Monthly Archives: August 2013

Vanderbilt football players pack on pounds

As many Vanderbilt students can attest, the freshman 15 is very real. But for the most part, that’s from too many Easy Macs and 2 a.m. Qdoba runs and not the case for Vanderbilt football players. For redshirt freshman like offensive tackle Andrew Jelks, it’s a freshman 40.

In the Southeastern Conference, playing offensive tackle at 255 pounds won’t cut it, not with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney coming off the edge at 275 pounds. This is a problem Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin is very familiar with, as he inherited an undersized roster two years ago.

“We weren’t just smaller, we were mushy,” said Franklin. “We weren’t ripped and defined and athletic-looking in my opinion. Now you had two different choices: you could put size on them just for size’s sake or you could take the bad weight off them and then build them back up over time.”

Two years ago, there was only one player who weighed more than 300 pounds: guard Kyle Fischer. Now the current roster boasts 11 players who eclipse that mark. To get to that point, they focused on improving conditioning and nutrition.

One of the first people Franklin brought to Vanderbilt from the University of Maryland was director of strength and conditioning, Dwight Galt, who took on the same position under a new name: director of performance enhancement. The two had worked together since 1999 in Franklin’s two stints with Maryland.

Franklin tries to get ahead of the pack by sending recruits a workout plan designed by Galt once they sign a letter of intent. At the same time he doesn’t specifically ask them to put on weight because not everyone can afford extra food and supplements. Plus high school students tend to put on “bad weight”—fat instead of muscle.

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Football players put on their freshman fouty here instead of Rand dining hall and Greek row.

Once they do reach campus, however, Franklin indoctrinates them into their year-round training program. Incoming freshmen arrive on campus in the first week of June and individually meet with Galt to set monthly goals for added muscle mass and BMI levels.

Almost all of the weight-room workouts involve free weights. Every player lifts twice a week in addition to squats, hang cleans and more. To incentivize the players, the training staff created champion awards for the hardest worker in the weight room every summer and winter.

When they’re not in the weight room, the staff puts an emphasis on speed training, agility and plyometrics outside. That’s what has become essential to Franklin: football-specific training.

“You have to be careful,” said Franklin. “If everything is about the weight room, you’re going to produce a bunch of power lifters, not football players. You have to make sure the things you’re doing are translating onto the football field.

“We do a lot of movement-specific type stuff outside. Everybody thinks running straight or distance is awesome, but it has very little carryover to football. You very rarely ever run 40 yards straight in football. Being able to do short spurts and a lot of change-of-direction … are much more football-specific.”

But with all the hard work, players have to eat a lot of food—a lot more than it takes an unassuming freshman to put on that freshman 15. We’re talking five big meals—an early breakfast, a brunch, a lunch, a meal before practice, a dinner after practice, and maybe even a late night snack—for around 7,500-8,000 calories per day. That’s a huge changeup for guys that mostly only had three meals a day in high school.

“At first I was really excited,” said redshirt freshman defensive end Stephen Weatherly. “Basically it was like an all-you can eat buffet all the time. After a while it gets kind of tiring, but you know that you need it because we’re playing in the SEC and going against 300, 350-pound lineman. I can’t be 220 playing D-end. I need to be 250.”

Because of NCAA regulations, the staff can help the players put on weight only in certain ways. Outside of the meal plan, they can’t give players extra meals, but they can give them small things like bagels, crackers, and pretzels. They can give players protein shakes, but not if they’re more than 30 percent protein. Contracts with companies like Purity Dairy, Shamrock Farms, Gatorade, Muscle Milk and Balance Bar help, and the coaches have players track what they eat.

All that added weight will pay off starting Thursday, when the Commodores match up against Ole Miss. The Rebels’ offensive line comes in at an average of 324 pounds, including 360-pound Aaron Morris and 345-pound Justin Bell.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun and you know they’re big up front and strong,” said senior defensive end Walker May, who’s put on 50 pounds since arriving on campus. “What we’ve got to do is combat that with strength and speed.”

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This first appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler Football Preview. Here are three other links for articles written for the preview.

Changes in weight for Vanderbilt football players

Understanding the Vanderbilt football schedule

Q&A with Coach Chaos

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Categories: College Football | 1 Comment

Chase Garnham joins in lawsuit against NCAA

The NCAA can’t get out of the news, and it’s not because of the actual games on the field. Instead of celebrating tantalizing talents like Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, the fans’ focus has shifted to the NCAA potentially colluding  with video-game giant Electronic Arts to make billions off their cash-cow student-athletes.

The biggest threat to the NCAA is currently the class action anti-trust lawsuit brought on by Ed O’Bannon, a star basketball player for UCLA in the 1990s.

O’Bannon contends that the NCAA and EA, which makes popular video games “NCAA Football” and “NCAA March Madness,” together artificially set the price of a student-athlete’s likeness at $0. On an open market, the players’ likenesses would undoubtedly be worth more than that.

The NCAA doesn’t pay student-athletes, who must sign a waiver that forfeits their right to make money off their own likeness as NCAA athletes. Receiving payment would make them professionals, and professionals can’t play in an amateur sport—an amateur sport that nets more than $6 billion in revenues annually.

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One of nine Vanderbilt captains, Garnham has a chance to change the landscape of college sports as we know it.

While the O’Bannon suit could revolutionize the way all college sports operate, an impact has already been felt on Vanderbilt’s campus: senior linebacker Chase Garnham has joined lawsuit as a plaintiff.

Five other current student-athletes also joined Garnham in the lawsuit: Arizona’s Jake Fischer and Jake Smith, Clemson’s Darius Robertson, and Minnesota’s Moses Alipate and Victor Kiese.

The proceedings won’t affect Garnham’s eligibility, however, and he will be a key cog in the Commodores’ defense this year. Garnham, who is not answering questions about the case at this time, was second on the team with 84 tackles last year and led the team with seven sacks.

Although the lawsuit is far from nearing an end—the trial is set for July 9, 2014—signals that O’Bannon and Co. may end up winning are already visible. Last month, the NCAA ended its partnership with EA and will not license an “NCAA Football 15” game.

Adding two and two together, it’s clear that the NCAA does not want to run the risk of having to pay thousands of student-athletes for the right to their likeness, should O’Bannon win the lawsuit.

Another potential impact of the O’Bannon lawsuit is that players would receive royalties from revenue coming from merchandise and broadcast rights.

Previously, the NCAA claimed that they just sold generic jerseys, although nearly every jersey sold in the Vanderbilt book store last year was No. 2 or No. 11, which happen to be the same numbers worn by starting running back Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, respectively.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas debunked the laughable claim earlier this month when he exposed that you could search for players’ names on ShopNCAAsports.com and find specific player jerseys. Three days later, the NCAA announced they would stop selling jerseys because, as NCAA president Mark Emmert put it, they can “certainly recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical.”

All of this means that schools may have to skimp on other aspects of the athletic experience. Maybe schools like Oregon will have to put a few less Milanese-furnished barbershops and pool tables in their $86 million football facilities.

The landscape of college athletics could undergo some massive changes in the near future, and Chase Garnham will play a large role in the lawsuit. For now, though, he’ll be just another key player on Vanderbilt’s defense.

(This first appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler)

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I Am an A-Rod Fan

Congrats, Major League Baseball, you’ve turned NCAA on us.

Major League Baseball eschewed the 21st century by embracing human error over getting calls correct, but they’ve outdone themselves with the Biogenesis case.

MLB set off on a poorly cloaked witch hunt for two of the biggest name (rumored) steroid users: Ryan Braun, who avoided an earlier PED suspension on a technicality, and Alex Rodriguez, who is just universally hated. The league paid known sleazebag Anthony Bosch for information from his sketchy health clinic, although they previously identified him as having highly questionable information.

Finally, they settled on a 65-game suspension for Braun and nailed 12 more players with 50-game suspensions. Then they dropped a 211-game bomb on Alex Rodriguez.

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MLB has botched the A-Rod case so badly, that I’m actually rooting for him. And I hated A-Rod.

They’ve mishandled this whole case so badly that they’ve made me a fan of the most hated player in sports.

Major League Baseball and the MLBPA agreed on a Joint Drug Agreement, which states that any player who fails a test or has possession of a PED is to be suspended 50 games after his first offense, 100 games after his second offense, and given a lifetime suspension on the third offense.

MLB circumvented the JDA already when they slapped Braun with a 65-game suspension, but they mutually agreed to that ban. A-Rod’s 211-game suspension completely oversteps baseball’s jurisdiction according to the JDA and CBA.

Alex Rodriguez clearly didn’t do a good thing. He was the Chosen One. It was said that he would destroy steroids, not take them. Bring balance to the sport, not leave it in darkness.

But now Major League Baseball has found a way to make a cheater into a sympathetic villain, just like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.

So what makes whatever A-Rod did more than 4 times worse than what the other Biogenesis players did? If he did use HGH in recent years, what makes him so special that he’s given a suspension 146 games longer than any other previous one?

The short answer: there’s no reason.

MLB says that part of the reason for the excessive length is because he tampered with baseball’s investigation. Well Melky Cabrera did the same thing–and created a fake website in an attempted coverup–and only got 50 games. MLB clearly has a vested interest in getting Rodriguez away from the game.

The Yankees get out from under around $33.5 million in salary plus millions more in luxury tax–more money they can spend. MLB gets Rodriguez–who’s been nothing but bad press for the sport recently–away from baseball and momentarily away from the record books.

While it’s clear that Major League Baseball is overstepping its bounds–which leads to the MLBPA’s appeal that will last until November or December–this isn’t the real issue.

Alex Rodriguez breaking rules–and he hasn’t even failed a drug test–is a micro issue. MLB’s rules on PEDs is the macro issue.

What we need to be doing now is looking at why steroids are banned. A-Rod technically cheated because the rules said he wasn’t allowed to use a substance. Cheating by definition is breaking rules. So why are steroids illegal?

It’s easy to see why substances that are harmful to players’ health should be illegal. You’re asking players to sacrifice their own health to keep up with the Joneses. Furthermore, it creates a culture in which young, impressionable kids feel they have to renounce their future health to compete and earn a scholarship.

But what about non-harmful supplements? Protein shakes seem to be widely accepted because they have no known downside but help build muscle. Aspirin stops pain and similarly has no major side effects. No one thinks they should be illegal.

As Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan put it: “If one player is taking synthetic testosterone to heal faster and another player is getting his blood spun and reinjected into him to heal faster, why is the former banned and the latter welcomed? Because the government says so? The government also says marijuana is illegal, and baseball players on the 40-man roster can take bong rips galore without penalty.”

The core issue isn’t that steroids are bad because they’re banned. That’s begging the question. The real issue is that harmful performance enhancers create a bad culture, while non-harmful performance enhancers just, well, enhance your performance like drinking that protein shake or taking a dietary supplement do.

We know that athletes will do whatever they can to gain a competitive edge. Catchers frame pitches to get extra strikes. Ray Lewis sprayed deer antler velvet under his tongue. Bartolo Colon had bone marrow stem cells injected into his elbow. Hell, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays openly used amphetamines, and Gaylord Perry used a banned spitball, and they’re accepted with open arms into the Hall of Fame. Yet steroids are the spawn of the devil.

Nothing gets people up on their moral high horse like steroids, but it would be hard to turn down a pill that makes you 50% markedly at your job, especially if it means escaping poverty in a third-world country.  Really, using modern medicine isn’t much different than any other type of cheating in the past, even if known cheater Perry would have you think otherwise.

You know what the real crime is, right? Babe Ruth never got to face Latino and black pitchers. Ask Daniel Tosh.

Baseball needs to re-evaluate what is banned and what isn’t based on potential health risks. Because if something like deer antler spray has no health risk, what’s the difference between it and a protein shake? It’s just a rose by another name.

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Crawdads on pace to shatter records

(First appeared in The Charlotte Observer)

Baseball history is being made by the Hickory Crawdads this summer.

The Crawdads have passed their season record of 135 home runs–and there’s still a quarter of the season left. And they’re well on their way to shattering a Class A record set in 1998.

But with the home runs come a lot of swings and misses. The team also is on pace to break the minor league record for strikeouts and become the first team to whiff 1,400 times.

The Crawdads have struck out 10 times or more in more than half of their games, and they’re hit multiple home runs in more than a third of their games. This has led them to be the fourth-highest scoring team in the South Atlantic League and the second-worst team in batting average and on-base percentage.

Crawdads second baseman Ryan Rua leads all of minor league baseball with 29 home runs. At age 23, he is older than most players in the league, and there isn’t much precedent for sluggers his age making it from Class A to the majors.

But he is playing on a team filled with potential and loaded with some of the best young talent in baseball.

On a rainy afternoon last month in Hickory, seven scouts watched the Crawdads, the youngest South Atlantic League team.

The club includes five of the Texas Rangers’ top 10 prospects, according to Baseball Prospectus, an amateur baseball scouting service. The Rangers, Hickory’s major league parent club invested $13.7 million in those five players.

That collection of talent on one Class A team is rare. The Arkansas Travelers, the Angels’ Class AA affiliate, is the only other minor league team with even four hitters among the team’s top 10 prospects.

With a starting lineup whose average age is nearly three years younger than the rest of the South Atlantic League, Hickory’s talent has keyed the Crawdads’ run to first place in the Northern Division.

“For me being the older guy,” Rua said, “it’s fun to watch them and their talents they have at such a young age.”

While manager Corey Ragsdale said the players aren’t close to where they need to be as hitters, he also said there isn’t another minor league team he’d trade his for because of its sheer talent.

“This is their first full year of baseball,” Ragsdale said. “A bunch of them would be freshman in college right now. Some of the Latin kids would even be seniors in high school still. It’s a pretty big jump; they’re facing kids older than them every day of the season.”

Third baseman Joey Gallo, 19, and center fielder Lewis Brinson, 19, have accounted for nearly a third of the team’s home runs and more than a quarter of the team’s strikeouts. The two were drafted 10 picks apart last year and have roomed together for two years.

Gallo led the minors in home runs before suffering a groin injury that has kept him out for a short stint. He has what one scout called “majestic power.” Brinson is an excellent defender with power and speed. He has 17 home runs and 16 stolen bases.

Even though they signed for a combined $3.875 million, the two live small. Gallo grew up in Las Vegas, where he often would head to the Strip for dinner and a show on the weekend. Now, he and Brinson spend a lot of time playing video games.

“Maybe we can go out to eat a little more, but that’s about it,” Gallo said.

The other three young potential stars arrived through a different route. Catcher Jorge Alfaro, 20, right fielder Nomar Mazara, 18, and first baseman Ronald Guzman, 18, signed with Texas in international free agency. Mazara got the biggest bonus of the group: $5 million.

The three live together in an apartment with shortstop Luis Marte. Mazara, Guzman and Marte, along with 11 other Crawdads played last year for Ragsdale in Arizona, where they won the Arizona League rookie title. Since they’ve been together for more than a year, they have chemistry and can overcome a language barrier.

“We always mess around, saying stuff in Spanish–mostly bad words because that’s all we know–and they say a lot of bad words in English to us,” Gallo said. “We all get along really well, and it’s a lot of fun being with people that are from different places in the world and grew up a little different than you did.”

After finishing a half-game out of first place in the first half, the Crawdads now are third in the Northern Division. For the season, they are 2 1/2 games out of first.

The fans have taken notice of the team’s talent and success; attendance which had been falling during recent years, is up slightly to 2,075 fans per game.

The players also see how special this team is and sometimes envision themselves playing together with the Rangers in the future.

“We have a tremendous amount of talent on this team,” Gallo said. “I don’t see why this whole team can’t move up together and make it up to the top.”

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Hickory Crawdads Podcast

I’ve gotten to write a lot of stories for the Charlotte Observer this summer, but this one has been my favorite this far. I went an hour north of Charlotte to Hickory to watch the Hickory Crawdads play.

Besides the fact that they’ve got a great team name, the team is incredibly interesting. They’ve got five of the Rangers Top 10 prospects–they received a combined $13.7 million bonus–and that doesn’t even include the minor league leader in home runs.

Joey Gallo. Lewis Brinson. Nomar Mazara. Jorge Alfaro. Ronald Guzman. Even Ryan Rua and Nick Williams. The list of talented players goes on and on.

You can read the full article here, but there’s more content I want to share that I couldn’t fit in the article. That’s why I made the 5th installment of The Knuckle Cast.

This podcast features interviews with Gallo, Brinson, Rua, Williams, and manager Corey Ragsdale. My interviews with Mazara, Alfaro, and Guzman were over the phone and needed a translator, so they’re not really worth sharing.

I had a lot of fun with this project, and I hope between the article and the podcast you enjoy it a fraction as much as I did.

The Knuckle Cast Episode #5

(This may take a minute to load, but I promise it’s worth the wait.)

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(The Observer link is now broken, so I copied it here.)

Baseball history is being made by the Hickory Crawdads this summer.

The Crawdads have passed their season record of 135 home runs–and there’s still a quarter of the season left. And they’re well on their way to shattering a Class A record set in 1998.

But with the home runs come a lot of swings and misses. The team also is on pace to break the minor league record for strikeouts and become the first team to whiff 1,400 times.

The Crawdads have struck out 10 times or more in more than half of their games, and they’re hit multiple home runs in more than a third of their games. This has led them to be the fourth-highest scoring team in teh South Atlantic League and the second-worst team in batting average and on-base percentage.

Cradads second baseman Ryan Rua leads all of minor league baseball with 29 home runs. At age 23, he is older than most players in the league, and there isn’t much precedent for sluggers his age making it from Class A to the majors.

But he is playing on a team filled with potential and loaded with some of the best young talent in baseball.

On a rainy afternoon last month in Hickory, seven scouts watched the Crawdads, the youngest South Atlantic League team.

The club includes five of the Texas Rangers’ top 10 prospects, according to Baseball Prospectus, an amateur baseball scouting service. The Rangers, Hickory’s major league parent club invested $13.7 million in those five players.

That collection of talent on one Class A team is rare. The Arkansas Travelers, the Angels’ Class AA affiliate, is the only other minor league team with even four hitters among the team’s top 10 prospects.

With a With a starting lineup whose average age is nearly three years younger than the rest of the South Atlantic League, Hickory’s talent has keyed the Crawdads’ run to first place in the Northern Division.

“For me being the older guy,” Rua said, “it’s fun to watch them and their talents they have at such a young age.”

While manager Corey Ragsdale said the players aren’t close to where they need to be as hitters, he also said there isn’t another minor league team he’d trade his for because of its sheer talent.

“This is their first full year of baseball,” Ragsdale said. “A bunch of them would be freshman in college right now. Some of the Latin kids would even be seniors in high school still. It’s a pretty big jump; they’re facing kids older than them every day of the season.”

Third baseman Joey Gallo, 19, and center fielder Lewis Brinson, have accounted for nearly a third of the team’s home runs and more than a quarter of the team’s strikeouts. The two were drafted 10 picks apart last year and have roomed together for two years.

Gallo led the minors in home runs before suffering a groin injury that has kept him out for a short stint. He has what one scout called “majestic power.” Brinson is an excellent defender with power and speed. He has 17 home runs and 16 stolen bases.

Even though they stigned for a combined $3.875 million, the two live small. Gallo grew up in Las Vegas, where he often would head to the Strip for dinner and a show on the weekend. Now, he and Brinson spend a lot of time playing video games.

“Maybe we can go out to eat a little more, but that’s about it,” Gallo said.

The other three young potential stars arrived through a different route. Catcher Jorge Alfaro, 20, right fielder Nomar Mazara, 18, and first baseman Ronald Guzman, 18, signed with Texas in international free agency. Mazara got the biggest bonus of the group: $5 million.

The three live together in an apartment with shortstop Luis Marte. Mazara, Guzman and Marte, along with 11 other crawdads played last year for Ragsdale in Arizona, where they won the Arizona League rookie title. Since they’ve been together for more than a year, they have chemistry and can overcome a language barrier.

“We always mess around, saying stuff in Spanish–mostly bad words because that’s all we know–and they say a lot of bad words in English to us,” Gallo said. “We all get along really well, and it’s a lot of fun being with people that are from different places in the world and grew up a little different than you did.”

After finishing a half-game out of first place in the first half, the Crawdads now are third in the Northern Division. For the season, they are 2 1/2 games out of first.

The fans have taken notice of the team’s talent and success; attendance which had been falling during recent years, is up slightly to 2,075 fans per game.

The players also see how special this team is and sometimes envision themselves playing together with the Rangers in the future.

“We have a tremendous amount of talent on this team,” Gallo said. “I don’t see why this whole team can’t move up together and make it up to the top.”

Categories: MLB, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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