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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

Golden ready to hone the blade

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

About a month ago, I was interviewing a senior East Carolina football player for a different story when I asked him about the summer strength and conditioning program with head taskmaster Mike Golden. I joked, “Has Coach Golden been inventing new forms of torture for you guys?”

The player grinned at me and shot back, “Oh, you know Coach Golden!”

Those are the kind of remarks that are commonplace around the ECU athletic facilities in these dripping-hot months, when Coach Golden and his staff rule the roost and players are subjected to daily tests of endurance and mental toughness.

It’s the soil-preparation stage of the gardening process, when the fruit is still invisible but each step is vital to a successful harvest down the road.

Golden, in his fifth summer of running Pirates through his grueling paces, has observed steady progress in the young men in every area he values: Strength, speed, endurance and agility.

He always uses spring camp as a measuring stick for the season to come; he watches the team to assess their strengths and weaknesses and to craft a summer workout plan accordingly. This group, while not yet ready for game speed, proved in the spring that it had all the elements, but only needed to improve on each of them.

“Every year is a new team, and you have to find out what they need,” Golden said. “This year we’re able to just work on everything, because we don’t have a glaring weakness that we need to work out.”

With a large and experienced group of seniors setting the tone, Golden has been gratified by the players’ self-discipline and by their understanding that it is the tedium of June and July that gives a team the tools it needs to prevail in a loud, exhilarating stadium in the fall.

These upperclassmen were particularly affected by the dramatic highs and lows of last season — from victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia to open the year to losing three of the next four games in Conference USA play.

“I think they have a grasp on the big picture, but I think they’re grounded enough to realize that it’s got to be day by day,” Golden said. “The summer is a lot more demanding, and on top of that they’re putting a lot more in. This is a very serious group. They don’t want distractions. They just want to get it done.”

The regular season has the potential for a lengthy highlight reel, but summer strength and conditioning has one lone high point: The annual Strongman Competition. Held last Thursday on what senior C.J. Wilson asserted was the hottest day of the summer, the annual contest features the Pirate players competing against each other in events like the Weight Staff Challenge, the Draft Horse Pull and the Sled Push.

The winning team in this year’s Strongman, and the owner of supreme bragging rights for the next 12 months, was Queen Anne’s Revenge, captained by Wilson. Leading into the final event, a taxing obstacle course called Blackbeard’s Challenge, Wilson’s team was clinging to a two-point lead, but sophomore Brandon Jackson, a sophomore transfer from Kentucky, excelled under pressure and crossed the finish line first.

“B-Jack won it,” Wilson said. “He brought it home for us. We were depending on him.”

One of the keys to hoisting the Strongman trophy is deciding which player is best suited for each event, Wilson said. Before the competition, his team met and put their heads together to assign roles. Wilson, who won the Sled Push for the third year in a row, said the key to his team’s triumph was each athlete’s willingness to put self-interest aside and enter the event that his teammates chose for him.

Golden has the players for three more weeks, until July 28, and the workouts won’t flag in intensity but will change somewhat in emphasis as the season opener looms closer. The early summer was focused on building strength and fundamentals, but things will rev up considerably in mid- to late July.

“We’ll just be sharpening up the sword now,” he said. “Everything now is a lot quicker. We’re really keying up on speed, trying to get their legs back and get them in football shape.”

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07/08/2009 02:04:41 AM

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