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Suchomel: Learn, adapt, but meat grinder must go on

[ 11 ] January 26, 2011 |

Hot dogs and all-American college football players …

No one particularly wants to know what goes into making either one.

Robert Gallery was a gangly 240-pound tight end when he arrived at Iowa. He left as a 323-pound, all-American offensive tackle and the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.

And he’s just the best-known example of what Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle and Iowa’s staff has done under coach Kirk Ferentz at the University of Iowa.

Over the past nine years, 68 of 78 Iowa senior starters have been selected in the NFL Draft or signed as NFL free agents, according to Doyle’s online biography.

“He deserves a lot of the credit for us turning this program around,” former Iowa safety Bob Sanders said in 2004. “Without coach Doyle, without the way he runs our program, I don’t feel like we could’ve been strong enough and been in good enough shape to go out and do some of the things we’ve done.”

The fact that people are shocked that the players have to go through a little bit of hell to reach that level is disingenuous.

What, did you think some of these Hawkeye offensive lineman who gained 20 to 30 pounds in a year were on a double cheeseburger and milk-shake diet? And the up-sizing isn’t limited to the big hogs in the trenches. Sanders, a 5-foot-8 safety, gained 30 pounds during his Iowa football career.

It’s done with a whole lot of weight lifting, plus plyometrics, speed work and a specific nutrition program.

It’s part of the allure of Iowa football to a lot of potential recruits. Doyle is known for taking the two- and three-star boys the coaches bring in every year from high schools across the country and turning them into NFL-ready men after four or five years.

And for the past 12 years, Doyle and his staff have been celebrated for it.

The fact that 13 Hawkeye football players are at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics with rhabdomyolysis — likely linked to over-exerting themselves during a session or two of particularly barbaric weight training — should concern everyone in the football offices and the Iowa administration.

Doyle, Ferentz and the rest of the football and strength and conditioning staff do not get a free pass on this one. There needs to be an investigation. The fact-finding is still in the early stages, said Paul Federici, director of football operations.

“We are looking for any information that will help us understand what has put us in this situation,” Federici said Wednesday during a news conference on Iowa’s campus. “We don’t have the answers.”

At the very least, when players’ lives are potentially endangered — and rhabdomyolysis can result in kidney failure if untreated — it’s time to revisit the workout.

Maybe instead of 100 squats, do 60. Or maybe give players more recovery time between workouts. At the very least.

These grueling training sessions didn’t send any players to the hospital for the better part of a decade. But they did this week. It has to be addressed.

But to think that the Hawkeye offseason meat grinder has to be completely shut down is ridiculous. Some of the hospitalized players already are wondering how long this will keep them out and are itching to get back to training.

Players barfing into trash cans, hardly able to walk the next few days, it’s shared experiences like these that are part of what brings teams together. Ask almost any athlete who has gone through two-a-day training camps. Ask members of the military who go through basic training.

Football players know there is pain, and a little bit of danger, in much of what they do. One wrong step and a knee is blown out. One extra squat and it’s hernia surgery. One tackle at the wrong angle and you are in a wheel-chair for life.

Coaches and trainers have to do every single thing they can to keep student-athletes as safe as possible. They also have to put together a winning team and provide those athletes a chance to play at the next level — or find a new line of work.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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