July 19, 2013

Bulldogs' Running Man

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If associate strength and conditioning coach Sherman Armstrong knows who's the fastest player on the Georgia football team he's not about to tell.

No use opening up that can of worms.

"I'm not sure … we've got a lot of guys claiming that title," Armstrong said Friday in an exclusive interview with UGASports.com. "It could go either way. I don't know. We've got a lot of fast guys. I couldn't name that one guy and if I did those other guys are going to say 'Hey.' I'm just excited that we're healthy and guys are getting faster, they know they're getting faster, they know they're getting stronger, that the program's working and the guys are believing in it."

Apparently, there's a lot of believing going on inside the walls of the Butts-Mehre Building when it comes to Georgia's strength and conditioning program.

It's been just over a year since Georgia's revamped strength staff under the direction of Joe Tereshinski officially took shape, starting with the hires of Armstrong and John Thomas in March of 2012 followed by Justin Lovett in June that same year.

For Armstrong, the months that have passed represent a period of time he's extremely proud of.

Although his title reads Associate Director for Strength and Conditioning, the former Illinois track star's specialty is speed - something he knows just a little bit about.

The former founder and chief performance specialist of VAST (velocity, agility, speed, technique), Armstrong was a four-time track All-American and 2000 Big Ten Athlete of the Year at Illinois and an Olympic Trials finalist in the 400-meter hurdles.

"(Speed) is a part of it, surely, but definitely not the whole story. My background, I've been doing strength training for years but speed was just part of it because every sport has to have a dimension that addresses speed and how we're moving," Armstrong said. "So I definitely did my part when it came to developing our athletes and helping them get faster and quicker, but in the weight room I take a lot of pride in what I place in front of them and things that need to be done. In turn they see the selflessness of it and that it's not about me, it's about you and about you getting better as an individual, therefor having a greater impact on the team."

Count senior Garrison Smith as someone who's been impressed with what Armstrong has brought to Georgia's strength training table.

"We (the defensive line) do a lot of work with him," Smith said. "He's able to do things with us that linemen don't normally do. He's definitely got a high knowledge of information that he gives to us and we're able to put those into our game. It's been good to have him to help make us better."

Desired effects achieved

Although Armstrong did not go into specifics of exactly what methods he currently employs, the results are apparently showing.

For example, are Bulldog players actually getting quicker?

"Absolutely and it's not just me saying it. During practice, the strength staff, we're hanging around, we're looking after we warm them up, we might stretch a couple more guys out, we're looking at how they're doing and asking ourselves are we helping his athlete out?" Armstrong said. "We meet with our coaches before summer and they give us a list of things they want each guy to work on. For a lot of them it might be change of direction, acceleration, quickness, that sort of thing, so we take those notes and not only apply it to that individual but try to address the unit because those are some key things that every position needs."

For players like Malcolm Mitchell, the results are telling.

Bulldog receivers have worked extensively with Armstrong over the past year, not only on proper running technique, but have also received tips on quicker starts coming off the ball.

"I believe guys have gotten faster and they know it and that's huge because it's going to give them confidence and knowing that I'm in the best shape that I've ever been in in my life," Armstrong said. "I had a great year last year and this year is going to be phenomenal."

Helping players avoid injuries, particularly hamstrings, is also part of Armstrong's job description.

But facts remain.

Although it's impossible from keeping an athlete from straining or even pulling a hamstring, there are certain measures players can take to make them less likely. Armstrong makes sure that they do.

So far, so good.

Although precise numbers were not available, last year Armstrong said the Bulldogs did not endure as many hamstring injuries as they did in previous years.

"Coach T did say in the past we did have a great occurrence of hamstring issues, but he allowed me to bring a program in that allows us to warm guys up thoroughly and efficiently but also address some of those underactive muscles that could lead to hamstring strains and pulls that could destroy a season," Armstrong explained. "So, we have definitely plugged in elements that will specifically address hamstrings so that they will not get overworked and the other muscles are doing what they are supposed to do as opposed to the hamstring covering for some muscles that may be turned off."

Workouts position-specific

Although workouts are designed to meet an individual's needs, they are specific to the positions they play as well.

"There are a number of things that we do as far as quickness that relate to every position but we can and we have taken it to a more position-specific speed development or quickness for that particular position," Armstrong explained. "We look at what the athlete has to do on the field and plug it into a drill that may have some sort of resistance on it that once that resistance is lifted will help make that athlete quicker. But it's a cumulative effect, it has to happen over time so the speed work we do position-specific wise is kind of a journey and the athlete has to be disciplined to come in at least three times a week in order for us to see some kind of benefit from it within five to six weeks."

So far, that's been the case.

"We've had a huge group of guys that have been doing the speed work consistently, a large number, larger than last year, so they're really buying into the program," Armstrong said. "I've been very pleased."

Even Georgia's offensive linemen are getting into the act.

Although Armstrong isn't worried about 40-yard dash times, there are plenty of aspects to speed that can be implemented into making the Bulldogs' offensive line quicker and more efficient.

"A big thing with our guys is hip mobility, getting our guys to bend and be able to move quickly in every position, in every plane of motion with low hips and quick movements," Armstrong said. "That's one of the things and some of the drills that we put into place just emphasizing being low and starting out in that football position then pushing them through a specific drill that they may have.

"So with our big guys it's all about getting them looser at the hips so they can move more fluidly, so they're not uncomfortable, especially in the fourth quarter when we're winded, we're tired but have to get into this perfect stance while we're fatigued, we've got to do this so we can explode."

Gurley, Murray stand out

When Armstrong talks about players buying into the program Georgia's strength staff has installed, two of the team's biggest stars appear to have adapted the most - Todd Gurley and Aaron Murray.

"In Todd I see an explosive athlete that has so much room to grow but I also see a humble athlete, an athlete that's willing to put in the work to meet the goals that he has set. It doesn't just show up in the weight room, it shows in our conditioning," Armstrong said. "He's definitely a leader; he's more vocal than he was last year coming in but vocal in a good way, he's challenging guys and really challenging himself because I'm sure his goals are very high and in order to reach those goals or get close it's going to take a stronger Todd, a quicker Todd, a meaner Todd and a more disciplined Todd and a more focused Todd. He's been just that."

He's challenging teammates in the weight room as well.

"We'll go through an hour and a half workout and every day its core work. We do a little core with the group, but it may not be enough. He'll ask for core work and we'll have it up and he'll go and do it. There's no supervision, he's doing it but he's also grabbing guys to do it with him," Armstrong said. "He's like 'Hey, we need this, let's go to work' so he's leading by example as well."

Armstrong's certainly not shocked that Murray's doing the same.

Prior to coming to Athens, Murray and Armstrong trained together in Tampa.

"He's a workhorse and he's another guy like Todd whose goals are very high, so the expectations are high. He knows there's a lot of naysayers out there and he's got a lot of incentive to prove a lot of people wrong," Armstrong said. "After the Capital One Bowl game, the next day after we got back, he was like 'When are we working out again? Let's work tomorrow.' He's got that mentality that whatever happened before is behind him now, that was last season so let's focus on what we're going to do in 2013.

"He's done phenomenal as far as extra speed work, extra core work, whatever it is but also challenging me to the point that he may have a number in regards to where he is strength wise for whatever lift we're doing but he'll say I can go heavier. He'll do that from time to time and not a lot of athletes do that, they take what's there and that's it. They'll be like I'm feeling pretty good today, that's a good number but he'll say I think I can do heavier and I think I can do better. It's just an attack mentality and I love it."

Gurley and Murray aren't the only ones.

With three of the Bulldogs' first four games against the likes of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU, Armstrong said players are being pushed and challenged during the summer more than a season ago.

"We feel our guys have worked their tails off, even better than last year," he said. "We've pushed them harder because we've got to be ready - midseason form - for these first few games."

The players appear to be paying attention.

"I've noticed a huge change, just because yeah we've lost some guys on defense but I think the bunch that we have now, from what I've experienced, they're quick to listen first, they really want to know what do I have to do as opposed to questioning why am I doing this," Armstrong said. "It's like, OK, this is what we're doing so let's go to work. They start out with a full understanding of what they're supposed to do and they do it."

That wasn't always the case last summer.

"Last year, we had to convince that bunch," Armstrong said. "This year we didn't have to do it at all so this year we've been able to take that energy that we used and plug it into our strength, plug it into our speed, plug it into our conditioning so I think from that standpoint, that's huge."

Armstrong also likes what he's seen from Georgia's incoming freshman class.

"There's some growing that has to occur because the volume and intensity is so much higher than they were in junior college or in high school, so the guys have to get acclimated and they have to get acclimated quick but I've been very impressed by the mentality," he said. "Guys are not loud, causing problems or being disruptive; They're really on task and move at a good pace in the weight room, they show up for extra work and they seem to be very willing to learn the system and how they do it the Georgia way. I think they sense they're going to be some opportunities and I need to be ready."

Loving his new gig

In his prior job, Armstrong worked to help make professional and Olympic-caliber athletes realize their ultimate goals.

While that's still part of his job description, Armstrong said there's also a difference in working with college athletes that has been quite satisfying.

"It's very different because it's a team so the motivation is more than just you've got to make a bunch of money or stay healthy," he said. "We have our goal, whether it's to get to the Dome or we want to win the title … the motivation is huge and it really helps when we say 'Hey, you're not pushing the numbers we need you to push, you're not moving like we need you to move or you're not getting treated like you need to be treated, getting ice baths and taking care of your body because if you break down you're going to hurt us.

"Along with the different motivation tools that I brought with me, now I have 'this is what we're trying to accomplish and we need everybody being on board.' That part is very different for me but I love it. That's why I love being here."

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