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CU Buffs getting creative with football workouts

Strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson helping players think outside the box to stay in shape

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Drew Wilson, Colorado’s director of football strength and conditioning, is helping players stay in shape during the coronavirus pandemic.

A sturdy tree branch can work well as a pull-up bar. A younger sibling can be a decent alternative for the bench press.

The Colorado football team has some of the best workout equipment in the country, but as it sits unused during the coronavirus pandemic, the Buffaloes are using creative methods for staying in shape.

“I think our strength staff, which is led by Drew Wilson, have done a really fantastic job,” CU  head football coach Karl Dorrell said in a recent conference call with reporters. “Drew and his staff have done a great job of supplementing our players daily with different types of workouts, whether you have weights or not, whether you have a park to work in or a track to run around. He’s been really, I’d say, innovative with creating different elements of any type of workout, given your environment, to really get something positive done.”

Wilson, entering his fifth season as the Buffs’ director of football strength and conditioning, said this has been a unique challenge, but one that he and the team are embracing.

“It’s a big challenge, but it’s no different of a challenge than any other school is facing right now, so I keep that perspective,” he said.

“I think the biggest disappointment right now for me, is we’ve probably had our best offseason in my five years here, with guys getting bigger and guys being stronger and just the maturity of their body starting to come around. So we had a really, really good nine-week offseason.”

Many states are under stay-at-home orders and CU is among the many schools closed, with no set timetable for a return to normalcy, but Wilson said the Buffs are doing their best to stay ready for when football does return.

“I think that’s the frustrating part right now, just trying to slow the de-training process and understanding that, depending how long this runs, we could be essentially starting over,” Wilson said. “I know guys are working out and I’ve been in communication with all the guys on the team, but it’s still different when they’re not with me.”

Wilson and his team have developed different workout models based on what is available to each of the players at their homes.

There are some players with full access to a gym or their trainers at home; some have a small weight set; others are limited to bodyweight circuits.

“We’re sending out three different programs based on these guys’ needs and just staying in touch with them,” Wilson said.

Wilson has some players lifting cinder blocks, or book bags filled with stones. Some are using younger siblings for “weights,” doing pull-ups on trees, or broad jumps on hills to as squat workouts.

“You’ve got to think outside the box a little bit and you’ve got to think back to what you had when you were in high school and maybe you didn’t have access to everything,” said Wilson, who added that his background working at Division III Springfield (Mass.) College has come in handy. “We didn’t have a budget like we do here, so we had to get creative with some things.”

One of the more outside the box workers has been linebacker Carson Wells, who is at the family farm in Florida and working with cattle.

“That’s the type of guy you don’t worry about too much, that you know what they’re going back to,” Wilson said. “Farm living is tough. I told him, ‘Farm strength is the best strength; you’re going to get strong.’”

Wilson said proper nutrition is a priority, as well, and he praised team dietician Tim DiLeo for his work during this time of staying in contact with players.

So far, the Buffs have been on their own for nearly three weeks, which is much longer than they are used to. It could be many more weeks of at-home training. Wilson is hoping that the work ethic he’s seen from the players in the past will keep them ready for whenever the team does come together again.

“Our base will be much higher than it was when we started in January,” Wilson said.

Wilson also believes that the players’ bodies will adapt quickly when they do return to regular training because they are high caliber athletes, but each team should be cautioned to not push too hard immediately.

“I think all the head coaches will realize that you can’t go from zero to 100 in three days and expect these kids’ bodies to hold up,” Wilson said. “That’s just common sense to say, yes, these are high caliber athletes, but we still have to bring them in slow.

“I know coach Dorrell will have a great plan in terms of saying, ‘Hey, this is what we have to do from a football standpoint; this is what we have to do from a strength and conditioning standpoint. How do we mesh the two ideas together?’”