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Morton Power - Morton High School
How a new action plan powered up the Morton High School football program
By Kim Goss
Published: Fall 2003

There is strength in numbers, and that explains a lot about the past record of Morton High School's football program. No numbers, no strength. In the ten years before head coach Anthony Grazzini took over the program two years ago, this Division 2A school in Berwyn-Cicero, Illinois, suffered through a cumulative record of 0-27 over the past several seasons. One element of their dismal formula for failure was low participation from the student body. In 2000, for example, only 130 athletes tried out for the team. Within two years, more than twice as many tried out. Here's what turned those numbers around.
During the first weeks of January 2001 the newly hired football coaches for the Mustangs gathered together after finishing their initial strength testing. The best lifts among the strongest players included a 235 bench press, a 360 squat, a 205 power clean and a 225 push press. These disappointing results, plus a general lack of interest among the student body to participate in football, were the motivation to develop an action plan to get their program on track.
At the start of the meeting the coaches watched excerpts from the movie Field of Dreams to help them brainstorm about what a strength and conditioning program really means. After much passionate debate, they arrived at the following guiding principles for their new strength and conditioning program: The program would be unified, include incentives for success in all areas and emphasize variety in functional, explosive exercises. "Once our guiding principles were established, it was easy to see that BFS would be the prefect model for our program," says Grazzini.
A long-term goal was to improve the facilities, and this year the Mustangs realized their goal of transforming their weight room into a state-of-the-art "power center." A major commitment was made to their vision as they filled this 38' x 68' space with three Elite Training Stations, three Ultimate Racks, new plyometric boxes, three new platforms for cleans and hex bar deadlifts and much, much more. "The power center has become the envy of the conference as other coaches have visited to copy our design," says Grazzini. "It has created a buzz in the program and our athletes rush to be the first ones to the weight room. BFS has been great!"

Doing the Math

The success of the program is apparent in its recent numbers. In 2000 Morton High School had only 130 athletes interested in playing football, but this year 319 athletes tried out, making football a cut sport for the first time since the 1970s. More importantly, those bodies were stronger. Much stronger. The best 2001 scores were matched or exceeded by trainee after trainee in 2003. This year 34 athletes benched 235, 19 squatted 360, 16 cleaned 205 and 23 push pressed 225. "The Mustangs have worked every day for almost three years to get to this point," says Grazzini.
Individual records include sophomore Arturo Avalos's 340 bench press, senior James Topps's 540 squat, and senior Chris Garcia's 270 power clean and 290 push press. These 2003 Mustangs are also faster, with the most impressive performance turned in by sophomore Johnny Popek, who Grazzini says credits the BFS emphasis on plyometric training for his time of 4.5 in the 40 and 10.86 in the 100 meters.
"Our football team has moved from Bigger Fatter Slower to Bigger Faster Stronger," says Grazzini. BFS has allowed our kids to see results consistently, the flexibility of the program has enabled our students to be multi-sport athletes and we have gotten to the point where we don't have to worry about getting kids to lift," says Grazzini.
In 2002 Morton had its best season in 10 years, and the Mustang football team continues to take the necessary steps during the off season to achieve its next goal --making the playoffs for the first time since 1983. Says Grazzini, "The Mustangs know the road to the playoffs is in the weight room, and as you exit our power center, the last thing you will see is our banner "CHAMPIONSHIPS BEGIN HERE!"



Grazzini believed the football program had great potential, but only if he could sell the athletes on the conditioning program. "We realized our kids had to understand why this was important if we were to get them committed to the program. Our strategy was to sensationalize what we were doing, provide feedback and incentive, and to continually sell the vision we created." Here are the steps they implemented:

Use the BFS model of including variety in all phases to keep our kids interested and allow their bodies to adapt to each phase of the program.

Have all the grades work out together, so that the seniors are role models for the younger athletes.

Reward the consistent hard workers by making them weightlifting captains, and assigning them the responsibilities of taking their group's attendance and making sure their athletes are doing all their lifts with the correct technique.

Create strength clubs for achieving goals in our core lifts: clean, squat, bench, and push press. On test dates, as athletes reach these goals, we work our kids into a frenzy and then announce the records, hand out T-shirts as rewards and immediately update our goal board and web page.

Use set-and-rep logs to chart the weights used, track records and allow partners to evaluate each other's efforts.

Incorporate the Tuesday/Thursday speed, agility and plyometric program in a circuit, followed by a competitive activity as a culminating event at the end of each session.

Include a fun activity once a week.

Encourage our athletes to never settle for average. Push them to go beyond their optimal training zone. Push them to "Be An Eleven." These athletes thrive on being pushed.

SR James Topps getting ready for another record breaking squat.
Art Avalos benching 340 pounds. He also was able to add an additional 10 lbs to his bench over the summer.
Michael Schuppe who did 260 lbs last May recently power cleaned 385 lbs in fall camp.
Coach Grazzini spots James Topps who squatted 540 lbs during last May’s testing. Just recently James did 575 lbs.

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