Prep Football

Iowa City West's Brendon Panther helps stay-at-home athletes

Strength and conditioning coach develops progressive program

Iowa City West football head coach Garrett Hartwig, addressing his team during preseason practice last fall, like the pr
Iowa City West football head coach Garrett Hartwig, addressing his team during preseason practice last fall, like the program strength and conditioning coach Brendon Panther has developed. (David Harmantas/Freelance)

IOWA CITY — When the spring sports season came to a sudden halt and coaches and athletes were sent home to self-isolate, Iowa City West’s athletics wing was left empty.

Normally, from as early as 7 a.m. to as late as 8 p.m., athletes from all sports can be found in the weight room, on the court, field or track training.

And as the chances athletes wouldn’t be able to train as a team or in a performance PE class grew, strength and conditioning coach Brendon Panther went to work putting together “Athlete at Home Workouts,” an in-depth Google spreadsheet filled with workouts for Trojan athletes.

As weeks of quarantine grew, so did the workouts.

“It became less of a ‘let’s kill some time and stay in shape’ and more of ‘time to start progressing exercises to try and get some kind of growth,’” Panther said.

Without any equipment, these at-home workouts enable all athletes to maintain and even gain strength outside of the weight room.

“The basic principle is progressive overload,” Panther said. “Let’s say you can do 10 push-ups. If you continue to do 10 push-ups, eventually that becomes easy. So you bump it up ... You might have to do more reps and you might have to be a little creative, but the same principles apply no matter what route we take.”

Panther immediately sent the workouts to coaches and athletics director Craig Huegel, along with being featured on his personal Instagram in hopes to spread the word and get stay-at-home athletes engaged.

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As one of the school’s biggest athletics programs, Garrett Hartwig’s football team, has been following Panther’s workouts from home as a team as they prepare for summer workouts, which are set to start June 1. The season opener at Liberty is Aug. 28.

“The weight room can never be replaced,” Hartwig said. “It’s not just the equipment and weights themselves that matter, but the camaraderie and work teammates share together that separate the great athletic programs in the state ... The program he has created rivals and out-performs some at-home college programs I have seen.”

Lifting is a big factor in high school sports, but having a connection and chemistry with teammates — and building a team community between coaches and players — wins games for programs around the country.

“Seeing football players in the hallways at West, lifting together, players spending time together all contribute to the ‘team community,’” Hartwig said. “To build community and team connections online, we talk about different things outside of football. The more we know about each other as players and coaches, the tighter the team will be.”

No matter what season it is, year-round athletes are working on their craft in and out of the weight room.

Two months into the basketball offseason, sophomore guard Christian Barnes spends his time in quarantine in his driveway putting up shots along with playing some one-on-one with his brothers as he awaits a possible AAU season this summer.

“In order to stay in shape and be ready for basketball whenever it starts, I’ve been doing small daily workouts and run every now and then,” he said. “Some coaches have even started their own Zooms to do online workouts with players so that also helps.”

The girls’ and boys’ track and field teams season officially ended after the IHSAA and the IGHSAU announced the cancellations of all spring sports on April 17, but before it was official both West teams found ways to safely stay in shape as they hoped for the season to resume.

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For many track and field athletes, summer training started early for the upcoming cross country season.

Cross country coach and track distance coach Josh Kidman found a way to connect with athletes virtually. On March 28, Kidman simply tweeted a way for stay-at-home track athletes to compete virtually through the “Iowa High School Virtual Track Meet,” which has attracted 146 athletes from around the state to make up leaderboards in each event.

As athletes continue to hope for a season and team workouts in the future, the Trojan athletics community had found a way to stay engaged and create an edge.

“I just hope kids are benefiting from this,” Panther said. “I have heard from a couple coaches who specifically mentioned getting it to their athletes, so that was good to know they were encouraging the athletes, even if their season may not happen. As a coach or athlete, you would rather be ready than not.”

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