WeAreSC sat down with USC strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis to get his thoughts on the offseason training program for the Trojans.
You were at USC before as an assistant under head coach Pete Carroll and strength coach Chris Carlisle. Do you see any similarities and differences between the way things were done then and how you do them now?
Lewis: "We were doing really cutting edge stuff back then but the profession has evolved, we've evolved, but they way we go about thing doesn't change. In the weight room it's still "no excuses." We want to develop the mindset that there's winning and there's losing, there's nothing in between. Look at the Arizona State game last year, we were doing really good and then, bang, look what happened (Hail Mary TD pass by Sun Devils on final play of the game) so that shows it's not over until you walk out of that stadium as the winner.
"One area where we do some things differently is in position-specific conditioning, we do more of that than has been done in the past. We also don't do as many scripted drills. In the past we may have done a four-cone drill with the traditional 'sprint, shuffle, backpedal' and eventually if a player does that long enough they'll get better at it because they know the drill so well. What we've added is more reactive drill, where we take the same drill elements but we make them react off me to different commands that change the order of the drill. We want them to use their minds, not just to go through something they know. We work on lot on deceleration drills. To decelerate is a lot harder than to separate, and if you don't train properly on how to go full speed and then decelerate to make a cut, that's where guys can get hurt. So we work on training that stop and then exploding out."
How do you interact with Steve Sarkisian as part of your job?
Lewis: "Coach (Sarkisian) and I meet at least once a week when we're allowed to, and the new rules allow us to meet during summer when kids are enrolled. Not only with Sark, but I want to meet with each position coach to find out what their group needs. Last year it was Tee Martin who brought up the deceleration issue for his receivers. Then there are always follow-up conversations with Sark to talk about what is working, what isn't working, what needs to be tweaked. Part of what makes it work is our communication because we've been together for so long. This is our seventh year together as head coach/head strength coach and then there were three years as assistants together in our time at USC. It's a real comfortable relationship because we're on the same page, our visions are very similar."
Speaking of comfort level, talk about the results you've seen this offseason in your second year at USC.
Lewis: "Knowing our guys better in our second year here is going to help so much, we've seen it this offseason because we have such a better understanding of what our guys can do. One example is that we cranked up the intensity of our lifting volume because I knew our guys could handle it. I wanted to see bigger gains in our strength and I want to put more size on them. We also got smarter in terms of our food and nutrition. So many times guys would get up in the morning and wouldn't eat anything before a workout, maybe they have a protein shake afterwards, and then they go to class and before they realize it its 5 o'clock and they haven't really had a substance meal. It's not rocket science to look to control that better, to get something in you pre-and-post workout, it's just a matter of controlling it with more structure."
How would you describe the mindset and work ethic of the team right now?
Lewis: "The eagerness to compete is extremely determined. One thing I've always noticed with USC athletes is that their competitive edge is unbelievable. From Day 1 that just jumped out to me when I came back and it's so gratifying to be around a group of athletes who want to work and get better. They don't want to hear about how things used to be, they want it to be their time. With all these guys have been through I think they've developed a toughness about them and a real eagerness to learn, they want to raise their football IQ's."
I know you don't want to single any guys out, but are there are examples of players who are standing out to you this offseason?
Lewis: "You have a guy like Toa Lobendahn. He's gotten a lot thicker this year, part of that is maturity but he's also one of those guys who is starting to take it upon himself to want to dominate. It's important to me that we develop that kind of mentality to want to dominate. Our quarterbacks, Cody (Kessler) and Max (Browne), work their butts off and I love the energy they bring. They are both mature guys who know how to work and make us better. Anthony Sarao is another guy who has made huge strides. And you have someone like Damien Mama who has changed his body composition, he's always going to be a big guy, but he's lost like 35 pounds and that should pay off with his ability to move on the field. I'm like Carlisle (Chris Carlisle, former USC strength coach now with Seattle Seahawks) in regards to movement, if a guy can't make football moves on the field it doesn't matter how much he can bench or squat. At the end of the day we focus on being explosive."
Are there challenges to preparing someone such as Adoree' Jackson for the different movements involved with playing both sides of the ball in football as well as taking part in track?
Lewis: "Adoree' is so naturally talented that he can take reps on both sides of the ball with the different movements involved but what you have to guard against is fatigue because soft tissue injuries happen when you get fatigued, and he's not the type of kid who is going to ask to come out because he's tired. We'll really monitor his reps during football season to watch that closely. Right now he's doing track and I told him the whole first week after he is done is going to be dedicated to recovery. He'll be with us and doing some stuff but I want his body to relax and take a deep breath before we switch to all the movements for football."
Talk about the summer schedule for the team and how you will get ready for training camp.
Lewis: "June is a time where we can work with some guys who need to get bigger or take weight off, maybe some need to work more on flexibility. Once July hits, that's when we start to shift our mindset more to football with more team conditioning and position specific work. I don't think there's any substitute for what happens in August when you put on a helmet and start to play actual football, so our job is to get them ready for that."