For the second year in a row, Southeast Bulloch can claim to be the strongest school in class 3A.
On February 25, Southeast Bulloch hauled 21 of their strongest boys up to Louisville, Ga. to compete against a dozen other schools in the annual GACA weightlifting championships. Since the GHSA does not sponsor any weightlifting, it’s up to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association to put on the event.
“This is something we want to take pride in,” said SEB head football coach Pat Collins. “I’m proud of these young men and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
While their margin of victory was significantly smaller than it was in 2016, SEB still went home with the team state title in addition to five individual state champions. Not only did Jonathan Volskay walk away as a state champ in the 151-160 pound division, but he was also named the “pound-for-pound” strongest lifter in the entire competition.
Along with Volskay, Nick Joyner (161-170), Slade Burgin (171-180), Chase Walker (181-190) and Desmond Porter (191-200) all won individual state titles. Jaleel Hodge, Dylon Williams, Tyreek Durant and Colby Patton each placed top three as well — meaning nearly half of the kids SEB brought to the competition placed top three in their weight class.
The state lifting title is a byproduct of the rigorous strength and conditioning program Collins has implemented since his arrival to Brooklet in 2010. Every day during the final period of the school day, the Yellow Jacket football team meets in the secondary gym located right behind where they play on Friday nights to quote “get better”.
Around 2:00 every day — no matter if it’s fall, winter, spring or summer — sounds of clanging metal and barks of testosterone-fueled aggression can be heard from outside the building. In the middle of all of is Collins, personally watching over every lift and every conditioning drill the boys participate in to make sure form is correct and no one takes a second off.
Collins takes a page out of the book of one of Bulloch County’s greatest sports icons for inspiration on his weightlifting regimen. Buzz Busby — the state title winning football coach for Statesboro from 1999 to 2003 — used a similar program for the Blue Devils during his tenure and Collins admired the success it brought to Busby’s program.
“The bottom line is back then Statesboro’s players were getting bigger and stronger than everyone else,” Collins said. “I took those plans plus a couple of others and morphed it into what we have now.”
Collins has carried the program with him to all of his stops as a head coach — whether it be Portal, Screven County and now SEB. He even keeps track of the average max lift for each team he’s had at Southeast Bulloch to not just keep track of the progress but provide a competitive element to the strength and conditioning program.
In a spreadsheet he’s kept on his computer since he’s been at SEB, Collins has the average max for his top 30 lifters for the bench press, the incline press, the power clean and the squat. From year to year Collins has statistical proof his regiment modeled after Busby’s is bearing fruit.
From January 22, 2010 to March 19 2010 — not even two months of Collins being in Brooklet — the average bench press max went from 207 to 245. Two years later that average max went up to 260, then a year later it was up to 284.
Collins knows you can only play with the athletes that he’s given, so if he can make his stronger than the ones lining up against him on Friday’s SEB will always have some semblance of a chance in football.
“There’s a lot of ways to be successful, and at our school I believe we have to lean on our strength and conditioning program,” Collins said. “If you have a solid strength program you can effectively change a player's performance and reduce their chance of getting injured.”
The players have all bought in from the get go as well. It’s very obvious to each boys how passionate Collins is about the strength and conditioning program at SEB. They feed of Collins’ enthusiasm and it creates an infectious camaraderie between the players who participate in the program year after year.
“It’s become pretty routine for us. I’ve been doing this since I was in fifth grade,” Walker said. “You can tell coach really cares about us being the strongest guys on the field. It kind of drives us to care about it more.”
And while the common man will scoff at a state title competition featuring 12 teams when in actuality there are 58 3A high schools — Collins says the lack of participation from other schools shouldn’t minimize the accomplishments of his lifters.
In a perfect world, according to Collins at least, the GHSA would adopt what the Florida High School Athletic Association does by holding their own sanctioned state weightlifting championships. As a matter of fact the FHSAA just announced the sites for their state title events and have well over 100 schools vying for state championships.
Until the GHSA incorporates weightlifting into their schedule of sanctioned sports, Collins and his lifters will have to continue competing with whoever is interested enough in paying membership fees for the GACA competition.
“Is it on the level of winning a state title on the GHSA level? I’ll say yes and no,” Collins said. “It is in the way you are competing against other schools in your classification, but the fact it’s not recognized makes it a little different.”
The title stands as SEB’s third since the GACA started putting on the event 25 years ago, and until other schools from 3A start buying in — SEB looks to be the favorite to three-peat in next year’s competition.