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Eagles trying to keep in shape while away from team
Georgia Southern strength and conditioning coach Matt Greenhalgh gets players warmed up as the Eagles conduct a March 4 practice at the Recreation Activity Center. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

Over the last month, plenty of members of the Georgia Southern athletic department have been scrambling as the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of all spring sports and has all athletic activities on hold.

For Eagle Football, the suspension of activities occurred in the middle of spring practice. The team has carried on, with head coach Chad Lunsford and his coordinators and position coaches keeping up team morale and reviewing film via Zoom meetings. The staff is also trying to keep up with recruiting despite no official visits allowed for either coaches or prospects.

But the most unique coaching challenge falls on Matt Greenhalgh. As the football team’s strength and conditioning coach, the job falls to Greenhalgh to ensure that the players — now scattered all around the country — are ready to hit high gear when the Eagles are cleared to resume practicing.

“It has definitely been a different experience,” Greenhalgh said. “It can be a stretch to keep everyone on the same page when you have guys as far away as Hawaii.”

While the Eagles weren’t able to complete spring practice, there is a bit of silver lining. Not only did they get at least some live drills in (where many other Sun Belt schools never started), but the early scheduled start to spring also left everyone in shape for what they thought would be another two weeks of game-speed action.

Staying in shape is always a bit easier than staying in shape, so Greenhalgh has been able to take the role of motivator rather than drill sergeant when he speaks to players.

“I think everyone realizes that this is a very different situation, but the guys are still in a good mood,” Greenhalgh said. Part of my job is to keep guys training and growing, but another part is to just be there for each other. We’re a family and we always talk about being accountable to the team and to ourselves. That’s something that really helps in this environment.”

Even if Greenhalgh is able to keep everyone motivated and ready to put in the training while out of town, there is still the issue of exactly how they can train.

It’s one thing for players to keep up their endurance and cardio with long runs and skill position players can continue to work on their explosiveness with plyometric drills. But the equation changes for linemen. The guys in the trenches are depended on to win battles with 300-pounders dozens of times per game, but with gyms around the state closed for the last month, there aren’t many places to find a spot to bench press 400 pounds or squat 600.

“We have to adapt and get creative,” Greenhalgh said. “You can do some strength with bodyweight exercises. For other things, you deal with everyone individually. 

“What do they have laying around the house? Do you have a bar and some plates? If not, can you find a bucket and fill it with dirt or rocks to get some good weight? And while you probably can’t do a full exercise with a lot of weight, can we design a way to do lower weight and focus on one arm or leg at a time?”

With no definite end to the suspension of team activities, each passing day will put more importance on how well Greenhalgh can maintain the readiness of the team. 

And while he freely admits that he’s always ready to schedule more time for training in order to be ready for games, there’s no telling how tight the window may be from when the team reassembles and when they kick off the season.

“We just have to keep the right mindset,” Greenhalgh said. “We all have a job to do to help the team. We all need to do what we can to make sure that we’re ready to play and succeed when the time comes.”