Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 4 of 63 APRIL 2017 5 T he early returns on new strength and condition- ing coach Matt Balis could not be more positive. Less than three months into his new job, Notre Dame's leader in the weight room has been the unofficial offseason MVP for the Irish. A sampling of the player feedback on Twitter: Sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes: "#MyValen- tineIn4Words Body Built By Balis." Senior linebacker Nyles Morgan: "Coach Balis work- outs will strengthen the body and the MIND. Mental tough- ness is required!" Head coach Brian Kelly put the team through a 24-period workout to open the 15-prac- tice spring season on March 8, and the new strength and con- ditioning program appears to already be paying dividends, with the Irish looking to greatly im- prove on last year's 4-8 finish. "After the season we had, we were willing to do whatever to get better," senior linebacker Greer Martini said. The changes in Notre Dame's weight room are well documented. Paul Longo is out as strength and condition- ing coach, placed on disability. Under Longo — a longtime Kelly assistant — the players could not achieve the suc- cess they desired in the weight room, the Irish head coach said during his pre-spring press conference. "We couldn't give them what they wanted," Kelly said. "It was something that they needed and wanted. So we're giving them exactly what they want. I think it's proving itself to be not only beneficial for us as a program, but for the players as well. They're seeing themselves in a different light." It didn't seem to be a change the players minded. Kelly conducted 93 player interviews following last sea- son, gathering feedback that led to a number of changes. It had become clear, through com- ments by Kelly and from sources close to the Irish program, that the previous regime was not capable of achieving these results. Take for example Isaac Rochell, who recently participated in the NFL Com- bine. The 6-4, 280-pound Rochell did 25 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press in Indianapolis, fewer than what he recorded as an incoming freshman in the summer of 2013. So much for the stronger part in, "Bigger, faster, stronger." It's standard procedure for a new strength coach to elicit positive re- views. In situations such as this, "dif- ferent" typically translates to "better." Hiring the right strength and condi- tioning coach is equally as important as finding a good on-field assistant. Strength coaches are permitted to work with the players year-round, serving as an extension of the head coach. Many Saturdays in the fall are won on cold winter mornings in January and February under the leadership of coaches like Balis. But where Notre Dame might ben- efit most from Balis' arrival isn't on the bench press or squat rack. After eight weeks of winter workouts, the players spoke about a different kind of improvement. "The biggest thing was training mental toughness," Martini said. "They're putting us through workouts where we're going to fail. It's how do you handle that fail- ure. "That's been a big compo- nent, as well as my body has changed and I feel better after practice like this." That's a welcome change for a program that consis- tently shrank in the big mo- ments in 2016. Seven losses came by eight points or less, and strong first halves were rarely coupled with an im- pressive finish. That's the mark of a fledg- ling strength program. Kelly believes he's gone about cor- recting that. "I know they feel better," Kelly said when asked about the eight-week improvement. "Whether it be numbers that they actually see, how their body looks — I know that they feel a lot more confident in how they're moving. We'll see how that translates on the field, certainly. We've got to be able to take it out of the weight room and put it on the football field. "But I know there is a really positive feeling amongst all of the players and the way they feel right now." Junior running back Josh Adams is also a big believer in the overhaul. Ad- ams said the workouts are now more competition-based, and each player is being challenged both physically and mentally. Players are now shuffled up during workouts, putting leaders in different positions. Even after just one practice, the re- sults were evident. "It's been a while since we've gone 24 periods, and it feels like we just went maybe 18," Adams said. "It's definitely a change in there. You can see that, you can feel it in your body. "It's a new atmosphere, and you can feel it in the locker room. We are just excited to be working and excited to get better." ✦ ON THE IRISH BEAT MATT JONES Staff writer Matt Jones has been with Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2016. He can be reached at The New Strength Program Is A Big Hit New strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis has already put his stamp on the Notre Dame football program. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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