn: What do you test for during that week of pre-spring ball testing?

Loscalzo: The bench press, the clean, the squat, their vertical jump, and 10 and 20 (yard sprints). We’re looking for progress, just numbers to base summer workouts off. We’re not a numbers program, so we’re trying to find a training max more than a true max. We’re a program that only truly does max testing once a year – that week before spring break. It gives us an idea of how much a guy has improved. Or, if his squat isn’t progressing the way it should, we go and see what we should do different with him.

Qn: Describe in more detail what Midnight Maneuvers are supposed to accomplish.

Loscalzo: We don’t want them doing anything between the end of the season and the start of our winter program. When Midnight Maneuvers start, we kinda don’t want them in shape. We want them to struggle because when high school kids come to college, one of the things they have to understand is that if you want to develop you have to learn to struggle. Look at our game against Arizona State last year when we were down 17? That’s a struggle.

Midnight Maneuvers is more of a volume-type workout. Coach (Mike) Leach has a protocol – he wants it to be nine stations. I put together different suggestions for exercises for the different stations, and each coach at each station has the freedom to change it and do what they want. Coach (Dave) Nichol for example started with the three-cone drill, then he went to a box drill. He changed it back and forth. It’s a very fluid program. Coaches are able to evaluate kids and see them work and it helps kids in competition and it’s a program that’s developed a lot of competition. From our first year here, to the level of competition this year, and the effort and the understanding, it’s not even close.

I post the grades every day. It’s based on effort, based on execution of the drills, concentration and body language. That’s one of the big things. Leach is big on body language. He wants winning body language. You could do the drill perfect, at full speed. But if your body language is defeatist, you’re not going to make it here.

Qn: You touched on this a little earlier, but are there different points of emphasis during the multiple different conditioning cycles? How is spring conditioning and strength training different from summer conditioning and training?

Loscalzo: I give them some things to do during their time off, but they come back in May for the beginning of the summer program in some semblance of shape. In the summer time, the first four weeks of summer, it’s about development of base conditioning levels. We introduce sand pit workouts, we do change of direction and speed work in the sand pit and some team conditioning drills. After that, we focus on camp-focused conditioning – more hardcore sand pit change of direction stuff, and the whole time we’re hitting it hard in the weight room, lifting heavier than in the winter. Summer is a big part of getting ready for fall camp. It takes a good nine weeks of training in the summer to get ready for the season. Some of it has to be done on their own. Last year, we had a lot of guys who were self-starters, who would do things on their own.

Qn: What sort of lifting do you program for them?

 Loscalzo: We’re more considered a total body program – total body every day. So we do some sort of Olympic lifting every day. We clean, we snatch and we do every variation of the Olympic lifts and squatting. We’re complex in how we administer it but basic in terms of if you looked at the programs you’d know what the exercises are. If you look at (Mike) Leach’s offense, it is what it is? We’re the same way in the weight room. We want to master explosive power, lower body strength and upper body health. We don’t try to put a whole ton of stuff in and change it every few weeks.

Qn: With increased emphasis on the importance of strength and conditioning in football at even the high school level, do freshmen come into the program now with a more advanced understanding of the Olympic lifts?

 Loscalzo: We bring them in the door assuming they know nothing, the same with JC transfers. Since we only had four incoming guys (join the team in the spring), we’re going to treat them as if they have no idea about lifting at all. Everyone starts from the bottom and works his way up. Our orientation process for guys who come mid-semester is a four to five week process before they’re integrated into what we do. We start with technique and spend two to three weeks on body weight exercises. About 10 workouts in, we start to introduce weight to the bar. We concentrate on the development of technique. It’s got to look right. The only difference between 150 kilograms and 60 kilograms is how much is on the bar. It’s all about developing motor patterns.

Qn: The team managed to get through last season without any grievous injury epidemic. Does this correlate to anything different you might have had them do in their offseason workouts last year?

Loscalzo: I think it’s a program-wide thing. I think it’s what we do, in conjunction with what everybody else does on staff. Like, the way coach Leach approaches contact in practice, in warm ups, and the way coaches coach their guys. I do think the way we lift aids that – we’re real big on lower body strength and concentrating on basics.

We understand that people are going to get hurt in this game. There’s no ways around it. You’re talking big people who hit fast and collide with each other for hours on end. We try to put our program in a position to minimize the severity of the injury at all costs, and if they do get hurt, we try to get them back as quick as we can.