Brandon Leahey and Alex Keys are two of the myriad players in the south metro area who believe improvement on the football field begins months before the season commences.
Almost all area high schools begin offseason drills in December after the football season ends and early in the summer when those athletes who intend on improving their strength, agility and skills start to work extra hard.
Chaparral's Leahey, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior offensive guard/tackle, starts the day with a workout at Six Zero Strength & Fitness in Centennial before heading to the school for another exercise session. This is a routine Monday through Thursday and then two days a week he stops at Lifetime Fitness in Parker for speed, agility and conditioning workouts.
The workouts at Six Zero are conducted by former University of Colorado and NFL player Matt McChesney, who spent one of his five pro seasons with the Denver Broncos.
"I feel the training is very important," said Leahey. "It's my No. 1 priority this summer and come school, then school is the priority.
"I've been doing this for four or five years. It's been so much different from year to year on the football field. Each year I've gotten so much better. With all the hard work I've put in, it has really made a difference."
Keys, a 6-foot, 285-pound senior center, works out three hours in the morning Monday through Thursday during the summer with the Highlands Ranch High team and also attends training sessions with McChesney. He also has a part-time job during the summer.
A busy time of year
Spare time is at a premium.
"It's football and work," Keys said following a morning workout session at Highlands Ranch. "I love off-season training. I'm always excited to come in. It's fun to get the whole team back in the summer. It's important to be here and I'm glad to be here.
Former Lakewood coach Mark Robinson is the new mentor at Highlands Ranch. He outlined what the Falcons and many other schools do during the off-season.
"I don't think there is any program that isn't doing off-season training," he said. "After the season is over going into Christmas break that's the time we get things started. We work technique as far as the weight room is concerned, get benchmarks set, goals set and then by January when we get back, everybody is going full speed. At that point you are getting the athlete trained.
"In today's world, if you are not developing a player you are going to fall behind and that player is behind. That's why these kids are bigger, faster and stronger than they were 20 years ago."
Robinson has his players in the weight room five days a week starting in January for the strength phase. The spring training segment consists of improving speed and agility.
"The way we run our summer program is to come out for an hour in the morning and that's when we install our offense and defense," Robinson said. "We also work on technique skills. We take another hour and work on speed and agility every single day and then another hour of strength training. So it's a three-hour program, four days a week. It's basically 12 hours a week the kids spend with us."
However, many players elect to continue to work during the summer with personal trainers.
"There are some real good ones and there are some that in my opinion are just taking your money," Robinson said.
Under a watchful eye
One of the good trainers, Robinson said, is McChesney.
"When I got the job he was one of the first people I went to talk to," Robinson said. "I knew he has a lot of kids and has several of our kids. He's willing to sit down and say, what are you doing with the kid in the morning to make sure he's not doing it again in the afternoon. What Matt will do is take all the extra time that we don't have and he will work on everything else. All the other different skills, all the other strength components that we might not be able to do with 65 guys."
McChesney has just a few athletes during his training sessions and stays with the athletes during workouts, often offering individual instructions.
"Off-season training is more important than anything else they do," said McChesney. "A lot of strength coaches have 100 or some odd kids to get through the program and there is not a lot of commitment to reps and tempo. In here it's all dedicated to the mindset of toughness of every rep, every day. It's constantly changing and trying to get the athlete to bend his knees to get flexibility and things like that.
"We run a lot of people out because they are not used to finishing, they are not used to committing at a high level. This is the closest thing they are going to get to a college atmosphere in the state of Colorado. A lot of high school coaches disagree with what I do, the college coaches give me affirmation of what I'm doing is correct. The individuals that come here and work hard get something out of it but it also exposes people pretty quick too."
McChesney claims there is no reason to fear the dreaded overtraining.
"Overtraining is a little bit of a myth," he said. "A lot of high school programs do core every day. If you do that every day you are overtraining as a program. We change in up in here consistently and we rarely powerlift, if ever. It's all about range of motion, explosion and finishing."
Valor Christian has captured five consecutive state football championships over three classifications and Eagles coach Rod Sherman likes to keep off-season training on an intramural basis.
"Our kids all train in-house with teammates," said Sherman who noted many of his players are involved in other sports. "We don't have many guys train with outside people. The biggest thing in the off-season training is athletic development."
Cherry Creek coach Dave Logan wants his players to be fit.
"That's an interesting phenomenon," he answered when the use of personal trainers was brought up. "You want to encourage kids to be fit and continue to work out but you also, however, want to encourage kids to work together as a team and be in the weight room together.
"Our speed and conditioning stuff in the summer is pretty intensive. We want to make sure kids are there and go through that because it does help prevent injuries, it does help you get in shape and it will test you physically. It has allowed us over the years when the season finally rolls around, at least from a physical standpoint, we are usually ready to go."
Logan, the former CU and NFL player, will be starting his 22nd season as a high school coach. He has coached at four different schools and has guided teams into the playoffs in 19 seasons and has won six state championships.
Creek's off-season training follows the basic script of many schools - he urges athletes to play other sports and to take time off for family vacations.
"What we do has not changed very much," he said. "We go Monday, Wednesday, Friday and every other Saturday morning. It is a nine-week deal. I tell the kids I'm not missing one day and all of the varsity coaches will be there. If we get 85 percent turnout rate we don't go two-a-days in August. In 22 years, I've never had a two-a-day practice. I remember as a player I just thought that was counterproductive to getting off to quick start."
Logan says summer workouts are important.
"If we didn't have to do it, it would be a lot easier just to show up two weeks before school starts," he said. "That's how it used to be back in the day. My golf game would be a lot better than it is. You wouldn't have to worry about anything else in the summer, just show up when school starts and say 'let's go.'
"I've always believed that the time you spend in the summer, not only getting yourself physically ready, but understanding what offensively and defensively we are trying to do, the time you spend in the summer really helps you get off to quick start when the fall starts."
Taking advantage of down time from training during the summer for many players is special.
"I hang out with friends, usually on the weekends," said Leahey. "I go see movies, hang out, play video games with them at their house, and get some food."