|Jeff Connors, East
Carolina's assistant athletic director for
strenth and conditioning, runs with players
during an early morning workout.
by Al Myatt. ©Bonesville.net. All rights
All Rights Reserved.
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Lazy and hazy don’t do the summer months justice when
you’re a sportswriter covering collegiate athletics. Aside from a few
academic and preseason awards, my usually lively inbox has taken a
summer snooze where ECU is concerned.
Football, soccer and volleyball are still weeks away and
the NCAA Track and Field finals feel like a distant memory. But
thankfully, to save me from this state of ennui, I have made regular and
educational visits to the summer nerve center of the Pirate Nation – the
bright, beautiful weight room in the Murphy Center.
When I agreed to edit the book that strength and
conditioning coach Jeff Connors is writing about his life and his
training philosophy, I couldn’t have dreamed of the education I would
receive. After all, I exercise regularly and I can even identify a
kettle bell. But in Connors’ world, I am riding a Big Wheel at a monster
As we have worked through Connors’ chapters, I’ve learned
about his childhood in Western Pennsylvania under the tutelage of the
toughest coach he ever encountered, an ultra-intense man named Wild
Billy who also happened to be his father. I marveled at stories from his
days as a tenacious college football player in West Virginia and as cop
in South Florida and have seen how the seeds of his profession emerged
from that succession of experiences.
I have left those editing meetings every time energized
by the purity of Connors’ vision for young athletes and impressed at the
results he has gotten year after year from players who were long on
heart but short on natural ability. I have flip-flopped between viewing
strength coaching as a complicated science and as a nurturing
environment not unlike parenting – and I’ve concluded that it’s both.
Above all, I have understood why so many Pirate fans
rejoiced in January 2011 when Connors came back to the place he had come
to consider home. During the 1990s Connors’ grueling offseason regimens
and his creative pregame presentations – in which he was known to invite
everyone from former players to Vietnam Vets to come and address the
players – became stuff of legend, and he was one of the linchpins of a
Steve Logan staff that became known for overachieving.
His departure for North Carolina in 2001 was widely
lamented in the Pirate Nation, and after a decade in Chapel Hill few
could have dreamed of a world that would have him wearing purple again.
But his heart never really made the trip west, and when the opportunity
arose it wasn’t a decision his mind had to get involved with at all.
With the football kickoff less than a month away, Connors
and his staff are nearing the end of the period when the players operate
exclusively in their domain. They have put a steady stream of young men
through a precise series of exercises designed to optimize their
strength, speed and fluidity, and they have insisted repeatedly that
their athletes find what looks like their limit and bulldoze past it.
Everything they do is football-specific, and the destination for every
part of the summer journey is a hot September Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen,
or a do-or-die fourth quarter at Carter-Finley in November.
In some ways, the strength coach is a little bit like the
long snapper – if things go smoothly on the field, you shouldn’t think
about him at all. But from the hours I have spent talking to Connors and
reading his words, I have come to understand that nothing about
developing a well-conditioned football team is accidental. When things
go right for the Pirates this fall – especially in the fourth quarter
when that defensive back has already run forty snaps and he beats that
receiver downfield – I will remember to give some credit to the
architect of a training plan that makes one group of college students
forget that summer has anything to do with relaxation.
Look for the book this fall, but be warned – Connors
isn’t looking to produce an “easy read.” He wants you to work for it.