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The how and why of that cool Hawkeyes' 'Tug O' War' drill

Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle keeps summer competitive

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IOWA CITY — Football is coming, but right now it’s like parade candy. The float comes by, someone tosses a handful of lollipops and that’s all you get.

Earlier this month, Chris Ruth, Iowa’s assistant director of football video operations, threw a Thanksgiving dinner from the Hawkeye football float.

It was the 2016 trailer video and it had something for everyone. Desmond King, C.J. Beathard, Josey Jewell, LeShun Daniels and George Kittle told everyone what the Tiger Hawk means to them. There were close shots of trainers prepping the gear. Slow-motion shots. Drones zoomed down for shots above the Pentecrest and Kinnick Stadium.

The scenes that stood out came from the Hawkeyes’ summer conditioning program, conducted under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle.

Front and center were the shots of players battling in a game of Tug O’ War. Players were connected via harnesses and then it was ready, set, go and may the best man win.

In the video, you see parts of showdowns between linebacker Bo Bower and quarterback Tyler Wiegers, King and an unidentified Hawkeye and another between two other unidentifiable players.

Iowa’s summer conditioning program is five workouts a week for seven weeks (35 workouts). The one-on-one competitive drills begin in week 3 and last through the end. Doyle said he uses around 20 different one-on-one competitive drills during the seven weeks.

“We try to compete every single day,” Doyle said. “One day it might be a change of direction drill, one day it might be a linear drill. One day it might be a combo of those two. One day it might be a resistance drill, but we try to compete every single day.”

Thought goes into the matchups for the Tug O’ War drill. It doesn’t work the way you might think.

“We match guys up based on their numbers,” Doyle said. “It’s not random or positional, like ‘Hey, we want these two guys who are fighting for a position.’ We took data that was collected in a program that showed a guy’s speed with resistance and we matched them up based on their ability in that particular drill.”

Football is, obviously, competitive, so the point of the one-on-ones is to sharpen the competitive instincts.

“Anytime you can compete in a competitive environment and have guys compete against one another in front of their teammates,” Doyle said, “it brings out the best in people. That’s what we try to do.”

There’s a maturity level and respect that is expected within these drills, but, yes, Doyle does find himself sometimes keeping the competitive juices in check.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Guys want to win. They want to show improvement. In a program like Iowa that has had so much success with unheralded recruits kind of rising to the top, when we create a competitive environment in offseason strength and conditioning, you develop a platform that allows the Boone Myers and Cole Crostons and Bo Bowers of the world to step in and climb their way to the top.

“If we didn’t have that, if we just had incumbents and passed out positions based on recruiting, we wouldn’t have that. We can’t do that here. We have to create competition to be who we are.”

Back to the program that matches up players for drills based on their resistance numbers, Iowa started using accelerometer technology from GPSports in July 2013. The units can detect if an athlete is using his left side 2 percent more than his right side. It can flag a deficiency in a hamstring muscle. Those are a few examples of the data the GPSports unit spits out (it claims 20 players can have reports in 10 minutes).

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of data. Picking the relevant information was a chore at first.

“Four years ago, when we first started on GPS, I remember very vividly walking up to coach [Kirk] Ferentz’s desk and putting a sheet of data collected from that day’s workout,” Doyle said. “He said, ‘What does this mean?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’”

There were only three other football teams doing that (including the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings). Nobody knew.

“Four years later, we’ve really fine tuned training in the summer, we’ve fine tuned practice,” Doyle said. “We changed some things in our training this summer to make it more specific.”

This year, the GPS units helped the Hawkeyes hit some of their training goals (volume and intensity) earlier than anticipated, so Doyle changed workouts toward the end of the summer to stem overdoing it.

“All the information in the world is useless unless it’s applied,” Doyle said. “I think we’re doing a better job than ever at applying it.”

Going into last year, Doyle reported the average weight of Iowa players jumped six pounds (231 to 236.8), crediting the NCAA’s deregulation of feeding athletes and Iowa’s $55 million Hansen Performance Center. Doyle said the Hawkeyes had a similar jump this winter.

“Right now, our current roster is as big as we’ve ever been, or maybe a little bit bigger,” Doyle said. “Our offensive and defensive lines are good sized. We’ve never been numbers driven. Back in the day, some of our best defensive linemen might’ve been considered undersized. We’re not size-driven like some schools are, but we’re really happy with the development of these guys.

“We closely monitor body composition. I think as much as anything, since Aug. 1, 2014, when the NCAA deregulated food, I think we’ve really taken advantage of that opportunity to feed our kids well. That’s been supported by the university and that’s been an advantage.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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