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MCGILL: Herd makes record-breaking gains in weight room

Nate Devers and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal.
Aug. 24, 2016

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It took 12 years for James Rouse to equal Chris Massey’s 500-pound bench press record for the Marshall University football program. It took one offseason for three current players to knock them out of the shared top spot.

It was a banner offseason for the Thundering Herd strength and conditioning program, which is spearheaded by first-year coach Luke Day. Offensive lineman Nate Devers set the new bench press standard at 525 pounds, preventing defensive lineman Gary Thompson and linebacker Davon Durant from becoming the new record-holders at 505 pounds.

Those are three of 37 fresh marks set by the football program last month in six categories: bench press, power clean, pro bench (number of repetitions at 225 pounds), squat, vertical jump and broad jump.

“If you’re going to break the o-line or d-line record here,” Day said, “you’ve got to be able to move some weight because there’s been a lot of strong guys here.”



Here’s the way it works: MU strength coaches update two big boards in the weight room that list the all-time record-holder, regardless of position, followed by the top five performances in three different position groups. Offensive and defensive linemen are judged together; fullbacks, tight ends and linebackers compete; and quarterbacks, receivers, running backs and defensive backs are pitted against one another.

That’s 16 total names on the board for the six aforementioned categories. That means 37 lifts and jumps were good enough to place in the top five all-time for each of those categories.

“It’s crazy the strides we’ve been making,” said Devers, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound redshirt sophomore who also lost seven pounds from last year’s listed weight. “A lot of it is mental. If you think about how much weight is on that bar, you’re not going to get the reps.”

In the squat, there were seven lifts good enough to qualify in the top five performances. Redshirt junior running back Tony Pittman, who added nine pounds to push his weight to 212, squatted 610 pounds – the all-time record for skill position players (Aaron Johnson, at 600 pounds, set the previous standard in 2007).

All three positional power clean records fell. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Levi Brown lifted 360 pounds, breaking Ryan Riedel’s mark, which was set last year. In fact, four of the top five linemen power clean lifts in program history were set last month.

Durant, a 6-2, 232-pound junior, set the power clean record for his group with 365 pounds (Raheem Waiters, at 350 pounds, had the top spot since 2014). Tight ends Emanuel Byrd and Ryan Yurachek also qualified for the top five in Herd football history.

Senior receiver Josh Knight, at 335 pounds, set the power clean record for skill positions, barely edging out workout warrior Deon-Tay McManus (330 pounds).

In addition to Devers’ all-time bench mark, all three position records fell in that category: Devers for the linemen, Durant for the fullbacks-tight ends-linebackers and McManus (460 pounds) for the skill positions. McManus’ record edged a 14-year-old mark held by Butchie Wallace (550 pounds). That was the second-oldest record to fall next to Massey’s bench mark, which he had held or shared since 2001.

Six vertical jumps made the record board, including three skill players: Knight (38 inches), freshman defensive back Jaylon McClain-Sapp (37) and senior receiver Justin Hunt (37).

Day said 28 players saw their vertical jump increase by two or more inches since March, and some players added as much as four inches.

“The biggest thing we were impressed with is a lot of guys put some substantial increases on their vertical and broad,” Day said. “When NFL scouts come in they ask about those types of measurables. Not every program squats so it’s hard to compare a guy from this school to a guy from that school, but everybody does a vertical and a broad. You can see some athletic potential and how explosive a guy is with that.”

“Most of the time you’re hoping for 1 inch per year,” he added. “When guys did that, it was an eye-opener.”

Five new marks were set in the broad jump, including the linemen record owned and reestablished by redshirt freshman Damien Dozier. He added three inches to his old record for a new mark of 10 feet, 7.5 inches.

There were so many players who bested the minimum qualifications to make the board that they’ll never see their names listed in the weight room. The bar to qualify in the top five at each position and in each category has been pushed higher than ever.

Devers credited Day and the assistant strength coaches.

“I think the biggest thing was Coach Day came in and made us all believers,” Devers said. “He was able to take the best out of us and made us want to come to work every day.

“It was important to him and that made it that much more important to us. He made everything full body. It was abs and the core and everything. It really helped our full body strength. It paid off, obviously, as you see with the numbers.”

Day heaped praise on his staff and the players for buying in. Their workouts can be unique, he said.

“That improvement is a credit to them becoming more flexible and also learning how to be more authoritative when they move,” Day said. “When you have more command over your body, you have more of a response when you tell it to move.

“Those guys are clearly on a mission.”