UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING
Traditional Wyoming football is back, tougher than ever, and the Cowboys plan to rise to the occasion with another championship season.
By Kim Goss
Published: Fall 1999
When the Western Athletic Conference expanded from 10 to 16 teams three years ago, making it the largest conference in the nation, everyone agreed it would be a positive step. It would mean more high school athletes would be exposed to WAC football, leading to better recruiting and a therefore a higher caliber of competition.
Such are what dreams are made of. With the expansion came a loss of tradition, which in turn bled the hearts of the fans and made the games less exciting. Wyoming, which had been with the WAC since the league was formed in 1962, was feeling lost in the shuffle.
“There's a tremendous sense of pride in Wyoming,” says Head Strength Coach Scott Bennett. “We have a statewide, small-town type of atmosphere, and everyone is set in their ways. When the WAC expanded we got away from the exciting rivalries we had with BYU, Air Force and Utah. Yes, we were playing some great schools, but the people in our state couldn't identify with them. They couldn't get all worked up about playing Rice as much as they could with Utah, and it took away from the tradition. The WAC got spread too thin, becoming just too big of a conference for everyone to be happy.”
Admitting that the expansion had gotten out of hand, this year the Cowboys joined forces with many of its WAC charter members to form a smaller conference called Mountain West. In addition to Wyoming, the new league consists of Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Utah. Although it was upsetting for the charter schools to leave a conference they were involved with for almost three decades, the move was the right thing to do.
Now that the tradition has returned to Wyoming, the Cowboys have focused their efforts on making their presence felt in their new league. Last year they won eight games, but with two loses in the WAC they were passed up for a bowl. This year with eight returning starters on defense and five on offense (including junior quarterback Jay Stoner), the Cowboys are looking mighty good on paper. And with a September 4th opener against defending National Champions Tennessee, we'll know quickly just how tough these Cowboys are.
To prepare for their new season, Bennett challenged his Cowboys in the off-season to bring their strength program to the next level with higher goals and expectations. And if anyone knows about setting and achieving higher goals and expectations, it's Bennett.
Have Strength Coach,
When Bennett accepted the challenge last year as head strength coach for the Cowboys, it was the culmination of a long journey that had him criss-crossing the continent. “When I was much younger, my grandmother rented a room to a coach at my high school, a man who is now the strength coach of the New England Patriots. That man is Johnny Parker, and he's responsible for inspiring me to be in this profession.”
With his career goal set, Bennett decided it would be in his best interest to attend the University of Mississippi. “My dad said I could go anywhere I wanted to after high school, but that it would be paid for at Ole Miss.” After graduating with a double major in sports management and sports medicine in 1989, Bennett took assistant strength coaching positions at Clemson (1990), Virginia Tech (1993) and then Marshall (1996). At Marshall he saw his first team go 15-0 and win the Division I-AA National Championship, and such success caught the attention of the football coaching staff at University of Wyoming in Laramie. They were impressed with Bennett's accomplishments and enthusiasm. As a result, in January of 1998 Bennett settled into his most prestigious job, Head Strength Coach at the University of Wyoming. “The biggest difference at Wyoming is that I'm in a higher profile job-everything runs through me.”
The heart of Bennett's strength program is a 5600-square-foot facility consisting primarily of heavy duty, core free-weight equipment such as lifting platforms, power racks, Olympic benches and of course, tons of iron. For the non-athletes, the University has built an impressive facility that Bennett says has much more of a health club environment with leverage machines and high-tech aerobic equipment.
Bennett says that he developed his approach to training athletes by researching strength programs that were doing well and assimilating their best methods into his overall system. “I work on what you might call a “scratch where it itches” basis,” says Bennett. “If our leg strength is not as good as it needs to be, I'll find out whose program is doing well in that area and apply their ideas to our program.” Bennett also credits his many mentors and co-workers at Ole Miss, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Marshall for teaching him the ABCs and XYZs of strength coaching.
Building the Foundation
Bennett says his core lifts for the football team are variations of the squat and the Olympic lifts, plus basic heavy-duty upper body exercises such as the bench press. “We perform back squats, front squats, power cleans, snatches, push presses and bench presses--to name just a few.” It sounds like we do it all, and we eventually do in a year-round program, but the key to success for our athletes is developing a good foundation of strength. If your strength foundation is there, your speed and your power are going to improve. But, number one, you've got to have a strength base.”
Although there are still skeptics who preach about the dangers of performing Olympic lifting exercises and squats, Bennett has found that the myths surrounding strength training are not as prevalent today as the public has become more educated about the field. The key to safety, he says, is a proper teaching progression. “I don't think that training younger athletes with lighter weights and teaching them how to move their body in a natural way is dangerous at all.”
One important component of Bennett's conditioning system is a focus on plyometric training, which he says comprises about 10 percent of his total program. “When you put plyometrics in at the right spots, after your strength base has been built, I think it can be an ultra valuable asset to your program. But you've got to have a good foundation of leg strength, especially when you get into those “high dollar” plyometrics such as depth jumps. If you're legs are not strong enough, you're just not going to be able to get that pop you need when you jump off a box.”
Another key component of Bennett's program is box squats. “We teach our athletes to box squat right off the bat. Besides taking a lot of stress off the knees because you don't have such an acute knee-joint angle, it teaches you to sit way back. And because the box is going to gauge your depth, going deep enough never really becomes a problem. Obviously when we take the box out from under them there is some adjustment because your knees have to go more forward to make it more natural, but our technique just seems to be picture perfect.”
Bennett got hooked on box squats through powerlifting guru Louie Simmons, one of the most accomplished powerlifting coaches in the world. Coach of the famous Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, Simmons has trained dozens of world champions and world record holders. “I competed in powerlifting when I was at Virginia Tech, and at that time I read Louie's articles and visited him quite a bit,” says Bennett. “I got involved with what Louie did, which included using box squats, and started doing them myself. They worked, and they worked well without beating up my body when I was doing rep testing. When you get where you can squat about 650 and start doing rep testing, it's gets rather taxing on the body.
“At Marshall, we played every home game and practiced every practice on the Astro turf. That turf is a monkey, you know--really tough on the body. During the season our players couldn't do many regular squats because their knees and hips were h