Adding fun, but keeping it competitive

christian.caple@thenewstribune.comApril 9, 2014 

SEATTLE — Danny Shelton is an imposing defensive tackle who carries 332 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. He hits and tackles, and occupies the attention of opposing offensive linemen so his teammates can also hit and tackle.

But there he was during Washington’s practice Tuesday morning, sprinting across the end zone before hauling in a touchdown pass from Evan Hudson – who is also a defensive lineman.

Offensive lineman Siosifa Tufunga provided coverage on the play.

Welcome to the realm of new UW strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha, who concocts some wacky, interesting drills in the spirit of competition.

“It’s just stuff we’ve done over the last few years,” Socha said after Tuesday’s practice. “Some of it’s stuff we thought of on our own. Some of it’s stuff we’ve seen other people do. It’s a combination of things to just get our guys in different situations within football, without a football, that kind of makes it fun and have them compete.”

Each practice brings something new. The other day, a pair of offensive linemen high-jumped over a pile of blocking pads. Offensive and defensive players lined up beside each other to see who could push a sled the fastest. Socha pulled out his favorite drill Saturday: capture the flag, in which players must run and jump over some sort of bag before attempting to capture the “flag,” which is a cone protected by two players with large, padded poles.

“They’re all different,” Socha said, “they’re all good, and I like them all.”

Socha, like nearly everyone on UW’s coaching staff, has been an associate of coach Chris Petersen since his early days at Boise State. He was the head strength and conditioning coach for each of Petersen’s eight seasons as coach at BSU, and he played on the offensive line for Minnesota from 1995-98 before earning a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Auburn in 2001.

Considering how much time they spend with players – especially during the offseason – strength coaches must have the total trust of the coach. And it’s obvious Petersen is comfortable with Socha.

“He’s really, really a smart guy,” Petersen said. “He can figure things out. We don’t stay the same ever. We don’t do things just to do things. There’s always a rhyme and a reason, and so all those things I really appreciate.”

Socha’s biggest challenge so far has simply been helping UW’s players adjust to a different workout regimen, one that involves more free-weight and movement exercises.

That was the primary change Socha made to the Huskies’ new weight room – he moved the machines out and “basically simplified” the way the room is organized.

UW has also hired a full-time nutritionist to monitor players’ diets, with Socha citing sleep habits and nutrition as the two most important elements of taking the next step toward “being great.”

It’s all part of Socha’s effort to, as he puts it, “make them the best football players they can be.”

That starts with speed and strength, Socha said, noting that the game has changed in a very noticeable way since he was blocking defenders at Minnesota.

“It was, ‘Pound and ground and 3 yards and a cloud of dust,’ ” he said. “Now, it’s not that anymore. It’s throw the ball out to the side and see how fast you can get upfield, so we’ve got to have guys that can respond to that. Conditioning-wise, we’ve got to be able to respond. Every 20 seconds we’re running a play, it seems, nowadays in college football, so you’ve got to condition toward that and just make our guys in the best football shape they can be, and get them on the field fast.”

Players seem to have taken to him – and especially to those unique competitions he comes up with.

“Anytime you can do something that makes them compete, and it’s not necessarily just running plays or just doing things like that – putting them in different situations – it’s going to help them learn about competing and they have fun with it, as well,” Socha said. @ChristianCaple

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