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FOOTBALL: Packing a punch

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, September 9, 2005

Last week the Irish line didn’t give up a sack, helped its running backs rush for 275 yards and chased the play all game.

Credit strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza for the stamina that the line showed.

“I think he does a great job,” offensive line coach John Latina said. “It doesn’t surprise me that our kids are in pretty good shape.”

Running back Darius Walker said he feels as though this season he doesn’t get as tired as a result of the strength program.

“It has definitely improved my game,” the sophomore said. “Getting out there playing and running the ball, I’m not as tired now. When you know you can get out there and do the job and not have to worry about being tired, it makes your job a lot easier.”

And the Irish have also benefited from their new facility, the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. The Haggar Fitness Center is twice the size of the team’s old facility in Loftus. It contains more than 250 pieces of weight training equipment in addition to six plasma screen televisions. The adjacent room consists of a 45×18 turf field for workouts and exercises. Next to that is a 50-yard track for speed workouts.

“Best in the country,” said Mendoza, who formerly coached at the University of Mississippi. “I left Ole Miss building a new weight room and coming to this situation and having a little bit to say what was going on here – it’s the best in the country.”

And Mendoza used the Irish facility to push his players. He installed a “110 test” in which the Irish had to complete 18 consecutive 110-meter runs with a 30 second rest. Skill players had to finish each in 16 seconds, all others in 19.

“I think the conditioning that we received, the team as a whole, was a lot different than any of us ever received,” Walker said. “So I would definitely say the training and the conditioning that we received from Coach Mendoza kind of put us over the top.”

Mendoza is a coach who prides himself in having players who are in shape.

“My philosophy’s always been about being in great shape,” he said. “I think when you come into camp being in great shape, I think you’re focused on what you’re doing. At the same time, it builds confidence in what you’re doing.”

While most high school players think they need to put on weight before they get to college, Mendoza said he stresses another part of the game – conditioning.

“One of the things I emphasize to our freshmen coming in, I don’t emphasize for them to work on their strength gain, I tell them they need to come in being in shape,” Mendoza said. “The first thing we send them is the conditioning manual.”

Mendoza also said the Irish had to adapt to some new exercises, such as squatting, which develops the legs.

“These kids have never squatted,” he said. “My first week they struggled with 315 pounds. We’ve made some big kids. Most of these kids are at 550 pounds. When I left Ole Miss we had three kids that squatted over 700 pounds. Not that that’s what we need to work to, but I like to get these kids to where they’re squatting 600 pounds.”

And with the “Gug” complete, Mendoza has the perfect facility to help him achieve his goals with the Irish.

“We’ve made improvements over the summer,” he said. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re moving in the right direction.”