July 10, 2008
    Tech strength and conditioning program remains on cutting edge of developing student-athletes

    With each step down the hallway, the sounds grow louder and louder. The sounds are what Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer has called "the heart and soul of the football program."

    It's an unusual, unmistakable and unique concert of team-building, character-molding and self-sacrifice that originates from behind a pair of double-doors that separate a relatively simple hallway from Tech's 10,000-square foot strength and conditioning facility in the Merryman Center.

    It's inside those doors where barking coaches, doing their best to motivate, and screaming teammates, hoping to simply inspire, mix to form an intense euphony that can be heard day-after-day, month-after-month and season-after-season.

    And it's behind these double doors and the doors of the smaller Jim "Bulldog" Haren Weight Room in the Jamerson Athletics Center where the foundation of every Tech team is forged and where athletes come to work. Really work.

    This isn't the neighborhood gym or the rec center or the athletic club. This is serious business. These are the "Houses of Gain," and Dr. Mike Gentry wouldn't have it any other way.

    Gentry, in his 22nd season at Virginia Tech, serves as the Hokies' assistant AD for athletic performance. His duties include overseeing the strength and conditioning coaches who are responsible for the training of athletes in all 21 varsity sports at Virginia Tech, while also continuing to personally lead the training of the football team. After more than two decades, Gentry has built one of the nation's top programs, and one that clearly has evolved over the years.

    "In the last five years, we've been allowed to put in place and move forward with a structure that was started in the late 90's," Gentry said. "We've moved beyond being just strength and conditioning into a more holistic approach that involves sports nutrition with Amy Freel, who is a full time athletics employee and registered dietician, and sports psychology with Dr. (Gary) Bennett, formerly of the Virginia Tech Cook Counseling Center and now full-time in our department. We're able to offer our athletes a lot of things that other schools don't have in place."

    It's that combination of building both the mind and body that has made a huge impact on Virginia Tech athletes in recent years.

    "It's important because we are not programming machines here; these are people," Gentry said. "People need help in different areas. If an athlete is having a problem off the field and it's causing some anxiety or depression, it's going to spill into their training and their performance. If they're not eating right or don't understand what their body composition is, they can be spinning their wheels in their training. We're trying to look at the entire athlete and see what we can do to assist in the development of the whole person."

    That means Tech students have a full-time psychologist and a full-time dietician within 10 yards of their weight rooms.

    "Our particular configuration may be a bit unique," Gentry suggested. "The partnership and mutual respect between our athletic performance team and our sports medicine team is also unique, important and refreshing. We're not in competition; Mike Goforth (assistant AD for sports medicine) and I work well together in the best interest of the athlete."

    "The administration at Virginia Tech deserves the credit for letting Mike [Gentry] put those things in place," legendary strength coach Boyd Eppley said. Eppley, the former coach at Nebraska, is considered to be the 'Godfather' of strength and conditioning.

    "It doesn't happen without the support of the athletic director and staff. Schools like Virginia Tech and Texas, they 'get it.' They understand it's more than just strength and conditioning. It's the psychological approach to motivation and developing a complete profile of an athlete."

    Gentry visited Nebraska in 1996 and has modeled Tech's program after the Huskers'.

    "Our goal is not only objective performance improvement as measured by speed, strength and power, etc., but also to help our people mature positively," Gentry said. "What we're doing is trying to develop the whole athlete. We want them to accept more personal responsibility and to buy into the concept of teamwork and self-sacrifice. Working hard for a common goal and coming together as a team. That's more important to me than how much an athlete lifts. I know if these bigger concepts are in place, we'll be successful. It's truly education of, and through, the physical."

    Gentry, who was named the 2004 National Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year, has a hands-on approach and has seen his program at Tech evolve greatly in recent seasons.

    "We're much more specific with our training programs," he said. "The strength and conditioning profession's role has expanded in response to the increased needs of our athletes and the expectations of their coaches regarding conditioning and speed and agility training, in addition to traditional strength training methods."

    Gentry's staff has also expanded, as many former Tech athletes have returned to Virginia Tech to join the program.

    "I believe in hiring quality, committed people with character. If they have worn the jersey here for the Hokies, I know what Virginia Tech means to them. It's great to have former Hokies come back to work here," Gentry said. "Jarrett Ferguson is our Director of Strength and Conditioning for Football. He came here as a walk-on and worked his way to the NFL and has done a remarkable job with our football team. Jarrett is an accomplished strength and conditioning professional, having been a graduate assistant coach here and a full-time strength and conditioning coach at Ohio University and the University of North Carolina."

    Terry Mitchell, a Pulaski native who also completed his graduate work here at Virginia Tech, is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for Olympic Sports. Mitchell has a tremendous knowledge of training and is a power-lifting world record-holder in his own right. Mitchell is nationally renowned for his expertise in baseball and softball strength and conditioning.

    "Keith Short, who was an All-Big East center for Virginia Tech, has returned. He was a great football player who also was a grad assistant here with us after his playing days," Gentry said. "Keith was a full-time strength and conditioning coach at the University of South Florida before returning to Blacksburg. He has our linemen's total respect."

    Jamie Meyer, a former Tech volleyball player and current marathoner, is an integral member of the full-time strength and conditioning staff. She is responsible for the women's basketball and volleyball strength and conditioning programs, as well as women's soccer and lacrosse.

    Meyer is also a charter member of the Nutrition and Performance Committee that addresses individual athlete's needs and unifies the staff of the sports medicine, sports nutrition, sports psychology and strength and conditioning programs in the effort. The Nutrition and Performance Committee has been nationally recognized and is serving as a model for other universities.

    David Jackson returned to his alma mater in 2007 and is directly responsible for the strength and conditioning of men's basketball. A former hoopster for Bill Foster's successful teams in the 1990's, Jackson has made a significant impact already and is a great role model for Tech basketball players.

    Gentry believes that, across the board, the full-time strength and conditioning coaches are the strength of the program. "I believe that they are collectively the best in the country, bar-none," he said.

    Assisting the full-time strength and conditioning staff are committed graduate assistant coaches pursuing their master's or doctoral degrees. These include former Virginia Tech softball star Megan Evans and former Virginia Tech footballers Carlton Weatherford and Scott King. Former VMI offensive lineman and mixed martial artist Sam Brown is also an important member of this group. Most recently, Kevin McCadam, a former Virginia Tech football great, has returned after a five-year NFL career.

    "He's a super role model and asset for our players. He's been where they want to go," says Gentry.

    Without question, this has been one of the greatest years for Tech Olympic sports in school history with soccer reaching the College Cup, softball making the World Series, and the amazing individual accomplishments of Drew Weaver, Jessica Botzum, Queen Harrison, Tasmin Fanning and others.

    "Our Olympic sport coaches have done a superior job recruiting and coaching in the ACC. When the athletes arrive, we have an excellent staff and training program in place to help them succeed in their respective sports," Gentry said.

    Eight NFL draft picks, a national softball player of the year, an ACC swimmer of the year, and an Olympic sprinter have all come out of this program, and that's just since April.

    What's needed?

    "We have some facility issues," Gentry said. "We have the athletic performance staff in place to coach these athletes, but we have to get our Olympic sport athletes in an ACC-level training facility. We have some of the best sport coaches in the country, and their programs are top-notch, but we don't have a facility that provides team scheduling flexibility and that would be helpful as a key recruiting asset."

    "From a football training facility standpoint, we must be diligent in maintaining the Merryman Center as a state-of-the-art facility," Gentry added.

    But Gentry is keeping Tech on the cutting edge. He was voted by his peers as one of six members on the National Board of Directors of the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. He's written a commercially successful book, A Chance to Win, a complete guide to physical training for football. And he has surrounded himself with a terrific staff. He's one of the most respected men in his industry.

    Gentry's role at Tech is more than just a booming voice exhorting athletes to reach their bench press number. He has a scientific approach to making athletes and teams better. People in his business know, but much of his work is done behind the scenes away from the limelight. After all, there are no cheering fans and no cameras where he and his staff have to work.

    "It doesn't get any better than Mike," Auburn veteran strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall said. "Everyone in our profession knows him. Everyone looks to him for advice."

    "Champions are made when no one is watching," Eppley said, as if he were reading it off a weight room poster. And he's right.

    And at Virginia Tech, it's behind those double doors on the first floor of the Jamerson and Merryman Center where Gentry and his staff continue to develop Tech athletes toward excellence.

    Gentry's thoughts on VT football 2008
    Now to some football news from Mike - who has looked good this summer?

    "Guys like Greg Boone, Orion Martin and Jason Worilds have really stepped up and provided us with positive leadership," he said. "These guys are willing to work hard, work together, and call out other players when they're not doing as well as they could.

    "Our offensive line will be improved this season - leaner, stronger, and in better condition. Nick Marshman, Ryan Shuman, Beau Warren and Ed Wang are having particularly good summers. I'm excited about their progress and commitment."

    What about the freshmen who arrived this past week?

    "They're a good-looking group of athletes and they seem eager to learn," Gentry said. "Our challenge is how fast and effectively we can get these guys into our mindset, which is one of hard work and self-sacrifice. It's all about commitment, teamwork and toughness. It must be somewhat military-like at first, as they learn our expectations."

    Gentry often refers to the following quote from a United States Marine Corp training manual: "It is too late to establish discipline in combat; discipline must be established in training."

    On the first floor of the Jamerson and Merryman Center, this concept is taken seriously.

    Greenberg on the NBA
    Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg served as co-host and analyst of Fox Sports Radio's coverage of the 2008 NBA Draft. Greenberg, stationed in Blacksburg, joined Fox Sports regulars Krystal Fernandez and Reston, Va., product Andrew Siciliano on 170 stations around the country.

    The ever-opinionated Greenberg offered several biting comments, including his thoughts on the NBA's rules that require high school players to attend college for at least one season.

    "We've become the semi-pro league for the NBA," Greenberg said. "That's great for the NBA, but it's bad for college basketball. It might be great for Memphis, but it's not good for the Virginia Tech's of the world."

    Greenberg said he favors the model used by Major League Baseball. Under the rules of the MLB draft, high school senior baseball players are eligible for the draft and can sign and play pro baseball right away. But if a high school baseball player doesn't sign a contract - which can happen if a player isn't drafted high enough, couldn't reach terms with a team, or isn't drafted at all - then he can choose to attend college. If a player attends a four-year college, he is not eligible to be drafted until he completes his third or fourth year of college, or reaches 21 years of age. (Note: If a high school player goes to a junior college, he can be drafted again the following year.) So in baseball, if you sign with a four-year school, you're committed to at least three years in college.

    "It makes no sense to me," Greenberg said of the NBA rule. "Here you have a guy like (Nicolas) Batum from France who is 19 and he can be drafted by the Rockets. Now, if he was an American high school kid, he has to go college for a year. But since he's from France, he can be picked and play right now. The system is just wrong. A kid from France can go ahead and pursue his chosen profession, but an American kid can't."

    Event reminders
    We're about to start the football season as we usually do: lots of dinners, banquets and luncheons, of course.

    The Tidewater Hokie Club's first kickoff dinner will be held on Wed., July 23rd at the Holiday Inn Executive Center on Greenwich Road in Virginia Beach. Visithttp://tidewaterhokieclub.exis.net/kickoffdinner.htm for more information. All proceeds from this event will benefit the Bill Jessee Athletic Scholarship, which gives a full scholarship to a Hampton Roads student-athlete each year.

    The Richmond Hokie Club's annual kickoff dinner will be held on Thurs., July 24th at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. ESPN's Erin Andrews will be this year's special guest, along with Tech president Charles Steger, AD Jim Weaver and football coach Frank Beamer. New this year: seats for the event will be reserved, and you can order tickets on line: http://richmondhokieclub.com/kickoff.php. This will mark the 21st year in a row for this event.

    For those of you in the North Carolina triad, fear not. Virginia Tech and ACC football will be the focus of the Piedmont Triad Sports Club's luncheon on July 17th. The event will be held at the Atrium attached to the Greensboro Coliseum beginning at noon. See http://www.piedmonttriadsportsclub.com/ for more information on the group

    The Blacksburg Hokie Club's 11th annual Welcome Back Picnic will be held on Sun., August 10th outside in the south end zone at Lane Stadium. That's a new - and much cooler - location for this annual event. See http://hokieclub.com/ for ticket information.

    The Blacksburg Sports Club's season kickoff luncheon will be held on Wed., August 20th at noon. Seehttp://www.blacksburgsportsclub.org/ for more information on this year's schedule.

    For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).

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