football

Weight Room Strides Obvious On Day 1 Of Spring Practice

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New director of football performance Matt Balis leads the team through stretching Wednesday.
Joe Raymond

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Greer Martini said it was the least tired he’s been after a practice in a long time.

Notre Dame’s senior linebacker and team captain didn’t mean the team’s first spring practice of 2017 was too easy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Head coach Brian Kelly put the team through 24 periods during Wednesday morning’s two-hour session, but the new strength and conditioning program appears to already be paying dividends as the Irish look to improve on last year’s 4-8 finish.

“After the season we had, we were willing to do whatever to get better,” Martini said.

Paul Longo is out as strength and conditioning coach, place on disability by Kelly. Joining the program is Matt Balis, Notre Dame’s new director of football performance.

Under Longo — a longtime assistant — the Irish could not achieve the success they wanted to in the weight room, Kelly said during his pre-spring press conference Tuesday.

“We couldn't give them what they wanted,” Kelly said. “So it was something that they needed and wanted. So we're giving them exactly what they want. I think it's proving itself to be not only beneficial for us as a program, but for the players as well. They're seeing themselves in a different light."

Martini said the early offseason workouts were grueling. The first session, he said, was harder than any he’d done in his previous three years with the Irish. That set the tone, and now the team is reaping the benefits.

Eight weeks of conditioning and weight lifting later, the differences are obvious.

“The biggest thing was training mental toughness,” Martini said. “They’re putting us through workouts where we’re going to fail. It’s how do you handle that failure. That’s been a big component as well, mental toughness, as well as my body has changed and I feel better after practice like this.

“That first week we were so sore. Once you kind of work up a work capacity then you kind of get used to it and you can push yourself further.”

Junior running back Josh Adams said the workouts are now more competition-based, and each player is being challenged both physically and mentally. Players are now shuffled up during workouts, putting leaders in different positions.

Even after just one practice, the results were evident.

“It’s been a while since we’ve gone 24 periods and it feels like we just went maybe 18,” Adams said. “It’s definitely a change in there. You can see that, you can feel it in your body. It’s a new atmosphere and you can feel it in the locker room just excited to be working and excited to get better.”

Adams said he dealt with various nagging injuries last season, including a hamstring ailment that lingered through the first few games. He finished with 933 yards and five touchdowns while seeing his weight fluctuate — a common problem among the team.

He’s now at a solid 220 pounds, he said, the heaviest he’s ever played at. Last year he played at 210 to 211 pounds.

“It’s a new weight for me, something that I haven’t been at before,” Adams said. “I’m moving great at that weight.”

Martini said once the players got used to the weight room changes, it’s been nothing but positives.

“It’s weird because as a senior you want it to be the same thing,” Martini said. “You worked three years to get to a certain spot, but now that we kind of have this newness, it kind of opens up everything. Competition, just everything is new in here and it’s kind of fresh and it’s nice.”

“It’s definitely something that’s exciting and you can definitely feel the energy in there,” Adams said. “We’re just excited to attack something new and attack at getting better.”

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