The wait to get back on the football field – at least on Saturdays in the fall – has often been difficult for everyone involved in the UAB football program.
For Lyle Henley, UAB’s Director of Athletic Performance for football, the lengthy preparation for the 2017 season was a major reason he accepted the job.
“It’s a huge advantage from a strength and conditioning standpoint,” Henley said. “I was telling some of my colleagues what we’re doing and they’re like ‘Oh, wow.” It’s basically a redshirt year with a whole team. I’d say almost 99 percent of strength and conditioning is plagiarism. You take something that’s been done in the past and you make your model of what you’re going to do. But, there’s nothing you can go off of in this case. We kind of came up with a hybrid system of what we’ve done.”
Strike up a conversation with UAB head coach Bill Clark about his football team and it generally doesn’t take long for him to talk about the improved size and strength of his players. The Blazers are simply bigger and stronger than ever. Clark not only made it a priority for this program, but he built it into the six pillars which make up the backbone of the Blazers football team. The other pillars are academics, recruiting, sports medicine, character education and coaching.
For Clark, strength and conditioning is more than just going into the weight room and slinging weights.
“It’s kind of like the sports medicine piece, how do you take your guys and make them the best they can be?” Clark said. “That is such a huge component for us. The first thing you think when training a kid is safety. For us, it’s not just pure strength and speed, it’s prevention, lateral movement, agility, practice like we need to practice and stay safe. You’ve got the weight room, you got conditioning.”
Clark added that the Blazers will be “on the cutting edge” of strength and conditioning when the new UAB Football Operations Facility is finished in July.
Leading the way will be Henley, who had previous college experience at Alabama and Louisiana Tech and is the former owner of The Athlete Factory in Spanish Fort, Alabama. His relationship with Clark began when the UAB head coach was working as the defensive coordinator at South Alabama. Henley trained Clark’s son, Jacob, who is now a long snapper at UAB.
“I went on into the NFL combine business,” said Henley, a former football player at Louisiana Tech. “I always stayed in contact with Coach Clark and always respected how he did things and who he was. He came back with the opportunity to get back into college. I never really thought about it. When he came calling, it was a no-brainer. Coach Clark always takes it to the next level. I like the way he does the team and family base year round.”
Coming back to college is a change, however, from recent years for Henley. In the strength and conditioning business, though, change – or perhaps evolution is a better description – becomes a way of life.
“It’s the old saying – Whenever you think you have it figured out, you don’t,” Henley said. “Even if you have an old philosophy that works, you have to have a new and fresh approach on it to relate to these athletes. It’s very important to keep up and figure out the best technology and even a smarter way to do the things you’re already doing. One thing that you don’t have now is time. The guys are so involved with academics and football. You really only have two or three hours a day with the guys and you’ve got to make the most of it. If there is a smarter way to do that and a faster way and a more efficient way, then you better be on top of it.”
As a college strength and conditioning coach, it also means handling more than 100 players. Not all are motivated the same way or have similar strengths and weaknesses. Henley said it’s a team effort and not just with him, assistants Jhun Cook and Xavier Robinson and the rest of the strength and conditioning staff.
“Luckily, we have a very good staff, it’s not just me,” Henley said. “The best thing about it - with Coach Clark and his program - is everybody is hands on. I have great communication with the position coaches, the trainers, the other strength coaches.”
Henley said every play has an “individual scorecard.” However, that individual scorecard also looks at the bigger picture.
“That scorecard ties into the team and how he contributes to the team,” Henley said. “Even though every kid has individual goals, it’s always built toward how he is helping the team. If you can still have those meetings – 1 on 1 – with a guy and show him how he’s progressing and how that relates to the team building process, then that’s how you kind of balance things.”
It’s generally not hard to figure out when a strength and conditioning coach is around. Henley laughed when asked if all people in his business have loud voices.
“There are different ways that guys coach and a lot of guys are effective with what they do,” Henley said, still smiling at the question. “But there is nothing that gets guys going in the weight room like intensity. You’ve got to have some type of energy. It doesn’t have to be constant screaming or things like that, but you’ve got to know when to say the right things and when to get the guys motivated. You’ve got to have some juice in the tank somewhere, for sure.”
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