After a summer's worth of intense workouts, some of which included participation by himself and his staff, Jared Kaaiohelo was armed with a slew of numbers to present to the team to illustrate the sum gain of their combined hours of work. Numbers that would drive home the point of how much improvement they had made as a team.
As the Owls gathered for the opening team meeting of the training camp, their boisterous leader who punctuated crack-of-dawn workouts with his vocal exhortations was having trouble speaking above a whisper, much less rising to his feet, thanks to the onset of a summer cold.
But in coaching, the show must go on, and when the time came for Kaaiohelo to make his presentation, the spark returned and the voice regained its full timber as he applauded the Owls for the sacrifices they had made, and summarized the results they had achieved:
o Bench Press- 19 players maxed at better than 350lbs, including six over 400;
o Back Squat-25 players over 400lbs, 19 over 450lbs and 18 over 500lbs
o Clean-33 players over 300lbs, 10 over 330lbs, two over 350lbs, one over 400lbs
"Coach Kaaiohelo and his staff did an amazing job with our team this summer," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "The media who came out on Saturday kept talking about how much bigger our guys looked. They did a tremendous job of getting them ready for the season."
A few days removed from his presentation, Kaaiohelo reflected on the summer's effort, their results and the process used to reach these heights.
"We divided the team into four groups. The first group was the incoming freshmen and then into Level 1, 2 or 3. The freshmen need to be one group because they on a different program designed to introduce them to our approach. Level 1 are players that we feel need more body development. This would be the younger players, the redshirts, who need to gain weight. Level 2 are players such as Keshawn Carrington, who have reached the body size that we'd like, and now need to increase their overall power. We're not really looking to add additional size," Kaaiohelo explained.
"Level 3 are players such as Scott Solomon and Cheta Ozougwu. We're not chasing numbers with these guys. Scott can pull 421 off the floor in the clean and do 40 reps of 225 on the bench. We're working with these guys on maximizing their bodies to be efficient and dominant on the field," he stated.
Unlike old approaches that lumped players into workout programs by positions, Kaaiohelo and staff were able to streamline workouts by grouping players by conditioning goals. This led for some interesting pairings at times in the weight room, but the effect was to keep everyone on track to become more effective on the field.
"We asked ourselves, how often has a game ever been decided by the numbers on a bench press or a squat," he recalled. "It's easy to get caught up in numbers, but the goal here is to develop better athletes, not big numbers," he added.
The Owls also found themselves spending time away from the traditional implements of weight training, as the Owls strength staff introduced a slew of "combative training" exercises.
"They're designed to work in short bursts and improve your recovery time. Football is about bursts of power and the need to recover quickly. They also allow for a greater range of movement than some of the traditional workouts," Kaaiohelo explained. "It also breaks up the routine of workouts. It gets old doing the same things all summer."
The Owls biggest challenge of the new workouts was to familiarize themselves with the new activities. "The first day, we had a lot of guys who looked like they were boxing kangaroos," he laughed. "Once they got it down, they really seemed to like it. "
Just to reassure the team, Kaaiohelo and his staff joined in the combative training workouts from time to time.
As he reflected upon the gains of the summer, Kaaiohelo offered one other reason for the tremendous success the summer had produced.
"We all know each other so much better. Last year, our strength staff was still coming together. I was just getting to know Scott (McLafferty, the solo holdover from the previous conditioning staff) and AJ (Andrew John) and Rusty (Witt) were just coming on board. We have a year of working as a group and that makes a big difference in our effectiveness in leading the workouts.
"At the same time, we know these players so much better. You only really know a player after you see him in a season. What kind of competitor is he? What kind of teammate is he? You learn what makes guys tick and how to motivate them," he noted.
The end of summer conditioning might have been cause for celebration for the players, since it meant a week off before the start of training camp.
But as the combined team gathered in the upper deck of Rice Stadium's east side after one last run to the top, Kaaiohelo also felt the emotion generated from the completion of a challenge.
"We had all put so much into the summer, the time and the effort. The players had worked so hard and that phase was over. You want it (success) for them more than ever. I will tell you flat out, the way this team approached the summer, it was if they had been 10-2 last year. There was a maturity, a focus and a drive to everything they did. I am proud of them."