As many Vanderbilt students can attest, the freshman 15 is very real. But for the most part, that’s from too many Easy Macs and 2 a.m. Qdoba runs — but that is not the case for Vanderbilt football players. For redshirt freshmen like offensive tackle Andrew Jelks, it’s a freshman 40.
In the Southeastern Conference, playing offensive tackle at 255 pounds won’t cut it, not with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney coming off the edge at 275 pounds. This is a problem Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin is very familiar with, as he inherited an undersized roster two years ago.
“We weren’t just smaller, we were mushy,” Franklin said. “We weren’t ripped and defined and athletic-looking in my opinion. Now you had two different choices: You could put size on them just for size’s sake or you could take the bad weight off them and then build them back up over time.”
Two years ago, there was only one Commodore more than 300 pounds: guard Kyle Fischer. Now the current roster boasts 11 players who eclipse that mark. To get to that point, they focused on improving conditioning and nutrition.
One of the first people Franklin brought to Vanderbilt from the University of Maryland was director of strength and conditioning Dwight Galt, who took on the same position under a new name: director of performance enhancement. The two had worked together since 1999 during Franklin’s two stints with Maryland.
Franklin tries to get ahead of the pack by sending recruits a workout plan designed by Galt once they sign a letter of intent. At the same time, he doesn’t specifically ask them to put on weight because not everyone can afford extra food and supplements. Plus, high school students tend to put on “bad weight” — fat instead of muscle.
Once they do reach campus, however, Franklin indoctrinates them into their year-round training program. Incoming freshmen arrive on campus in the first week of June and individually meet with Galt to set monthly goals for added muscle mass and BMI levels.
Almost all of the weight-room workouts involve free weights. Every player lifts twice each week in addition to squats, hang cleans and more. To incentivize the players, the training staff created champion awards for the hardest worker in the weight room every summer and winter.
When they’re not in the weight room, the staff puts an emphasis on speed training, agility, and plyometrics outside. That’s what has become essential to Franklin: football-specific training.
“You have to be careful,” he said. “If everything is about the weight room, you’re going to produce a bunch of power lifters, not football players. You have to make sure the things you’re doing are translating onto the football field.