BENNINGTON — Monday morning was the first time that all four of our local football teams strapped on the helmets to prepare for the upcoming season.
But each team — Mount Anthony, Hoosick Falls, Burr and Burton and Cambridge — all have different plans for their players to get better and all work in different ways.
"It's a little unique here because we hired some alums to supervise in the weight room this summer," said Hoosick Falls coach Ron Jones. "Bryan Sherman is an exercise science guy at Springfield, he's put what he's studying into practice. Garrett Wright, Chad Miner and Austin Pitt helped run the weight room. [They] are new voices to talk to the players about this, they did a really nice job of getting the guys in and giving them the basics and the proper technique so they can improve quickly."
Jones, heading into his 20th year of coaching, said the players were in the weight room three times a week and did speed and quickness workouts twice a week.
"It worked out for us, these are alums that could have made more money elsewhere and they chose to come and give back and as their former coach, that's payback for me," Jones said.
Along with their lifting and conditioning programs, Wright and Billy Pine, both quarterbacks who played at Empire 8 schools in college, would be on the field working with the skill position players, helping them with the X's and O's. Having those sessions make Day 1 a little easier because most of the players already know the terminology.
"The college kids can come back to use the weight room, but they have to work with the younger kids, that's the deal," Jones said. "It's a huge strength of our program, it ties the old with the new and maintains tradition."
But all of those plans are strictly on a volunteer basis. If a player wants to take advantage, they can, but they don't have to.
"We don't take attendance or anything, but if they want to be here and want to learn, that's for the best," Jones said. "I didn't have to supervise the weight room, so I had more time to do as much football as they wanted. It's like a buffet, take what you want."
At Mount Anthony, the off-season workout program is essential to their growth as football players, said third-year MAU coach John Martin. Martin and his coaching staff developed a program for their team that they feels helps their players become bigger, faster and stronger and in turn, help them become better football players.
During the winter and spring, the Patriots focus more on weight lifting and agility drills and then when the summer session begins, the training — three times a week — consists of not just weight and agility training, but speed and conditioning work along with football drills.
"Our goal is to help make our players better all-around athletes," Martin said. "Our weight lifting routines consists of full body workouts with explosive lift that we feel will make our players more powerful on the football field. On the agility and speed side, the drills we do help make our players faster and help them become more athletic. All of this we feel will in turn make them better football players."
Jones also believes his offseason plan can help guard against burnout. As a small school, most of the players compete in multiple sports, including summer baseball or AAU basketball.
"Other schools have all kinds of required stuff and by the time football [practice] comes around, they've done 7-on-7, practices on Saturday and football practice is just another day," Jones said. "These guys have been looking forward to [Monday]. When they get the pads on, they can't wait. It's not just another practice, I need them to want to be here and love it when they come back."
Martin, who has worked with strength and conditioning coaches from Division I schools such as Duke and Alabama, said that being able to pick stuff up from those coaches has helped him develop a program that will help his players reach their highest levels of performance.
That involves helping his kids in other areas like flexability and drills that will make them better athletes.
"Training for a sport has really become an all year-round process nowadays and there are more areas to focus to help you reach your highest potential as an athlete," Martin said. "From my experiences working with college coaches, I have seen what areas I need to focus on to help my kids become better players physically and also mentally. Everything keeps evolving with sports and training itself, so being able to work with those coaches has really helped me pick new things up that will benefit our players on the field."
One event during the summer that Hoosick Falls does as a full group is the annual University at Albany camp. Run for years under legendary Great Danes coach Bob Ford, it gives a chance before fall practice begins to see what may be coming.
"We weren't perfect and we have a lot of new faces at our skill positions, but we were hustling and aggressive," Jones said. "As long as they keep hustling, I know we'll get better."
Jones is a Cortland graduate who has coached at Siena and East Stroudsburg (PA) before returning to Hoosick Falls. He's an old-school coach with new-school tactics. In that vein, Jones has been able to share tips with Martin, a coach now in his third season at Mount Anthony. Because they don't meet anymore due to classification changes, he's able to do the same with Cambridge coach Doug Luke as well.
"It's a two-way give and take, if Doug is talking about something they do at Cambridge, it clearly works," Jones said. "That sharing of ideas is pretty good and I have a lot of respect for those guys. I can see John is doing it the right way. What he does in terms of X's and O's is different, but the basis of his program is hustle, speed, all of those things. He's teaching kids how to be disciplined, how to become a good adult and all of that is shared and that's why it's more important then what offense we're running. We're teachers here to help our guys move forward."
The offseason program has paid huge dividends for some of the Patriot players, as Martin has seen great improvement during the summer and during the team's first practice of the season Monday.
"You can definitely see improvement in the kids that were dedicated to our offseason program," Martin said. "You can see a lot of them are more confident in their abilities because of the work they put in."
Players that didn't put in the time are a bit behind, Martin admits.
"You have to pay the cost to be the boss," Martin said.