King of Pain
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
May 30, 2006
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis has his way, the men in West Virginia University’s nationally ranked football program will be made this summer. And Barwis is a guy accustomed to getting his way.
“Today starts full-go,” he says of the team’s eight-week voluntary summer training program.
The last two weeks following the conclusion of the spring semester was for informal workouts where the players could come in on their own three times a week.
“We had 90 during that time,” Barwis says in his familiar raspy voice. “We had open lifts Monday, Wednesday and Friday and they finished last week.”
During the same period last year, Barwis estimated about 50-60 players took advantage of the open period. When the conditioning program began last summer every single scholarship player was in town for the entire eight weeks. That’s a pretty good indicator that a record turnout of players could be in town this summer to begin preparing for what many are predicting to be another run at a BCS bowl.
“Almost all of the walk-ons are planning to be up here, too,” Barwis said.
Barwis has developed a strength and conditioning program that goes perfectly with what Coach Rich Rodriguez does with his no-huddle, spread offense. It’s extremely demanding and is not for everyone.
“I listen to people and they don’t understand what it’s like until they get here. They get here and they say, ‘Oh my God, what I was doing was a joke,’” Barwis said.
One of those, Florida State transfer Barry Wright, has exceeded all of his personal training bests since he joined the Mountaineer program last fall as a walk-on.
“He told us he had never been through anything like this,” said Barwis.
Today’s strength and conditioning program is much more than simply lifting weights, says Barwis. It encompasses nutrition, flexibility, speed, agility and even psychology.
“You learn to persevere through things that are much, much more difficult in here and on the field. Everything is that way,” Barwis said. “You start to realize that mentally I’ve got to be extremely tough and I’ve got to be a person that will never crack if they want to play football at West Virginia University.”
Barwis says the idea is to have players supremely confident in their abilities and in their personal training before they get onto the field in game situations.
“When we line up there is nobody that can endure what we take and they can’t handle what we give them. Our kids come out here and they say, ‘We’re the best conditioned, hardest working, and most disciplined team in America.’ That’s it,” said Barwis. “When we walk out on the field we’re going to let everybody know that. If it comes down to the last round we’ll be the last men standing.”
Barwis isn’t sure some of the country’s elite programs with some of the nation’s top players can handle what he puts the West Virginia players through.
“You brought Oklahoma and Texas in here tomorrow and they will be worn out,” he predicted. “But these are the kinds of kids that we want.”
Like running back Steve Slaton, who flew under some people’s radars his senior season of high school and came into the program weighing 172 pounds, according to Barwis. Slaton has already worked himself into becoming one of college football’s top tailbacks.
“He now weighs 195. During the winter he ran a low 4.3 forty with almost 20 extra pounds,” Barwis said. “He’s what we want.”
Because of the nature of the rules, strength and conditioning coaches and trainers probably spend more time around the athletes than the coaches. Rodriguez and his staff are not permitted to organize, coordinate or monitor the summer conditioning program, says Barwis.
“We’re around them all of the time,” he said.
And being around Mike Barwis is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to do, especially when it’s 90 degrees in the summertime.
“Being able to endure the physical pain means you’ve got to be a strong person psychologically,” he says.
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