For off-season training, Neshaminy High School coach Steve Wilmot sticks to basics.
By Al Thompson
Training methods are not unlike politics. Many people have different opinions on what is the right way to plot a course for positive results.
Running a football team, though, is not a democracy. The head coach sets the rules on all strategies, including how to prepare his team for the upcoming season.
Football, even at the high school level, is almost a year-round effort now.
Some coaches want to start the process the day after the season ends, especially if the last game was a loss.
Some coaches want to take a break to rest and mend, some want to wait to get back in the gym for two or three months, say after the Super Bowl, the official end of the gridiron season.
Neshaminy head coach Steve Wilmot doesn’t endorse either plan.
“We’re kind of in between,” he said. “All the research out there says that it’s really good for your mind and your body to recover after a long football season. This year, I think we took three weeks off and we started (training) in December. Three months is too long, I’ll lose the kids’ attention, they’ll start going to gyms…the thing about my philosophy in the weight room and my whole strength and conditioning plan is I want to give the kids everything they possibly need to succeed.
“I don’t want to see them join a gym or have a personal trainer outside of here. I want to make sure I am providing the best weightlifting environment, the best agility and speed program that can possibly be.”
Wilmot was an assistant coach at Neshaminy for 19 years, 18 under longtime head coach Mark Schmidt, who led Neshaminy to the 2001 state championship. Wilmot was an assistant coach on the title team.
Schmidt was, until recently, the head coach at Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia.
Since taking over in 2015, Wilmot has put together back-to-back winning seasons after the Redskins recorded a rare losing campaign under Mike Frederick as head coach in 2014.
Wilmot helped the Redskins forge a 9-4 record in 2015 and a berth in the District One Class 4A playoffs. This past season, Neshaminy finished 10-0 during the regular season, defeated Pennridge in the first round of the district 6A playoffs before ending its season with a 42-14 loss to Garnet Valley.
Expectations can be high for a team that goes 11-1 and is bringing back many key players.
“The thing about high school football is that every year you have a group of kids who graduate, so we have some holes to fill,” Wilmot said. “We lost some really good players, but I feel pretty confident we have some really good players behind them that have a lot of talent. We just have to develop that talent and have a good year next year.”
Offseason weight room training sessions provide the opportunity for team bonding. It’s not a business just yet, so it has to be fun.
The coach also wants one message — his.
Training policies can vary from coach to coach. But there are elements that are common for all coaches and trainers: provide a consistent, safe training workout regimen that transfers to football.
“It’s where we build next year’s team,” Wilmot said. “A lot of people say that but I really mean that. We don’t believe in our kids going out to other places. We want to do it all here. I want to provide everything I can possibly provide for a kid here at Neshaminy.”
The Redskins’ 2016 roster listed 94 players. There are a number of players who play other sports in the winter and spring; but there are at least 70 players at any session. Wilmot must organize, chart and coach during a training afternoon. A recent Tuesday was a squat-testing day. The turnout was huge, but the head coach set up a system to test every player individually, making it look easy with help from his assistant coaches.
“We kind of split up duties in the weight room,” Wilmot said. “I oversee the whole thing, I spend a lot of time researching the best things for us to do.”
On this squat-testing day, Wilmot makes his rounds from rack to rack spotting each player while an assistant records the lift. Like most weight rooms, each player attempting a max lift gets a major push from his teammates.
Two-way lineman Giovanni Figueroa, listed at 6 feet, 255 pounds, talked about the weight room as a place where players become friends. The Redskins definitely showed they have the atmosphere.
“We definitely build friendships in the weight room,” Figueroa said. “We lift each other up. There’s never a dull moment in there. There’s always high intensity. I can never think of a time when I didn’t have a smile on my face looking at my brothers lifting big weight and getting stronger every day. It’s a great environment in there.”
Is the weight room more fun than games?
“I like the games more, to be honest, than practice,” Figueroa said with a laugh. “But you play like you practice; practice like you play. You have to give 100 percent everywhere.”
Wilmot has an assistant coach, Ray Jones, who has been on the staff since 1999. Jones offers advice to players on diet, supplements and sleep.
“We do have a coach on staff who researches a lot of nutrition stuff,” said Wilmot, referring to Jones. “He weighs the kids in about once every three weeks and in that process we do a (school) class at a time. So he’ll talk to all the 12th-graders and give them a 10-minute talk on eating, a 10-minute talk on what they should be doing as far as hydrating and making sure they get their sleep. We just reinforce the most important messages that are out there. Then we weigh the kids in and get actual feedback. Their weights are important. Some kids are trying to gain weight, some kids are trying to lose weight, and some kids are just trying to maintain. Every kid has an individualized plan as far as the nutrition goes.”
There are many philosophies: old-school bench press, squats and deadlift ruled high school weight rooms for decades.
Today, many schools have Olympic-style lifting equipment on site for core-focused weight-training programs that include movements such as the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Again, Wilmot mixes it up with his basic philosophy coming from disciplines he learned at the beginning of his coaching career.
Wilmot, who said he was certified by a national-level training association at one point, takes those lessons and lessons he learned from one of the iconic programs in college football.
“When I was a young strength coach, I spent a lot of time researching different things,” said Wilmot, who has served as strength and conditioning coach during his entire tenure at Neshaminy. “I guess when I originally started, it was at the height of the Nebraska weightlifting program. So a lot of the stuff I do here is rooted in periodization, which means starting off with higher reps and lower weight to work on gaining muscle mass and then kind of working your way down to the spectrum and ending up with high weight, low reps to really work on that strength component.”
Wilmot charts everything his players do from their actual routine to their max lifts. The coach gives each player what he believes are the percentages of improvement they should be achieving.
“It’s set up on a Microsoft Excel sheet, then they go down to what their one-rep max is, then they follow the workout for the week.”
It is obvious that Wilmot believes the way he has his players train transfers to success on the field.
“I spend a lot of time on it, I really do,” said Wilmot, whose policy is not to have a player do the same workout two weeks in a row. “I spend a lot of time researching. I’m not here to burn a kid out. There are heavy weeks, there’s lighter weeks, there are recovery weeks.”
Confidence for his program also shows in his players moving on to play sports in college.
Two-way lineman Chris Wilson is headed to Wagner College; wide receiver safety Zach Tredway is taking his skills to Monmouth College; quarterback Mason Jones is still up in the air but most likely it’s Delaware; sources predict fullback/linebacker Hayden Rooney is most likely headed to Lycoming; running back Will Dogba is undecided; Big Eddie Parry will be playing baseball at East Stroudsburg; tight end Ben Raab will also be playing baseball, but he is not sure where.
High school football is supposed to be fun, and Wilmot wants it that way and believes he accomplishes that. Watching the Neshaminy players get ready for their squat testing to see how each guy has advanced, plus the turnout, it is clear his players are enjoying their offseason football experience.
“The kids love it,” Wilmot said. “The kids eat it up. I have to literally chase them out of the weight room (at the end of the day). I try to educate the kids. They need to rest in order to build that muscle back up.”
But the players have goals.
“Our goals are always to get bigger, faster and stronger,” said wide receiver/linebacker Mike Garlick, listed at 5-8, 162 pounds. “We’re always working hard towards these goals. We have conditioning on Saturdays and we’re starting early. Even before we start on the team (football strategy), the guys who were out there last year kind of get how much it really plays out on the field and how much work you put in the weight room in the offseason. And what it’s (work) worth in the regular season. So we all started early.”
Garlick says he wants to play football in college and is hoping a standout senior season will open some doors.
“I’d love to play football in college,” he said. “I love playing football. I’m going to play it by day. Eventually, the hard work will pay off.”
Many high school strength programs have awards and/or clubs to acknowledge dedication and achievements in the weight room. Neshaminy has one of the all-time classics.
The “Redskin 11” has been around for longer than anyone can remember…literally. Wilmot said the honor that singles out the 11 best lifters each year was at the Bucks County school long before he arrived almost two-and-a-half decades ago.
“It’s been around forever,” Wilmot said. “I really don’t know when it started but it is a tradition that is still very big today.”
Several underclassmen made the “Redskin 11” last year, including sophomore tight end Oleh Manzyk, sophomore running back Emmanuel Ampofo, junior wide receivers John Hughes and Garlick and junior linemen Nick Napadano and Shane Secrest.
Napadano, who looks to expand his role this season to include a lot of snaps on defense to complement his starting job on the OL, says he is not focusing on specific weight total to reach but to be a leader on and off the field.
“My goals for this season are to make myself the best person I can possibly be,” Napadano said. “Not just on the field but for everybody on the team, in the weight room, just to help everyone out and do whatever needs to be done.”
Napadano showed that maturity by not taking the bait when asked about the Redskins’ chances next season.
“I think we should work hard, keep working hard during the season,” the 5-10, 240-pounder said. “And we’ll see what happens.”
Regardless of what happens, one thing you can predict for Neshaminy in 2017. The Redskins will be prepared. ••