Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Youth Football Athletic Development

Boyd Epley, is often considered to be the “godfather” of modern strength and speed training for football. Boyd has published many articles on proper weight and speed training for young men age 10-14 as well as the college kids. I’ve spoken at the same clinics as Boyd, his presentations are always off the charts. My hands always get tired from writing so many notes, when I attend his sessions.

I first met Boyd in 1990, he is a class act. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Boyd fairly in depth in this off-season about youth strength and athletic development both in person and via phone and e-mail. This article spells out his thoughts and everything he professes in this article can be applied to youth football as well.

Published Tuesday May 19, 2009

Q & A with Boyd Epley: ‘Tailor athletes’ training’

The thought of offensive linemen sweating on a treadmill sends Boyd Epley into a tizzy. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Epley, the architect of Husker Power, guided Nebraska strength and conditioning for 34 years. After helping design the Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex, he left NU in 2006.

He moved to Colorado to work as director of coaching performance for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which he started in 1978. Epley, who turns 62 next month, has shifted focus to high school athletes.

“I still have a lot of gas in the tank.”

Epley visited Omaha during the weekend to speak at a strength and conditioning conference. In a World-Herald interview, he offered opinions on a range of issues: the Husker strength program under James Dobson, Creighton strength coach Zach Duval, the departure of Steve Pederson and Dave Kennedy and what he perceives as widespread problems in athletic training.

That’s where we start:

Epley: “One of the things that made Nebraska successful, which is a little controversial, is running. We did not run as often or as far as a lot of people do. Sport coaches tend to overdo that. They do it for mental toughness, for whatever reason. But the way the body works and the way the game of football is played, there’s need for recovery after each play. There’s a burst during the play and then a recovery period.

“The body has an energy system that has three parts. The part that football uses only has about six or eight seconds of fuel. So during the rest period of a football game, the tank refills so that you have full power on the next play. If you train football players properly, they will have a great burst, then great recovery and be fully ready for the next play.

“Some coaches don’t do that. They decide that aerobic training is what they want to do. They switch to a completely different energy system. The athletes have to pace themselves. They don’t get recovered. They don’t have strength or power in the fourth quarter.

“Coaches, new or old, don’t understand how the energy systems work. That’s kind of an epidemic.”

(Before Epley goes on, it’s worth noting that Kennedy, who oversaw football strength and conditioning during the Bill Callahan era, strongly emphasized long-distance running.

Among Kennedy’s workouts, each player had to complete a timed two-mile run during summer conditioning. According to former Husker Jake Andersen in 2007, they ran 13 200-yard dashes in a day. In 2004, Le Kevin Smith said: “Coach K has run us severely. I’ve heard stuff from people I know around the country, and it’s a joke compared to us.”

Kennedy did not immediately return a message left for him on Monday.)

Q: What other sports does burst and recovery affect?

Epley: “Volleyball ­— when do you ever run more than two steps? Baseball is really a burst sport. Shot putting. Yet we have coaches that are reading your newspaper that are out running their linemen and shot putters and high jumpers and people like that 1½ or two miles at a time.

“I would recommend that the NCAA make a new rule that says: Coaches need to train their athletes in the correct energy system. If they had a rule like that, it would force coaches to learn what energy systems are, and it would protect the athlete.

There’s a researcher, Dr. Greg Haff, at West Virginia medical school. Basically, he boils it down to: Any distance running will just almost destroy your strength and power. On the other hand, any strength training will immediately help your endurance. … So any strength helps an endurance athlete. Any endurance destroys a power athlete.”

Q: What did you notice about the strength and conditioning program under Kennedy, who has since moved on to Texas A&M, and Bill Callahan, now with the New York Jets?

Epley: “There were some things that needed to be changed, but it wasn’t my role to change them. It was (Kennedy’s) program. There were some things I would’ve changed, but those things were probably better left unsaid.”

Q: You’ve turned toward helping high school coaches and athletes. Be more specific.

Epley: “I’m working on a 12-week template for coaches for summer conditioning and also an 18-week curriculum for physical education classes. … Right now, a lot of high schools are a little off track.

“They may have one or two good supervisors at a high school, but there may be six or seven that are involved in physical education or weight training classes that really don’t have the background. They aren’t certified or they just haven’t had the training. As a result, students are on programs that, who knows what’s going on?”

Q: What would you emphasize to high school strength coaches?

Epley: “We have some people who are so concerned about how much weight a student can lift that it puts undue stress on their back. We’ve seen some injuries in Omaha in high schools where the focus is on how much weight you can lift …

“When we’re talking about athletes, we’re talking about improving performance, not a focus on improving how much weight you can lift. That’s where some of our young strength coaches are. They get too focused on how much weight is involved.”

Q: What is another problem you see in regard to strength and conditioning?

Epley: “We’ve focused on 40-yard dash all these years. Actually, 10-yard dash is much more important in identifying talent. Coaches are just hung up on what they’ve always done. If you don’t beat an athlete in the first few steps, it doesn’t matter what your 40 time is.”

Q: You worked three years for Steve Pederson — not in strength and conditioning, but in facility improvement. Describe your relationship with Pederson.

Epley: “Steve was my friend. I liked Steve. I think Steve was one of the most creative people I’ve ever been around. No matter what big idea I would bring to him, he would always seem to make it a little bit better.

“An example: the names etched in marble in the entryway of the Osborne Complex. I had those scheduled to be on the second floor of the complex, so people during games would be able to see them. He moved them to the entry of the lobby, right by the waterfall. … He just had a knack for making things very impressive.

“Now he made some bad decisions, maybe hired some people that were the wrong people for Nebraska. He’s gotten a bad rap, and there’s a lot of people that don’t like Steve. … Whether people like it or not, a lot of things he put into place are still being used today. He did a lot of good things for the state of Nebraska.”

Q: What do you think of the changes at NU since you left?

Epley: “I was very happy to see Tom Osborne named athletic director. The word I used then was ‘healing.’ The state needed Tom Osborne.”

Q: Did you have an opportunity to return to NU after Osborne returned?

Epley: “Coach Osborne and I did have discussions … but it was more what I would recommend and who would I recommend. We went over a list of (strength and conditioning) candidates, and we discussed who might be best for Nebraska … but once Coach (Bo) Pelini came, he made the decision on who they would hire for strength coach.”

Q: You hadn’t met James Dobson before he was hired as strength and conditioning coach at Nebraska. What do you think of him?

Epley: “I think he’s young and energetic. His philosophy is very good. It looks like Nebraska is back on track …

“I don’t follow it as closely as you might think. If I was to try to tell you what they’re doing, I’d be wrong because I’d be guessing. … But when you win nine games, that’s a pretty good indication that things are going in the right direction.”

Q: You’ve created a strength and conditioning tree that stretches across the country. What’s it like to see guys like Zach Duval, Creighton’s strength and conditioning coach and a protégé of yours, finding success?

Epley: “It’s an ego thing. It’s like watching your children. I saw Zach grow up. His father, Rick, was the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Nebraska. When Zach was 11 or 12 years old, he got one of my books and he got confused on one of the warm-up drills. He asked his dad if he could come and ask me how to do it properly.

“I was in the fieldhouse one day and he had it all screwed up — probably because I didn’t write it very clearly. He is a guy who probably lived the Nebraska (strength and conditioning) program more closely than anybody. He did it as he grew up.”

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