Columbus East football coach Bob Gaddis remembers coaching in the late 1980s in Indianapolis when strength training meant dragging weights out of a storage room on a Saturday morning for his football players to lift.

Most high school football programs did the bulk of their lifting during the offseason, but would have to either lift after practice or on Saturdays once the season started. Gaddis said just two decades ago, players only had the opportunity to maintain their strength level during the season.

Now, players are able to get stronger as the season progresses. Both Gaddis and North coach Tim Bless expect their players to be stronger at the end of the season than they were in Week 1.

Coaches can expect that out of their players with the evolution of strength training in high school programs across the nation. Weight training has become a part of the every-day class schedule in many schools for athletes to lift outside of the scheduled practice time. The majority of in-season lifting happens during weightlifting class, and both Bless and Gaddis said strength training is the backbone of their football programs.

East strength coach Scott Pherson teaches six of the school’s weights class periods every day, and volleyball coach Stacie Pagnard heads four classes. Bless leads three periods at North, while defensive line coach Jordan Sharp heads the other six periods.

“I’ve coached in a day when we didn’t have that, so I can tell you it makes a huge difference because we know our kids are getting trained year-round,” Gaddis said. “We don’t have to worry about it. Football is probably the first sport to lift, and now everybody buys into it. I don’t think there is a sport in our school that doesn’t lift or have the opportunity to lift.”

Player progress

Gaddis said most programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s didn’t believe in weight training as much, and teams could get ahead by lifting.

Weightlifting is such a significant component in today’s football programs that teams fall behind if players don’t lift. It’s become so important that players such as East senior offensive guard Mark Sciutto have been attending workouts since seventh grade.

Sciutto said his lifting technique has improved over the years, helping him get stronger. He put on an Olympian jersey as a 200-pound freshman and now weighs 250 pounds midway through his final high school season. His combined bench press, power clean and squat maxes are 220 pounds more than they were his freshman year.

“Being a lineman, you obviously need to be the strongest on the field, so I’ve always taken that really strongly,” Sciutto said. “I’ve always tried to be the strongest kid in the weight room and push myself as hard as I can.”

The most physical positions in football are on the offensive and defensive lines. Bless breaks it down to simple physics of making sure players have enough mass and acceleration to generate enough force to get the job done on the field, which he said are both born in the weight room.

One player who Bless said he believes has a great body build for excelling in the weight room is offensive guard Davin Greenlee. Bless said Greenlee’s body frame allows him to add a significant amount of mass and strength.

Greenlee never lifted before joining the team his freshman year and said he found a real passion for it. Greenlee said he believes the work he puts in while lifting has a direct correlation to his performance during games.

“I may not be the quickest guy, but I plan to be the strongest out there, and I use it to my advantage … especially when we’re pushing the pile,” Greenlee said. “I’m able to drive my feet. I’m low to the ground. I have strong legs, strong arms, so I can use one hand instead of like most players, who have to use two sometimes.”

Greenlee has improved his total pounds of squat, bench press and power clean max-outs from when he was a 225-pound freshman. The 290-pound senior is on the record board for his 575-pound squat and is working to get there for bench press.

“His weight-room numbers are really impressive,” Bless said. “He’s got the leverage to be able to do that. He works hard for sure, but it’s not like he just works harder than everybody else. He has the body type that can really develop big-volume, weight-room strength, and he’s taken advantage of it. It’s one thing to have that potential and not realize it. You still have to work towards it, and he has. He’s earned it, and it’s certainly paid off on the football field because he can use that leverage and really use that weight-room strength to really move people, which is obviously what you need an offensive lineman to do.”

Injury prevention/flexibility

While lifting weights makes an athlete stronger, Bless and Gaddis contend that consistent lifting also helps prevent injuries.

Bless pays close attention to a player’s body symmetry when lifting because an imbalanced athlete can be more prone to experiencing injuries. Single-leg and dumbbell training help his players maintain a good symmetrical balance.

“If a kid is real top-heavy, he has an opportunity to have hamstring issues,” Bless said. “If a kid is real (pectoral) dominant, he’s going to have shoulder issues. We work very hard to make sure we’re developing symmetry in our strength. Then, flexibility is a key component in working through a range of motion in the weight room. That’s injury prevention, and then the final factor of that is conditioning. A better-conditioned athlete is one who is less prone to injury.”

Gaddis is a big advocate of the power clean and squat because they help with explosiveness and flexibility. He likes to get his athletes to move their feet when lifting, and power clean allows them to do so. Squats help athletes learn how to bend their knees more, which Gaddis said he believes helps with flexibility and injury prevention, as well as helping the athlete become an overall better player.

“Sometimes, when you get those tall, lanky-type kids, if they can learn to bend their knees and become strong when they have some leverage, that’s going to make them a better player,” Gaddis said. “We’re not really power lifters. We’re athletic lifters. We want to learn how to move better.”

Heavy Lifters

Davin Greenlee

School: Columbus North

Year: Senior

Position: Right guard

Weight: 290 pounds

Bench press max: 360

Squat max: 575

Power clean max: 250

Mark Sciutto

School: Columbus East

Year: Senior

Position: Right guard

Weight: 250 pounds

Bench press max: 290

Squat max: 460

Power clean max: 285

Dead lift max: 500

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.