New strength coaches helping Hoosiers power up

David Ballou is a football guy, a strength guy, and, perhaps as much as anything else, he’s a numbers guy, too.

Ballou’s data-driven approach to strength and conditioning at Indiana is beginning to take shape.

IU’s new football strength and conditioning coach says that in the six weeks that he and top assistant Dr. Matt Rhea have been on the Bloomington campus, IU players are seeing gains in one of the most important areas of training — power.

Hired in January to help the Hoosiers increase their speed and explosiveness, Ballou is changing the way Indiana approaches workouts.

“What we’ve got to do is get more explosive,” Ballou said. “That can’t just be a word that we throw out there because it’s a good tag word that everybody uses. We’ve got to go measure that and find out what it is.”

How is Ballou measuring it? Afixed to the machines inside the IU weight room are 3-D imaging cameras that gauge “peak power,” which tracks the speed and distance that players move the bars on each machine.

Measured in watts, a player’s peak power is then translated to numbers that Ballou and Rhea use to tailor specific workouts for individual players.

Ballou, a former IU fullback who spent last season in a similar role at Notre Dame, and Rhea previously used this data-driven training approach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where both men worked with top athletes at the high school, collegiate and professional levels.

Rhea, who served as IMG’s head of sports science in 2016-17, played football for three years at UNLV and Southern Utah and has combined his passion for analytics and the game itself to create workouts that home in on a player’s weakest areas in order to foster physical development.

Data and analytics are at the core of each player’s individual workout program.

“You can’t hide from data,” Rhea said. “I think our guys started to understand that when we’re collecting information, it’s to help us identify ways to help them. It stimulates some competitiveness in the weight room as well, so you build that aspect of athletic development. It’s fun to see them compete in the weight room and see data motivate them to improve.”

During his first six weeks with coach Tom Allen’s football program, Ballou and Rhea have focused their attention on helping those along the offensive and defensive lines to harness their strength into a more efficient tool.

“On the football field, there are some strong guys,” Rhea said. “We have to take that strength and turn it into power. Otherwise, you see big strong football players often struggle in a football setting, because the pace is so fast that you don’t have enough time to exert maximum force. So we take that strength and force and turn it into power.”

Ballou says he’s charted a 20- to 30-percent average increase in power output among players from early January to this week.

Of course, it hasn’t been limited to linemen.

“They said I have a lot of potential, (but) my legs are really weak right now,” rising sophomore receiver Whop Philyor said. “That’s (where) they’re saying I can get a lot stronger.”

And a quicker and more explosive version of Philyor could be a scary sight.

“Scary thought for other teams, not us,” Philyor said.

Ballou and Rhea have numbers to analyze each rep taken by players inside the weight room this winter.

The goal? To have a better, bigger, faster and more complete Indiana team come the fall.

“There’s a number for everything that we do, and there’s a range,” Ballou said. “If you want to be average, this is your range. If you want to be above average, this is your range. If you want to be special, this is your range. That’s what we’re going after right now.”

24 comments

    1. I agree in hoping they are on the right track. I am intrigued by the Ballou/Rhea approach to strength and condition. Hopefully others can answer this question I have; is this a cutting edge approach? If so, is it a common approach in College Football or unique to Balloou & Rhea?

      1. I must say, the strength and conditioning coaches my kids encountered were light years ahead of anything I was ever involved in in college. To be honest, they received better coaching in that area in high school than I did in college.

        It’s a brave new world.

  1. It is good to see IU using this technology in strength training. The days of just improving your max lift are over as football takes different muscle groups to work together. Now our players get to see numbers that measure power and explosiveness something that was hard to do without the technology. It will be fun to see what difference it makes come Spring Practice. The 2018 class had faster and more explosive players; they will benefit from this approach to be even better.

    Too many coaches go with has worked in the past and it is good to see IU on the frontlines with this strength program just as they need to be with techniques of offense, defense, and special teams.

  2. Butkus…. Wonder what the analytics would have said of his “explosiveness?” Long time ago…but I don’t think I’ve ever seen more punch/force per pound in a hit. It’s not always about raw strength….It’s channeling every muscle in your body into an optimal delivery package. None better than Butkus.

    1. Mike Curtis, Ray Nitschke, Jack Lambert and Bobby Bell all hit as hard and in my mind harder than Butkus did.

  3. I’ve always thought Walter Peyton was the most powerful athlete I’ve ever seen. Not the biggest or the fastest, but pound for pound the most powerful. I loved how Sweetness delivered the blow to the defender while keeping his legs driving. But then again, I consider Walter Peyton the best football player EVER! It’s a debate that can’t be won, but he gets my vote. Bo Jackson was probably the second most powerful athlete ever, and he avoided weight training like the plaque.

    1. Bo was crazy. I’ve seen video of him swinging and missing a pitch and the bat snapped in half as it came across his shoulder blades.

      Then there was the time he carried ‘the Boz’ in from the ten yard line. That same year Elway intentionally planted a laser strike into Boz’s face from about 5 yards. Poor Boz.

      Bo made all pro in baseball AND football. Crazy.

  4. Butkus, ever notice how l-o-n-g his torso was? Weird, but boy did he have the range before his knee got wrecked. Sweetness as best FB player ever? If you limit it to modern times, yes. Loved to block, and could throw it on the HB option. But Jim Thorpe . . . . well, back in the day there was no rule against a team advancing its own kick, and in a game against Penn Thorpe punted a high one for the Carslisle Indian School, ran downfield, snatched the ball from the fingertips of the return man and scored. I recommend “Carlisle v. Army” by Lars Anderson, about the early football lives of Thorpe and Dwight Eisenhower, and their clash on the football field in 1912. Maybe not “the greatest” but a remarkable case can be made for Frank Gifford. He was the NY Giants’ halfback, defensive halfback, return man, punter, and place kicker. He, too, could throw the HB option. In his autobiography “The Whole Ten Yards” he wrote that after one season during which he had played every, single down for the Giants (1956?), he never wanted to see a football again. Of course times have changed, but I think there is A LOT to be said for guys like Chuck Bednarik, (C/LB Philadelphia Eagles, ’49 – ’62), said to be the last full-time two-way player in the NFL. It was his hit, in 1960, that put Gifford out of football for almost two years.

    1. I am assuming you know that Jim Thorpe coached for the Hoosiers. His picture along with the pertinent information hung in the Union when I was a student.

      1. Quiz:
        What framed wall poster is directly in your line of vision while descending the narrow steps of Trojan Horse(steps nearest restrooms)?

        True or False:

        IU Football once passed over hiring Knute Rockne as an assistant coach?
        Jim Thorpe died penniless?

  5. Going to have fun with the gang on this name, Bronco Nagurski. Goes back a very long time but was one of the toughest players to ever step on a field. Check him out. It has been a very long time since I read the quote and can’t remember who said it; but it was to the effect of trying to tackle Nagurski was like being hit by a jolt of electricity. Might have been Red Grange who said it.

    1. Chet- did know that Thorpe coached at IU (for one year, I think) but didn’t know about the photo in the Student Union.

      Harv- The Trojan Horse is still there? I’ll guess Hoagy Carmichael. The other two I’ll guess true. (Podunker’ll probably say it was ’cause the IUAD was too cheap even way back then to hire Rockne. Love you, PO!) Thorpe actually quit playing at Carslisle for a season ’cause he apparently just felt like quitting, and Pop Warner had to lure him back by a “chance” meeting with an ex-teammate on an Oklahoma sidewalk. An impulsive (some would say undisciplined) personality can tend to an impecuniary existence. I know that Thorpe was the titular head (for publicity’s sake) of what would become the NFL in its first year (1923?), and that after the 1912 Olympiad played for the Pine Village Pros (later becoming the Hammond Pros).

      thinkaboutit- One story I read was that prior to a Bears-Packer match a reporter asked the Green Bay coach how he planned to stop Nagurski. “With a shotgun as he comes out of the dressing room.”

      1. davis- Poster is of the ’85 Bears. DA BEARS!

        Yes, the other two questions were true. We had a chance to hire Rockne.

  6. Thanks, Chet. As long as I’m recommending football books, check out “When Football Was Football” by Joe Ziemba. A history of the Chgo. Cardinals, it has a ton of interesting stories. If you see a list of the original members NFL (known as the American Professional Football Assoc. in 1920) teams, you may see the “Racine Cardinals,” but that was actually the Chgo. Cards. At the time, they played at a lot on S. Racine Ave., not in Wisconsin, hence the name some used at the time. They got the name Cardinals ’cause they used faded, cast-off jerseys scrounged from the U. of Chgo. Maroons. (If anybody taunts me about the lack of IUFB football success, I just point out that my other alma mater won more Big Ten football titles than most of the teams still in the conference). The one annoying thing about the book is that it wants an index, so it’s hard to go back and look up the details to refresh your memory about something. Reading assignment to be completed at your leisure!

    1. davis- Damn. I never realized U. of Chicago was a football powerhouse in the early days of the Big Ten. Hell, I never knew they were in the Big Ten. You’re a smart dude. Great stuff.
      Following Loyola of Chicago hoops at all….? Looks like they may be dancing. I believe they have a bit of NCAA tournament history.

      1. Nah, Harv, just a bookworm. Actually it was the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, a/k/a the Western Conference and later the Big Nine (MSU joined in about 1956, I think) I don’t think the official name change to Big Ten came until about ten years after that. of “Stagg’s University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago” by Robin Lester if you want to know how college football got to be what it is today. The U of C used football to compete with eastern colleges for students and publicity, and once parity had been reached academically, football was dropped (as v-13 noted about the Southern Conf.). The first Heisman winner was a Maroon. The Maroons, not the Bears were the original Monsters of the Midway. Football is back now- in maybe a purer form of the game than the big time programs in the sense that the players (used to work with one) at this “low” level of competition are truly student athletes.
        I lived about a half a mile, actually less, from Loyola U when the Ramblers won the ’63 bball title (only team from Illinois to ever do that), but I was just a tyke and don’t remember the event. Later going to a Ramblers’ game was something to do in the neighborhood when there wasn’t anything else to do. If I’m not mistaken, Loyola beat Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson for the ’63 title.

  7. Good post on past football history. It is good to read about many of the past players and past IU history. Davis, yes the univeristy of Chicago team did win a number of Big Ten titles. Another good book was written about early Big Ten History by one of the guys on the BTNetwork. It focused more on Wisconsin and the Australian player but include much of the early history of the conference.

  8. The Southern Conference is considered mid major today but the conference originally consisted of Alabama, Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn), Clemson, Georgia, Georgia School of Technology (Georgia Tech), Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi A&M (Mississippi State), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) and Washington & Lee.

    Play began in the fall of 1921, and a year later, six more schools joined the fledgling league, including Tulane (which had attended the inaugural meeting but had elected not to join), Florida, Louisiana (LSU), Mississippi, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. VMI joined in 1925 and Duke was added in 1929.

    Most of the schools left along the way but the future ACC teams remained until 1953.

  9. Chet thanks for the history of teams that started the Southern Conference. Interesting how some schools have become national powers and others stayed small schools focused on academics; not to say others don’t have strong academics and football teams.

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