Aug. 11, 2009
Josh Pate, UT Sports Information
Monday started a critical time for Tennessee football players: Two-a-days.
With temperatures in the 90s and the Vols holding two-a-day practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, being in tip-top shape is non-negotiable. That's where Aaron Ausmus comes into the picture.
Ausmus returned to Rocky Top in June to become Tennessee's director of strength and conditioning. It's a return because Ausmus is originally from Jacksboro, Tenn. After 10 years of coaching experience that has taken him to nearly every region of the country, Ausmus has pieced together a thick playbook for getting student-athletes into shape.
First Down: Good old Rocky Top ...
Ausmus is no stranger to the Percy Strength Facility on campus. He was a graduate assistant at UT from 1998-2000, and then spent two seasons as a part-time strength coach for the Vols.
"It's not that big of an adjustment," Ausmus said of coming back to Knoxville. "I grew up around this area and have been here my whole life, went to school here. That makes things easier. I know where to go get groceries."
He did, however, move away to expand the resume.
Nothing shines brighter on a list of references than a national championship, and Ausmus collected his as strength coach at USC when it won the 2003 title. He made stops at Idaho, Mississippi (with current Vols assistant Ed Orgeron) and North Texas before coming back to The Hill.
"It's great to be back here and be familiar with a lot of these coaches, having worked with them in the past," Ausmus said. "It's really made the transition very smoothly."
Second Down: On the field ...
Ausmus was a two-time All-American when he competed at Tennessee - in track and field. Although his work lies with the football squad, Ausmus threw shot put in college and won the 1997 NCAA Indoor championship.
"I did track and field in high school," Ausmus said. "I played baseball and basketball my whole life and started doing track in high school. So I came here as a track athlete in the early `90s. I never did touch a football."
Third Down: Work before the whistle ...
Ausmus makes it clear: His job is to get the players prepared before they hit the practice field.
"I've got to get these guys in shape for camp," Ausmus said. "Now, playing football and the duration of a three-hour practice is going to get them in the shape they need to be in to play. There are only certain things I can do to get them ready. I can't mimic a three-hour practice in the heat."
Ausmus gets the players to capitalize on their weight training and working on technique - both to maximize performance and minimize the chance of injury. It's of utmost importance now that fall drills are under way and two-a-days are pressing student-athletes to the limit.
"I can get them in general shape, get their bodies working hard and used to changing direction and get them to this point," Ausmus said. "Now, with this coaching staff, they're going to get these guys competing in practice and it's going to get them in the type of football shape they need to be in."
Fourth Down: Maxing out ...
With Ausmus only in his second month working with the football team, the tempo has stayed in high gear. Of course, with this coaching staff, that's to be expected.
"I just think the bottom line is we've tried to raise the intensity of our training," Ausmus said. "The tempo of the drills, how we do them and how we move around from drill to drill, we've tried to raise that intensity."
The proof can be seen on the practice field. Knoxville's high humidity and sunny days have upped the ante, but players are still sprinting to their next practice station, still grinding through tackles and finishing, still going full speed when the three-hour sessions are over.
"I think players now are seeing that it goes hand-in-hand with this coaching staff," Ausmus said of the uptempo approach that has been the theme since summer workouts.
"I wasn't begging them to run around this summer. Now they realize they did it for a reason."