Plato is credited with coining the term "necessity is the mother of invention," and thousands of years after the Greek philosopher pointed out that everlasting truth, college football players are putting it into ingenious practice.
While most NFL players shut out of their team's facilities due to COVID-19 can have gym equipment delivered to their doorsteps with just a few mouse clicks, not many college players have the financial means to do that. So, with college campuses closed and local gyms largely shut down over the last couple of months, college players – in particular, draft prospects who have more at stake to be in peak physical shape this fall – are employing all sorts of household items for weight training.
- Squatting heavy tree logs.
- Tossing sacks of quick-dry cement powder.
- Loading weight bars with cinder blocks or truck tires.
“You’re pretty much just looking for the heaviest thing around. At one point, I was trying to lift a 40-pound box of cat litter.” Oklahoma State wide receiver Tylan Wallace
And that's just the beginning. Strength and conditioning coaches from across the college game say they have seen videos of players do everything from curling propane grill tanks to deadlifting iron tubs filled with full bags of fertilizer. Anything they can get their hands on, apparently, is in bounds.
"You're pretty much just looking for the heaviest thing around," said Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace, one of the top wide receiver prospects for the 2021 draft. "At one point, I was trying to lift a 40-pound box of cat litter."
Utah quarterback Jake Bentley, who transferred from South Carolina and will draw attention from NFL scouts this fall, constructed his own barbell rack out of lumber. According to Baylor strength coach Corey Campbell, Bears linebacker Michael McNair did the same.
Give the multi-tasking award to Washington offensive tackle Ulumoo Ale, who got in a workout while splitting logs with an ax. And for pure ingenuity, you can't beat the "slosh bar." That's the name Penn State OL Will Fries gave to a contraption his father built that required a six-foot length of PVC pipe with a six-inch diameter, filled halfway with water, and sealed at both ends.
"You can do a ton of stuff with it. You can press it over your head or squat with it, and it's challenging because there's a lot of water sloshing one way or the other and it's great for working your balance, your core," Fries said.
New Florida State strength coach Josh Storms, along with four other strength coaches who spoke with NFL.com, said they prescribed home workouts for players that were individualized as much as possible, based on how much proper weight equipment each has at home, although many have none at all. But none of the coaches are asking players to lift mom's antique vanity or push around dad's favorite chair.
"The creative stuff, they're doing all that on their own," said Storms. "We set up a few different (workout) plans, one that was equipment-based for guys that had real weights, and another body-weight resistance version (push-ups, sit-ups, etc.) for all the guys who had nothing, and those are the guys that seem to be trying out different things. I know a lot of moms and dads are looking out the window at dead backyards right now, from guys dropping weights on it and tearing up the grass with speed-ladder drills."
NCAA rules are restrictive regarding the interaction strength coaches can have with players at this time of year. They can't oversee live workouts, even by videoconferencing. They can't conduct any weigh-ins or coordinate group workouts. When players post workout videos to social media, strength coaches aren't even allowed to promote them with a retweet or a "like". They could provide players workouts to do at home and provide them with a few workout items; Baylor's Campbell said Bears players were sent resistance bands and a jump rope. But none of it is a great substitute for free weights.
"The most creative thing I've seen is guys using 5-gallon jugs of water. It's utilizing what you have," Campbell said.
Not every strength coach wants to see players hoisting heavy household items, however. Pittsburgh strength coach Mike Stachiotti said he has injury concerns with some of the workout videos he's seen online or sent to his phone.
"I discouraged a lot of that stuff for safety reasons," Stachiotti said. "I'm sure guys did stuff without me knowing … but if I saw a guy loading a tree log on his back and running stadiums like (the 1985 film) Vision Quest, that would set me off a little. I think it's commendable the way some guys figured out a way to get things done, but on our end, we were more concerned with player safety."
"I know a lot of moms and dads are looking out the window at dead backyards right now, from guys dropping weights on it and tearing up the grass with speed-ladder drills." Florida State strength coach Josh Storms
It many respects, the Coronavirus pandemic has created a lost offseason for college players.
Aside from makeshift workouts during an extended period away from football facilities, most were deprived of spring practice. The NCAA allows 15 practices in the spring, including three scrimmages, giving coaches a clearer picture of what their teams will look like in the fall. It's a golden opportunity for offseason improvement, and many schools hadn't even begun spring practice when campuses were shut down. Some only got in a few practices; Arizona State's early start made it one of the lucky programs from that standpoint -- the Sun Devils got in nine of the allotted 15 practices before campuses closed.
When players are allowed to return and begin preparing for football season, they'll arrive in widely varying stages of readiness -- access to weight equipment, nutrition and work ethic are just three of the factors that will force strength coaches to reassess every player. Storms intends to classify players in three groups: those who are most ready to take the field, a middle group, and those who are a long way from where they should be. Another unknown is how much time players will have to work out on campus before practices begin.
"Coming back, we have to assume they didn't do anything at all," Stachiotti said. "We'll have to gather some baseline information and start pacing guys at different levels. And we'll do the best we can with whatever time we have before they get on the field."
It also makes for a different dynamic for NFL scouts as they evaluate 2021 draft prospects this fall.
Without the benefit of spring practice or a fully involved and supervised offseason workout program, players can't possibly be as sharp as they normally would be when practices begin. Scouts will notice. It's their job not to miss anything.
"The soft tissue injuries might be worse coming back. Guys can get labeled as a soft-tissue injury guy, and maybe you have to step back and realize this (shut-down) contributed to some of that. But for things like body-typing, we can't really grade guys on a curve. I'd be amazed if (evaluations) weren't conducted business as usual," said an area scout for an AFC team. "You might write up a sloppier body type than usual, but you don't fully grade a guy in September anyway. Guys should look the way they're supposed to look by the time they get through the season and get into the draft process."
Storms expects players with a chance to be drafted next spring will be the ones maximizing their time during stay-at-home orders.
"Those are the ones you worry least about, because they have more on the line," Storms said. "I think those guys with that dream getting close to reality, they're going to have that heightened sense of urgency, even working out at home."
Urgency, and of course, creativity.