Those who have attended Huskie practices at Griffiths Stadium know how important fitness and training is to this football team. When you’re standing amongst the players during a practice, it is clear the incredible shape these student athletes are in and it is obvious how much training time they put in, from after practice runs to offseason throwing sessions to hundreds of hours in the weightroom.
The Huskie football team is fortunate to have the top facility in the Canada West conference, and one of the top facilities in the country, available to them. The newly constructed gymnasium, part of the Graham Huskies Clubhouse, has several lifting stations, freeweights emblazoned with “Huskie Iron,” as well as a 20-yard indoor track and several tools such as medicine balls, heavy ropes and tractor tires that all contribute to strength, speed, agility and, ultimately, on-field performance.
For coach Bart Arnold, who oversees the team’s strength and conditioning in addition to his duties as an offensive line coach, it is the end performance that matters most. “I want them to become better football players, better athletes,” he says. “Gaining strength, for example, is important but not without it adding to on field performance.”
Coach Arnold designs training programs for each player based on his position and customizes the program based on the areas they need to improve on. If a player follows his program, as the coaches expect he will, he will come to training camp ready and not have to use camp to get into game shape. “By August,” says Arnold, “the coaching staff expects all players to be ready to compete at their peak performance. We test and we have a pretty good idea who is all in and who is not there yet.”
Student athletes have heavy expectations to live up to, balancing their training requirements and learning their playbook with a full course load, part-time and offseason jobs, and often the stress of living away from home. For new recruits who hope to come in and compete with veterans, most haven’t had to experience some of the stressful aspects of university life, but those coming out of high school also haven’t had the opportunity to train at the team’s facilities under the watch of the coaching staff.
While the expectations aren’t as high for rookies as they are for veterans, new recruits still need to come to camp ready to compete at a high level. This presents challenges for coach Arnold, but he does his best during spring camp to ensure each player will be doing the most beneficial training routine once he heads home for the summer.
“It really depends on the recruit,” says Arnold of his approach to new players. “It is really hard to get to know all the recruits at spring camp so I do talk to the position coaches to get some information about the training the athlete has done in the past. For some, we encourage them to continue playing high sports and others we get going on the Huskie program. We certainly expect the recruits to show up in good shape, but we do understand that the step up from high school to university ball is a big one.”
Once the new recruits are in camp, coach Arnold will be able to design a program tailored to their specific needs. Just as important, however, is the exposure they will get to their new teammates, who have been through the program and serve as role models, illustrating what it takes to be a CIS athlete.
Of the many well-trained athletes on the Huskie roster, one of the top role models for young players is defensive back Luke Thiel. Thiel, along with older brother and starting middle linebacker Peter and linebacker/defensive back Seamus Neary, is seen by many as a top example of a well-trained athlete for his commitment in the weightroom and dedication to proper nutrition.
Thiel is humble about being a role model and passes most of the credit to coach Arnold and trainers Nick Clarke and football alum Ben Coakwell. “We pretty much have it all set out for us,” explains Thiel. “Bart and Nick and Ben, they have our training ready for us. We usually lift four times a week and have two team power sessions in there, along with agility sessions and stuff like that.
“I think the best advice I could give a new player is if you follow what they set out for you, it will be that much easier to be successful. They have many years of combined experience doing this stuff, and they know what they’re doing, and the results really do transfer onto the field.”
It’s rarely difficult to get players to hit the gym, but to get young men to eat nutritious food and clean up their diet, especially when they’re away from home and living on a tight budget, can be a major challenge. Thiel doesn’t feel a strict, restrictive diet is needed, but he believes the more nutritious foods that an athlete includes in his diet, the better the results he will see in the gym and on the field.
“I don’t think you have to stay completely away from junk food,” he says. “The big thing is having a commitment to a proper diet. Eating regularly throughout the day is a big part of it, eating every two-and-a-half to three hours. We have a nutrition session every year and they emphasize that it’s about eating the right foods at the right times, focusing on good carbs and lean meats as opposed to going out and eating burgers and then not eating for the rest of the day.”
Coach Arnold echoes Thiel’s thoughts on the significance of proper nutrition. “An appropriate nutrition plan is as important as the training program,” states the coach. “We ask our players to train at their absolute maximum on many occasions and we know that recovery from training requires the correct nutrients at the correct time.
“We use a registered dietician (Heather Hynes) and she is fantastic. She meets with the whole team in January and then with individual players on a need basis. We spend a great deal of time educating our athletes about supplements. Some do not understand that eating the wrong foods can’t be offset by taking a pill or mixing a shake. The fundamentals for success are: eating properly, which means real, whole foods, sleeping and recovery, and following the Huskie training program.
“The more time we spend talking about the Huskie training philosophy, the more the players understand that success will be achieved through the work they do, not through a supplement.”
A lot is expected of Huskie football players when it comes to training and nutrition. However, not much has changed from coach Arnold’s perspective over the years, even with the new training facility opening.
“My expectations have not changed” he says. “I have always wanted the players to commit to doing what they need to do to help the team succeed. The new facility is great and I think there will be overall improvements because the players, for the most part, are now training together. The coaching staff now also has the ability to see who is ALL IN and is 100 percent committed.”