He calls the summer months preceding training camp ‘the construction phase’ for Virginia’s football program.
First-year strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman said he’s consistently used the same analogy with the Cavaliers since his arrival from Clemson in December, beginning with their winter workouts and spring practices and continuing now with the Hoos’ season-opener only 10 weeks from Saturday.
“It’s time to build a house on top of the foundation that you laid,” Smotherman said.
He noted the ‘foundation phase’ for the team, in which players learned his and new coach Tony Elliott’s expectations, was completed in the spring. Smotherman, who worked for a decade alongside Elliott at Clemson before following him to UVa and aiding Elliott in establishing the ‘Model Program’ he wants to have in Charlottesville, said the players adapted well and are progressing smoothly while they prepare for the 2022 campaign.
“I’m super excited about the house we’re building and the work our guys have put in,” Smotherman said, “and that’s our message every day. ‘We’re hammering a nail, erecting a wall and doing work every day to build that house,’ and so then when it’s time for the fall, that’s when the house is built and it’s time to showcase it.”
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He said his strength-and-conditioning philosophy isn’t limited to one focus. Smotherman wants well-rounded athletes and is training them this summer in a variety of ways to benefit them come kickoff.
The former Vanderbilt defensive tackle said he knows how many different areas of athleticism football necessitates from those who play, so he coaches to how the game is played during his workout sessions.
“You’re not just sprinting straight ahead. You’re not necessarily just an endurance athlete,” Smotherman said. “You’re not doing the same motion over and over again for the most part.
“It’s a multi-directional sport with big, strong, fast and powerful human beings flying at you from every direction,” he said, “and football is so unique, and so within the team you’ve got a lot of unique requirements. A defensive back and an offensive lineman are doing different things. A wide receiver and a defensive lineman have different requirements, so even on the field at the same time, you’ve got various requirements.”
He said there are certain workouts, like squatting and bench-pressing, that every player does, but then there are other drills that he and his strength staff — with assistants Nathan Pototschnik, Drew McDuffie, Jaylan Reid and Will Harrison — can tailor either to a specific position or to a particular individual.
McDuffie has a background in primarily strength training quarterbacks, having worked with Daniel Jones in a previous stop at Duke and Deshaun Watson at Clemson.
“Whether it’s different positions or there are specific demands and loads your body will experience based on what you do,” Smotherman said, “that’s addressed in training. That’s how we set it up and we can get very specific to what the individual needs are and not just for a position, but for that individual player.
“And that’s not to say that the players only work with one strength coach. We all work with everyone and then we have positions of emphasis if we make time or have time to do some position-specific work. … It’s been a good system for us and I’m looking forward to continuing to progress that because our guys have done a phenomenal job with it and our staff has done a phenomenal job.”
He said players have embraced his approach and he’s witnessed good growth throughout the roster since he took the job at UVa in the winter.
Smotherman said he’s enjoyed getting to know the team, too, which he pointed out is critical in his role. This time of year, strength coaches are around players more frequently than the on-field staff is, and, so, players must trust him and so must Elliott to keep the squad pushing in the right direction.
Veterans like quarterback Brennan Armstrong, wide receiver Keytaon Thompson and cornerback Anthony Johnson, according to Smotherman, have fit well in leadership roles but others have emerged, too, in the weight-room setting even if they aren’t as vocal.
“Everything starts with relationships,” Smotherman said. “You can have any kind of tools in your toolbox that you want from a performance-enhancing standpoint, but if you don’t have relationships to be able to connect with people to be able to get everybody on the same page and for the guys to know that you genuinely care about them and everything you’re doing, you’re doing for them and the betterment of the team, then you can never truly maximize a person as a coach.”
As for his formula to improve these Cavaliers physically, he said it’s working and he’s excited to see how it translates during the season.
“We utilize a lot of strength-based movements and a lot of power-based movements,” he said. “We try to build out the body with good, lean mass to build that body armor to make sure guys have the necessary size and mass they need. We’re also training for great speed and change-of-direction and then, you have to have a great conditioning base because anything you have from a strength-, power- and speed-standpoint, you want to be able to do it over and over again to dominate in the fourth quarter.”