It's often said that great teams are made on the practice field, not on game day. In the modern world of uber-competition, that adage can be extended to include the thorough practice preparation by coaches and the players dedication in the weight room. With teams searching for every single advantage possible, physical fitness, strength and explosiveness earned in the weight room and on the track can often translate in to wins on the gridiron.
As a result, the position of strength and conditioning coach has become more and more of a critical part of the success of any program at any level.
As is typical with any coaching change in a major college program, new blood is often brought in by the new coach and that usually includes the strength and conditioning program. For just over a year now, Jason Loscalzo has been tasked by Jeff Jagodzinski with developing the physical and mental toughness of the Boston College Eagles.
Loscalzo come to BC with a wealth of knowledge gained from years of coaching and playing at the collegiate level. After playing fullback at traditional Division II powerhouse, Humboldt State, Loscalzo went on to be a positional coach at his alma mater before entering the strength and conditioning world full time.
"Yeah, that's my passion" Loscalzo says. "I coached for one year but soon realized being in the weight room is where I want to be. For me what I do is not really a job. I love what I do and am thankful everyday that I am in the field I am".
From Humboldt, Loscalzo went on to be a graduate assistant at Arkansas before moving on to University of Nevada at Reno and then on to Marshall during the Byron Leftwich days. He most recently joins us from having spent four years in the strength and conditioning program at Auburn University.
It's from the rough and tumble world of the SEC that Loscalzo brings his no-nonsense approach to strength and conditioning.
"Our goal here is to make football players, not weight room heroes. In this program, from top to bottom, it's not about fulfilling egos and putting up big power numbers. It's about punching the other guy in the mouth and being mentally and physically tougher than him."
According to Loscalzo, the winter sessions are the most critical time of the year for the S&C program.
"We had just come off the season, a lot of the kids are recovering from injuries and gaining their weight and strength back. Now, without the physical punishment the season puts on you, is the critical time to do that."
Spring practice is also a key time for the S&C program but according to Loscalzo, this particular spring is a very critical time for the football program as a whole.
"We are really looking for a number of kids to step up and be leaders." Loscalzo says there are a number of young men stepping up, but exactly who will emerge as the undisputed leaders remains to be determined.
Boston College lost a lot of leadership in the likes of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Matt Ryan and Jamie Silva, so the coaching staff is looking for players to step up now, in the weight room, to assume the mantle of leadership, when it's the hardest to do.
Why is it so critical to find that leadership now, when the lights are dim? According to Loscalzo, it's critical because now is the hardest part of the year for the kids.
"It's a grind to get through winter workouts. It's as much a mental challenge as it is physical one. More often than not, these kids are coming into the weight room on Saturday morning at about the same time their friends are coming in from the night before. It's now when that leadership needs to step up, keep the team focused on what's important, and that's winning football games."
The program, as in any football strength and conditioning environment, is very specific. Nothing in the program is left to chance from what the kids eat to when they lift and run. Players are told when to lift what, at what percentage of their maximum they are to lift and how many reps they need to accomplish. At the start of each program (In this case it would be early January) they are tested on their speed and strength. It's against those marks that they will also be tested on at the end of the program.
"We're testing in March, the week after the kids get back from spring break. That's the strength test and then the run test will be that following Monday. Following the testing, the team heads into spring ball and following spring ball, the next round of strength and conditioning programs start up in May so as you can see, this is a year round, full-time job for these kids."
What's also so critical to this time of year is gaining speed.
"You wouldn't think of January and February as the time of year to work on gaining speed but it really is the most critical because we can really focus on technique. We do focus on speed in the pre-season workouts but that's as much for conditioning as anything so we take this time to really focus on the technique of speed."
Loscalzo says that while it's a grind on the returning football players, it can really be a shock to the incoming freshman.
"The hardest transition is for the freshman, no question. Guys like Max Holloway, Donnie Fletcher, and Codi Boek really go through a hard time from going from a high school program where strength and conditioning was a guideline to it being a full time job."
On the highly touted incoming freshman, Josh Haden, Loscalzo had some interesting insight.
"He's doing really well. Is he where we want him to be? No, but you have to remember he was in high school seven weeks ago. He's working hard, is obviously a tremendous athlete but he has a long way to go. It's a very rare occasion when you have a Darren McFadden come across your path."
Loscalzo is very clear that Josh has the skills and the tools to be something special, but he also leaves no question as to whose responsibility it is to deliver on that promise.
"His billing is entirely up to him and we are simply giving him the tools. What he has to learn and internalize is that whether or not he builds the house is entirely up to him."
According to Loscalzo, it's this time of the year that is most important to not only freshman, but anyone that has redshirted.
"A red shirt year can really make or break a kid. We get to see them grow literally every day and they have to learn that it's not my job to pat them on the back everyday either. I am there to not only make them physically tougher, but mentally as well. Every kid that comes through this type of program has growing pains."
One of the more notable names in the redshirt program is that of standout Brian Toal. Toal, coming off if a shoulder injury from the 2006 season, was red-shirted for the '07 season and according to Loscalzo, it was an eye opening experience for him.
"You know we won 11 games without him and that helped him see that there are things he needs to work on. He is physically better now than at any time since I have seen him here at BC. His strength levels and speed are improving dramatically but he knows he has a ways to go. I'm not worried about the physical aspects of his program. The kid can flat out play football. What we are working on with Brian is his mental approach to the game. He's making and has made huge strides in that area and has really developed a no-nonsense approach to his game and has really grown up a lot."
Overall, Loscalzo has enjoyed his short time at Boston College. What are some of the major differences between here and some of the schools of the SEC?
"Your job there is to keep them healthy and if you do that, they're going on to the NFL. That's how it is. Here, it's an entirely different world. There really is such a thing as a "BC Guy". Look at Jo-Lonn or Jamie. Were either one of them highly recruited? No but I will tell you they are some of the best "football" players I have ever seen. They are smart, tough and can flat out play."
In the end, the biggest distinction Loscalzo sees is not only in the players but in how the university prepares her students.
"Yeah that's the biggest difference. At some other institutions, you come out with a degree, here at Boston College you come out with a career. It really is exciting to be a part of this."
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