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Eagles getting ready
GSU football conducts summer workouts
061412 GSU FOOTBALL 01
Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon sweats out some bench presses as the football team gets busy with offseason workouts at Iron Works.


It’s the sound of Georgia Southern’s football team pursuing victories.

The clanking of weight bars against racks after bench presses.

The thud of weights hitting the floor after clean-and-jerk lifts are completed.

The shouts of players providing encouragement to their teammates as rap music thump-thump-thumps from speakers.

Iron Works, GSU’s strength and conditioning building, is rocking with activity as the Eagles participate in various voluntary workouts five days per week. The goal is to get bigger, stronger and faster, while increasing speed, and convert all of that into wins on the football field.

"This is my favorite time of year," said Tom Melton, who is in his eighth year as GSU’s director of strength and conditioning. "These are the longest days we put in. Most people don’t realize we’re here at 8 and leave at 8, but I look forward to it. I told the guys, ‘I look forward to this day like a kid at Christmas.’ We’ve seen a lot of strides already, just in five weeks."

GSU football players on Friday completed their fifth week of summer training, which runs until July 24. Melton said 85 players are participating and walk-ons are scheduled to arrive June 25.

"When B term gets here we’ll have everybody on our roster here," he said. "We only have 95 guys that can come to (fall) camp. We’ll have 125 guys lifting weights and running with us (this summer). So you’ve got 30 guys or so that aren’t even coming to camp who are here doing exactly what everyone else is doing. You’ve got to give those guys some credit, you know?"

The Eagles are off Saturdays and Sundays to rest. But on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, the team divides into two groups and works out indoors and outdoors at 3 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. The players do yoga on Wednesdays, an active recovery day, to increase flexibility and balance. On Fridays, they work out at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.

"It is voluntary," Melton said. "We stress the importance of it but these guys, the level of commitment from this team since the first summer that we were here, I think it shows on the field, conditioning-wise. It’s hard to make it through the long season."

In accordance with NCAA rules, football coaches are not allowed to attend summer workouts, indoors or outdoors. But GSU’s players are supervised by Melton and his strength and conditioning staff, which includes full-time assistants Brandon Howard and Skyler Pyles, a full-time graduate assistant and four student volunteer-intern assistants.

"Guys are getting a lot of teaching," Melton said. "I’ve got a great staff. They make me look good."

Iron Works, where GSU’s 14 other sports teams work out, includes multi-squat racks, two Olympic platforms complete with bumper plates and bars, free weights, hammer machines, a body weight scale and two Vertimax Jump Trainers.

On this day, being inside the air-conditioned Iron Works is a welcome relief from the summer heat. Heck, even the gnats, who love sweaty players, have managed to find their way inside the building.

Workouts are tailored by position. For example, receivers, running backs and defensive backs perform different drills than offensive and defensive linemen. Freshmen do different workouts than upperclassmen.

"There are nine different workouts going on at the same time," Melton said. "It’s all specialized."

Jerick McKinnon, a rising junior who is competing with Ezayi "Izzy" Youyoute for the starting quarterback job, is widely considered a workout fiend.

"I think if you ask just about every guy in here they’d say Jerick McKinnon," Melton said. "He’s a guy that came in a couple of years ago at 182. He’s at 200 pounds. He ran a 4.57 (40-yard dash) his first year. He was at a 4.41 last year after gaining almost 20 pounds of muscle."

Said McKinnon, "I just feel like it’s a good thing to come here and get some type of workout in, get better every day like the coaches want. All the guys do a good job of getting better every day.

"I can’t thank Coach Melton enough for everything he’s done for the players and everybody. Coach (Brandon) Howard. Coach Skyler (Pyles). We’re very fortunate to have those coaches. The coaches have done a lot for us to get us better. I’m looking forward to the upcoming season. Everybody is."

Melton and his staff take photographs of each player when he arrives as a freshman.

"During the year, we’ll take pictures of them as it goes," Melton said. "Dominique Swope came in last year at 196. He’s almost 220 right now. You look at his picture when he first got here and what he looks like now and it’s just, wow! And he’s running faster."

Swope, a rising sophomore running back who ran for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns last season, said he has greatly benefited from the summer conditioning program.

"Coach Melton keeps before-and-after pictures. I’ve seen a big difference," Swope said. "The workouts are great. Everybody is here as a team. We’re just trying to get better for the season."

Lifting weights is not enough, Melton said. Maintaining a nutritious diet is critical to an athlete’s success.

"Darius Eubanks at the linebacker position, you look at him and where he was when he came in and where he is now, not only his commitment to the weight room but his overall nutrition," Melton said. "On the offensive line, Garret Frye. He’s put on almost 30 pounds since he’s been here. You see the biggest changes from their freshman year.

"The dining services here on campus, they’re part of our team. They do a lot of things to help us, going in there and making sure the guys are eating the right things. We go over there all the time and check plates out.

"Javon Mention is a guy who is coming off of surgery this year. He’s already gotten his full strength back. I look at him in the cafeteria, he’s got the right plate and he’s gaining weight. I could start rattling off names but you’d have a whole list of guys like that. We have a lot of guys that are doing the right thing."

The Eagles soon will begin vision training with Dr. Horace Deal, the team’s eye doctor.

"There aren’t many (football programs) doing that," Melton said. "When you can strengthen your vision and your periphery reaction, that’s part of what we do. That’s part of being faster.

"The whole program, it’s not just running and weight training anymore. It’s a total sports performance aspect."


Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.