Football team stays fit in the gym during off-season

The offseason team workouts have begun for members of the Norwich University football team, and they are motivated as ever to work as hard as they can to prepare for the oncoming football season.

“We need to get bigger, faster, and stronger,” said Max Regan, 21, an offensive lineman from Lowell, Mass. “If we do the work here, we can win the league and win some playoff games.”

The football team has begun offseason training with a sense of strong motivation after a somewhat disappointing season. The Cadets advanced to a post-season bowl game and finished with a 7-3 record. Although this is still a respectable season, it was short of the goal of advancing in the Division III playoffs and winning the Eastern Collegiate title.

Jim LaBell works out during a team lift. (Arielle Eaton Photo)

Jim LaBell works out during a team lift. (Arielle Eaton Photo)

“It is definitely our goal to win the conference, and make it back to the playoffs like two years ago,” said Kyle Funesti, 20, a defensive lineman from Montville, N.J. “We talk about it every day; our goal is to win in the playoffs.”

The team has a lot of goals for the season, which motivates them to sweat and struggle almost daily in the workouts. Also, offseason training is a way to continue to mold the younger players and teach them good habits.

“An important goal of ours that our captains left us with was to teach the young guys what Norwich football is all about,” said Mitch Przybocki,  20, a quarterback from Pine Bush, N.Y. “One thing they meant by that was show them how we train. A saying that has stuck with me since I was young is ‘hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard’ and that pushes me in the gym,” he explained.

Playing for the football team takes a lot of dedication, and success does not come easy. There are no days off for a team hungry for a winning season.

“We lift four days a week, Monday through Thursday,” said Patrick Costin, 20, a defensive back from Swampscott, Mass. “Monday is a day that we work lower body, and Tuesday is upper body. And then Wednesday is lower body and Thursday is upper body again.”

“On Mondays we do a lot of cleans, Tuesdays is benching, Wednesday we squat, and Thursday we do cleans and jerks”, said Ransom Hudson, 20, an offensive lineman from Essex, Vt. “We switch muscle groups each day.”

The football team gathers at the same time in the same place almost every week day, and players grow together because of this, but there are not too many facilities on campus that can accommodate that many athletes. One of the few that can is Plumley Armory.

“Football lifts are located downstairs in Plumley Armory, in the Norwich University weight room,” said Regan. “We also do a lot of work upstairs in the gymnasium, and even in the hallways of Plumley.”

Plumley Armory is where all the Norwich sports teams hold their offseason workouts, so each day all the teams are on a tight schedule to ensure that everybody gets a fair amount of time in the gym to work out.

“We show up every day to lifts around five o’clock,” said James LaBell, 20, from Stanhope, N.J. “There are other teams lifting, but we warm up so that we can start right at 5:15 and then we finish up around 6:15.”

The offseason workouts are a part of important process where a team starts to learn what it’s made of. It’s in these workouts where the 2013 Norwich football team is going to start to work to distinguish themselves from the 2012 team.

“All the guys are planning to return to the team,” said Przybocki. “So that includes all returning freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. The seniors are now a part of the soul, so now new guys have to step up, myself included.”

Because the remaining players on the team are just freshman, sophomores, and juniors, the team is smaller. However, the lifts are still very packed and competitive.

“In each workout, we are probably about 80 guys strong,” said Regan. “This is, of course too many people to be working together so we work in four separate groups of about 20.”

These four groups are separated evenly and these groups are crucial to the progression of the off-season training regimen. This is because the people in each group are working with the other people in their group, as well as competing with each other.

“In our groups we can push ourselves. That’s the number one thing,” said Przybocki. “The workouts are only an hour long, but they are fast- paced and intense to get ready for Coach Murnyack’s camp, because he is dedicated to conditioning us very thoroughly.”

Each year, the team does a specially planned workout schedule, which is made by the strength and conditioning coaches. Over the years they have changed a bit here and there but still are formulated to make a team stronger and more physically fit.

“Every year the workouts change. We used to do a lot of kettle bell workouts my freshman year,” said LaBell. “Now, we work a little more on other kinds of stuff like Turkish get-ups. Every year there is a new kind of free weight workout.”

“We’ve been doing a lot of shoulder presses with dumbbells, focusing on shoulder stability and strength,” added Funesti. “And we’ve been doing a lot of biceps and triceps, and legs, and abs. We work the whole body.”

Free-weight lifting has always been a stronghold in any football player’s workout, and Norwich is no different.

“I have enjoyed doing a lot of the shoulder presses, because I’ve always been a fan of dumbbell lifts,” said Costin. “I don’t like the cleans and split jerks as much.”

The workouts cover a wide spectrum of muscle groups in the upper and lower body, and everything between, to prepare for the varied demands of football play.

While the workouts are specially put together to work on muscle groups that football players need to keep strong and conditioned, there is also a stress on athleticism and flexibility as well.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work on our 40-yard-dash stances,” Hudson said. “Were learning how to get a good fast explosion off the line. This is harder than it sounds, because you have to remember to bend your knees, keep your head down, and keep your body in motion.”

“There has been a focus on 40 yard dash techniques, and we have to do a lot of start and stops,” said Funesti. “And we have also worked a ton on explosion with cone drills.”

“This year we’ve been working a lot on sprinting technique. Not running as a football player, but as an athlete,” added LaBell. “Learning running techniques are really cool for me because I never ran track growing up, and never learned these skills.”

Flexibility is a very crucial and often overlooked angle of athletic and physical condition. Any athlete knows that to make it through a long season and stay healthy, stretching and flexibility is important.

“Speed isn’t my strength, and my main goal is flexibility improvement which will lead to speed improvement,” Przybocki explained. “I’ve been working a lot with Coach Kruger, he has us do band workouts and various stretches, to improve my hip flexibility.”

All players are encouraged to have personal goals to work towards, and offseason training is the time to really work to reach those goals. One measurement of how hard everyone is working is what their numbers look like in the beginning of the offseason as opposed to when lifts finish at the end of the semester.

“In the beginning of the offseason, we do our max lifts, which sets the foundation for each of us to work from,” Hudson said. “I was pretty happy with my numbers. After the season, your body is pretty destroyed, so the offseason is really about building your body back to the prime condition necessary at the  start the season.”

Football is an extremely physical sport, and as a result injuries are all too common. For players who missed large parts of the season because of injuries, the offseason offers a chanceto get back in football condition.

“I did better than I thought I’d do for my test lifts. I broke my leg and missed almost the entire season,” said LaBell. “However, I got to work with Coach Kruger on my upper body, where I’ve always been weak. But my lower body lifts lost a lot of numbers.”

The offseason training begins as strictly indoor lifting and conditioning, but after spring break the team will take to the field for spring practices.

“Spring practices are when we really get back into the football stuff,” said Funesti. “We’ll start learning plays. And no doubt we’ll be running a lot, getting in shape.”

Whatever kind of mark you want to leave as a Norwich football player, the time to put in the work and make your dreams come true is offseason training.

“I work my hardest every day,” said Przybocki. “I’m not a projected starter, but I will do whatever it takes to make sure I’m ready to go when I am called upon.”

What makes offseason workouts so special and iimportant is that a team comes together, much like it does during the hot days in pre-season camp, or in the regular season, when the team must pull together no matter what the circumstances to succeed. For this group of guys, one thing that is not lacking is motivation.

“We are a program with a lot of tradition, and winning is important,” said LaBell. “Anything less than winning the conference is a disappointment. And we need to win a playoff game. We are fired up. Castleton beat us on our home field and took the Sap Bucket. We need it back where it belongs.”

“When I lift I just think of the payoff,” said Regan. “I think of the kind of person and athlete I’ll become by working hard. Most importantly I’ll be in better shape, and more able to do my job.”

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