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.
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.”
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