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September 3, 2008

Hokies stepping up to keep the weight down

By: Jimmy Robertson

Greg BooneGreg Boone

After watching Georgia’s talented and speedy defensive ends sprint past some of his offensive linemen in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Tech offensive line coach Curt Newsome got a first-hand glimpse of a rather ‘big’ problem forming.

And this one weighed heavily on his mind throughout all of last season as well.

Following his second season as the line coach, Newsome felt some of his linemen simply were too heavy and that the added bulk hindered their ability to move and their stamina – and thus, their play on the field. In February, he took the first step toward what could end up being a career-defining moment for a few of these players, strongly encouraging them to stay in Blacksburg over the summer, with the idea that they lose some weight and get in better shape.

“We knew coming in last season that Ryan Shuman hadn’t been here [over the summer] and Nick Marshman hadn’t been here,” Newsome said. “After the [April 16th] tragedy, it was hard to get everyone together. We didn’t get to finish spring practice and the kids were gone a lot. We had some doing internships. It just was not the same as a normal year.

“So we jumped on it this February and challenged them to be here for two sessions. Then Coach [Mike] Gentry and Coach [Keith] Short took it over.”

What came about was a plan that transformed a group of rather pudgy young men into leaner football-playing machines.
Gentry, Tech’s assistant AD for athletic performance, and Short, his assistant and a former player at Tech, hatched up a weight-loss plan that received a lot of attention in Blacksburg and deservedly so. Actually, reminded of some past successes by having athletes walk the stadium steps, Gentry recommended he and Short dust off that old plan.

First, though, they came up with a target weight for each player. Short, who pretty much oversaw things, weighed the players every single day, and once they came within five pounds of their target weight, they did not have to participate in the walk. However, if they ever went over that mark, they would find themselves setting the alarm clock.

The cardiovascular part of the plan was really quite simple. It called for the players to come in at 6:30 in the morning on Monday through Thursday and walk the stadium steps on the east side. The players would walk to the second level, walk across, and then walk down. They would zigzag their way the length of the east side and back.

“It is certainly not the most intense workout we’ve ever come up with,” Short said. “But when having to get up that early, you’re motivated to get off as quickly as possible.”
Of course, a plan is only as good as those who participate in it. NCAA rules prohibit coaching staffs from requiring players to stay around and work out in the summer. A player must volunteer to do so.

Shuman, Marshman, Sergio Render, William Alvarez and Hivera Green – all offensive linemen – agreed to stick around and participate, and they were joined by defensive linemen Kwamaine Battle and Cordarrow Thompson, and tight end Greg Boone. As a group, they saw a need to lose weight and get in better shape.

“It’s something I needed to do,” Render said. “It was going to make me a better football player, and now going into the season, I’m in better shape than I have been since I came here. I needed to do it and I think I’ve improved my game a lot.”

“The guys were great about it,” Short said. “They bonded together and pushed each other. They showed up on time and never complained.

“They knew going in that this wasn’t about punishment. We wanted them to become better players and we also were worried about their overall health.”

Of course, that’s easy for Short to say. The first few mornings, most of them felt as though they were on the verge of a heart attack.

“The first couple of times, it’s going to get you,” Thompson said. “After a while, you don’t think about it. I got my iPod and got going and I’d finish it in like, 30 minutes.”

The critical part of the plan was the time. No player wants to get up at 6, much less get up at that time and go walk the steps at Lane Stadium.

But that dawn workout forced the players to go to bed early. Thus, they weren’t out running through the McDonald’s drive-thru after midnight.

“Instead of me going out, most of the time I was in bed by 11 or 12,” Render said.

Also, most of these players had 7:30 workouts because of summer school schedules. So once they finished walking the stadium steps, they went straight to the weight room and lifted. Following their lift session, they went through their normal conditioning drills, which, for the most part, consisted of running 110-yard sprints in a specified time.

Once a player reached his target weight, he no longer had to walk the stadium steps. But the weigh-ins continued, so if a player weighed in above his target weight, he set his alarm clock, got up and headed to Lane Stadium.

Wanting the plan to be all-encompassing, Gentry and Short also encouraged the players to meet with Amy Freel, Tech’s director of sports nutrition. After all, one needs to work the other end of the equation when it comes to losing weight – eating the right types of foods. All of them took advantage of her expertise, including Marshman, the heaviest Hokie who has met with Freel on a number of occasions in the past.

“I talked with Amy and made sure I was eating the right stuff,” he said. “I’m making sure I’m not eating the fatty foods, like fast foods. I try to cook my own meals and if I go out, I go to Subway or places like that. I also got into sushi this summer. That’s where half of my money goes these days.”

Freel developed a meal plan for each, taking each one of them to the grocery store and showing them some different things they could buy instead of buying the same foods – what she termed ‘frozen convenience foods.’ She showed them some different types of snack foods and got them to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets. She also encouraged them to cook more efficiently.

“If you’re going to make the effort to cook,” she told them, “then cook enough for more than one meal.”

In coming up with a meal plan for each player, she noticed one huge problem.

“To be honest, they weren’t eating enough,” she said. “Most of them were eating one meal a day, so their metabolism was low when they were working out. In some cases, they weren’t hydrated enough either, so they were losing energy and would become fatigued quickly. They couldn’t work out with the intensity they needed to lose weight.

“So eating one meal a day actually causes you to gain weight. That’s a hard concept for people to understand. It seems backward to what you would think. But it’s true.”

The plan ran from early May to mid-August and turned out to be a huge success. Marshman won the title as the ‘biggest loser’, dropping 24 pounds, and he now weighs 339 pounds. Shuman lost 20, dipping to 293 pounds, while Boone and Battle each lost 15. All eight lost at least 10 pounds and they all feel better. They also appear to be playing better.

“I can tell a big difference,” Marshman said. “I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I got here. I’m moving better. I’m not tiring out before practice is over. I can go longer. And just all-around, I’m feeling better.

It’s nice hear to people say, ‘you’ve lost weight.’ That’s always nice to hear.”

Now, the challenge is keeping it off, but so far, so good in that respect. Short continues to monitor the group’s weights and likes what he sees.

“They’ve all maintained their weight loss,” he said. “I’m hoping this [the plan] has taught them some discipline.”

For sure, a few of the players need to lose even more weight. Marshman, for example, wants to get into the 325-330 range.
But another thing is for sure – their weight is certainly not as ‘big’ of an issue as it once was. And for that, Tech’s staff is grateful.

GOING THE EXTRA MILE Some people may be confused as to why Tech defensive lineman Cordarrow Thompson wasn’t the biggest loser in terms of weight among the eight who climbed the stadium steps four days a week for four months.

“He lost most of his weight before we even started doing this,” Tech assistant strength coach Keith Short said.

Thompson, a redshirt junior from Stafford, Va., started his own personal vendetta against his weight. Checking in at close to 340 before the Orange Bowl, he received an eye-opening message from defensive line coach Charley Wiles after he made a few plays in a scrimmage a couple of weeks before the bowl game.

“He told me, ‘See what you can do. Do you want to play for our school? I’m going to tell you for the last time – lose the weight or you won’t get any snaps,’” Thompson said. “I took that to heart.

“My last meal eating bad food was the day before the Orange Bowl. When we got back, everyone else went home. But I stayed here and got focused and went to the cardio room [in the Merryman Center].”

To say that Thompson got serious would be an understatement. From mid-January through early March, he hopped on the treadmill twice a day for seven days a week – going 45 minutes each time. He also started eating right.

And as expected, he lost weight – a lot of it.

Thompson, who dropped 10 pounds walking the stadium steps as a part of the group of eight, has dropped more than 40 pounds overall. For the first time since his high school days, he weighs less than 300 pounds.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he’s starting at defensive tackle.

“I can run fast and my endurance has gotten a lot better,” he said. “I’m not always tired. I’ve got more energy. I feel great.

“I’m hoping I can have a good year this year and show everyone what I can do.”