BC banking on benefits of summer workouts

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- With the midday sun pushing the temperature up into the mid-80s, 34 football players who were nearly an hour into a summer agility workout were beginning to feel the effects of the heat, the humidity and the task at hand.

Todd Rice could see the underclassmen had started to put a drag on the proceedings.

"This should look like a wave, one after another," said the Boston College director of strength and conditioning. "Some of you freshmen are falling behind and getting lost. You're sophomores now. Pick it up.

"Compete, because now is when it's going to get tough. Just like the fourth quarter."

The Eagles, and every other Division I-A program across the nation, are in the middle of what is quite possibly the least glamorous part of college football: the summer workout program.

No football coaches allowed. No excuses for not participating. No end in sight.

Four days a week during June and July, under the direction of Rice and his staff, BC football players alternate between speed and agility workouts -- with a daily diet of weight lifting and stretching mixed in.

On this late June day, thanks to the final week of a high school football camp that has invaded every available field on this campus, the players were forced to leave the creature comforts of the Yawkey Athletics Center -- the year-old $27 million home of BC football.

Instead of a short walk from the second-floor weight room down to the Alumni Stadium field, it was a hike across a parking lot and down a gravel road to Shea Field, which usually serves as the home of BC softball.

For 75 minutes it was one drill after another, from hurdles to sprints to figure eights, all under the watchful eye of Rice -- all being judged as much on form and technique as anything else.

None of it seemed to be a problem for a program that has built a reputation for having players known more for their blue-collar background and work ethic than their eye-popping athletic ability.

Even the quarterback, 6-foot-5 junior Matt Ryan, has bought into the summer workout regimen -- even if it included an afternoon of baking on the infield, leaving the starting signal caller drenched in sweat and covered with dirt.

"Everybody is excited for the upcoming season, and it's a lot more fun to play than just work out, but we know this is a necessary evil," Ryan said. "You've got to come out here and you've got to put in your time. Coach [Tom] O'Brien compares it to putting money in the bank. If you put into the bank now, you're going to have it later to take out, so we have to put some money in the bank and work hard out here in the summer so we can take it out during the season and use it.

"There's a lot you can do off the practice field to improve. Hopefully it all pays off in the fall."

The off-the-field improvements don't begin or end with the agility and speed workouts.

For Ryan and the 30-plus teammates in his workout group, it was back to the weight room in the afternoon to complete the day's required lifting and exercises -- all of which were dutifully recorded in each player's workout notebook.

When the afternoon workout group reappeared on the second floor of the Yawkey Athletics Center, there were still some leftovers from the morning group who were finishing up their weight work or putting in additional time.

Starting offensive lineman James Marten was up at 6 a.m., got in his 7:30 run and then lifted for nearly three hours before lunch. In the afternoon, it was more stretching and then some rest before a three-hour class at 6 p.m. followed by some offensive line vs. defensive line drills that complemented the seven-on-seven drills for the skill-position players.

"In the winter we're limited to two hours, so it's very intense when we're in here," Marten said. "The summer workout is longer so you can really concentrate on one thing. The toughest part is the time commitment. Every day it's a grind and it wears on you after a while."

But the results -- both team and individual -- have made the hard work worthwhile.

BC has averaged more than eight wins a season since 2000, including six consecutive bowl wins.

And no player has exemplified the athletic development that is the cornerstone of Rice's program more than senior Josh Beekman.

When the 6-2, 325-pound right guard arrived at The Heights in 2002, his flexibility was so limited that he couldn't come close to doing the full range of motion on many exercises, according to Rice.

Now, he's one of the stars of the workout program.

"Coach Rice came in here about four years ago and really made a lot of improvements," Beekman said. "This game is about your speed, it's about your balance, it's about your maneuverability. Flexibility is a big part of that. That's the biggest part of our program -- having knowledge about your flexibility and knowing how mobile and fluid you should be.

"There are a handful of plays that can change the outcome of the game. So it's about making yourself a notch better than your opponent."

Entering his final season, Beekman has done just that. He is an Outland Trophy candidate, is listed as a preseason first team All-American by The Sporting News and is ranked the No. 2 senior offensive guard by Mel Kiper, ESPN's NFL draft analyst.

While Beekman is quick to credit Rice with creating the foundation for his success, the strength coach thinks the real credit begins at the top of the program.

"Coach O'Brien is great," Rice said. "Our philosophy is, knowledge is their best motivator. If they know why they're doing what they're doing, even if it's something technical in running, they're going to work a lot harder at it. Knowing why you're doing what you're doing, it makes it a lot easier to keep concentrating and working at it.

"We have the easiest job because they all buy in and help each other buy in. The work that we do is a lot of fun. Teaching them, pushing them … they push each other harder than I could push them. You can hear it when they run against each other. It's a lot of fun to watch them compete."

As the afternoon agility workout wound down, it was Ryan and junior safety Jamie Silva who were repeatedly singled out by Rice and cited as proper examples of how to execute the drills.

"It's not all about who bench-presses the most, who squats the most," Silva said. "It's all about explosiveness and working on drills and having the dedication to get better. I'm here in the summer to become a better football player and help this team do something special, so I enjoy coming out here.

"I'm looking forward to the season, but by doing this I know I'm becoming better. When I'm tired out here, I think of what the other teams are doing. I have to think that I'm outworking everybody else."

And putting money in the bank.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.