The Strength of the Team
It is easy to think of strength and conditioning as lifting weights and running. But what it actually means is so much more. Just ask Nicholls Athletics Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Greg Carrasquillo.
“We define our role as developing and preparing our athletes physically and mentally to perform the best in their sport,” he says.
So, yes, it includes lifting weights and running. But it also includes mental toughness, nutrition, recovery, injury prevention, power lifting, Olympic lifting and speed training.
“We liken it more to athletic performance than just strength and conditioning,” Carrasquillo says. “It’s our job to take an athlete and work with them athletically, physically and mentally. We try our best to make sure that as an athlete they can perform their best day-to-day.”
Carrasquillo’s team comprises Taylor Jenkins, assistant strength and conditioning coach, David Ventress, graduate assistant and Jordy Champagne, intern. Each coach works with athletes from different sports, and together they manage over 300 student-athletes across 17 teams. It is their job to take those athletes and help them get into the best shape for their position, in their sport.
Sometimes, players come in small. Former Colonel offensive lineman Chris Bordelon (BIS ’16) arrived at Nicholls at 200 pounds, Carrasquillo says, but left at 315 pounds and earned a spot in training camp with the New York Jets. Other times, they can arrive overweight. Senior offensive lineman P.J. Burkhalter (BIS ’19) was told he needed to cut a significant amount of weight if he wanted to succeed. Now, Burkhalter is coming off a season in which he was a first team All-American and the Southland Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year.
The key to managing the success of each student-athlete is organization. Training plans begin by evaluating the needs assessment for each sport, looking at common injuries, how they use their energy and its strength and speed requirements. From there, Carrasquillo says, his team will set up a base training plan for the entire year, broken down by season and semester. They then adjust the plan based on the individual athlete’s needs and the position they play.
“Are they not flexible enough? Do they need to loosen up their hips? Do they need to gain or lose weight? From there we apply our best judgment and make adjustments as they progress,” he says.
“They know that if they want their team to be the best, they have to be the best so they push themselves harder.” – Greg Carrasquillo
Many of the athletes that walk through the doors of Chabert Hall have never lifted weights before in a structured format. And those that have lifted have only worried about how much they were lifting, not how they were lifting.
“We spend a lot of time on technique,” Carrasquillo says. “Mentally, that’s not what a lot of them were trained to do in high school. They have always been trained to just lift, lift, lift and we’re telling them to slow it down so that we can get them in the right positions to apply what they’re doing in the weight room on the field.”
New student-athletes take time to adjust to that year-long plan, Jenkins says. For many, the first year is an education on not only how to lift but also how to train.
“We have to teach them we’re not just going and picking up the bar and bench pressing,” he says. “We’re doing everything for a reason in order to help them get better for their sport, and not just get bigger or faster.”
Inexperience is particularly an issue for cross-country runners and track and field athletes, Ventress says. In their case, they have to go from having never lifted before to lifting at such a speed that maximizes the 45 minutes they have in the weight room.
“My athletes are really trying to learn and see how this can be effective and how it is done,” he says. “Because we’re having to teach them technique, we can’t afford to waste any time, so they know they have to come in ready to work.”
Issues are not just with new athletes. Because they are naturally competitive, Champagne says he often has to remind them to check their ego at the door.
“At times we have to make sure they’re not coming in here and putting as much weight on the bar as possible,” he says. “It’s about what can we get done with the weight we are using. We have to teach them to take their time and be patient.”
Those athletes who learn the right technique and go above and beyond in and out of the weight room earn the designation of Iron Colonels. To become an Iron Colonel, Carrasquillo says, is not just about lifting more weights or running extra sprints. It is about doing everything you can to help your team get better.
“The mindset is that it isn’t just about him or her, but it’s for the team,” he says. “They know that if they want their team to be the best, they have to be the best so they push themselves harder.”
“No matter what is going on in your life, you have to come in here mentally prepared for that. That can be a struggle for our athletes sometimes. They might not be in the best mood or feeling great, but to come in here and get after it is a big victory for them and a success for their team overall.”” – Greg Carrasquillo
One such example is Nicholls Softball
infielder Skylar Hamilton.
“Skylar comes in every day and works her tail off,” Carrasquillo says. “We know she’s going to become a standout player for that team.”
A misconception about any strength and conditioning program is that each function is separate from the other. That is not so, Carrasquillo says. Every movement the athletes do contributes to their overall conditioning, even weight training.
“We’re trying to train the right energy systems for our athletes to train in,” he says. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We say, ‘If you start fast, you can finish faster.’”
Key to the overall growth of the athlete is their recovery between workouts. In an ideal world, athletes would be injury-free and ready to go every day. But in reality, they will collect bumps and bruises along the way that hold them back.
“In here, we’re not just about the fourth quarters or end-of-the-game situations. It’s not what you can do on a daily basis, but what you can recover from that will allow you to perform your best the next day, and that is done through conditioning,” Carrasquillo says.
Strength training in its various forms is more than just gains. It builds on conditioning, increases explosiveness and prepares the body against the beating it will take in competition.
Bulky muscle often isn’t the intent in sports such as cross-country, track and field and soccer. Instead, Ventress says he works with his athletes on injury prevention and explosive movements through power lifts.
“Olympic movements are the best movements you can do to convert strength into power,” he says. “And with soccer, you’ll see a lot of injuries across the knee and the ankle, so we make sure the surrounding tissues in the knee are strong, that they can move their ankles well and that they have greater hip mobility. Those will factor into injury prevention.”
Mental toughness is often the key to unlocking an athlete’s potential in the weight room, coaches say. Carrasquillo harps on his student-athletes often that “weights aren’t forgiving.”
“Every day a 45-pound plate is going to be 45 pounds. A 25-pound plate is going to be 25 pounds,” he says. “No matter what is going on in your life, you have to come in here mentally prepared for that. That can be a struggle for our athletes sometimes. They might not be in the best mood or feeling great, but to come in here and get after it is a big victory for them and a success for their team overall.” – Jacob Batte