Corpus Christi Calallen’s Phil Dannaher is the winningest coach in Texas high school football history.
He’s won 364 games and just led his program to the 2016 Class 5A Division II state championship game. But he is a coach. He’s always trying to get better.
Several years ago when Colleyville Heritage’s Joe Willis was still coaching at Cedar Park, word had spread about Willis’ strength and conditioning program. As respected as he is, Dannaher came to see what all the fuss was.
“He just showed up for a day out of his offseason to see what we do,” Willis said. “Our program isn’t just about strength. It’s about balance from the front of the body to the back. We did a lot of scientific work into this.”
The joke about doing a bench press is that nobody is playing football on their back.
- Colleyville Heritage football coach Joe Willis, on his offseason strength and conditioning program
Willis is his second offseason of incorporating a plan that emphasizes balance in strength. But it goes beyond that:
▪ It stresses injury prevention through stabilizing joints with a variety of training techniques that includes body and free weights.
▪ There’s increased posterior chain development for explosive speed and power.
▪ Body control will be increased with an equal amount of push, pull and torque movements.
▪ Several types of movements will increase balance and flexibility.
▪ Speed and agility will be augmented by mixing strength, balance and flexibility.
After reading all that, you’re probably wondering how much different this is from any other high school program or college program’s offseason. After all, Southlake Carroll has its famous Dragon Maker that’s going to create a different player from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of the same year.
But understand that the football coaching profession is one where every detail is reviewed, from the way the locker rooms are supposed to look to the way the team goes through a film study session.
It’s called building and maintaining the culture. Willis and his staff started looking into different ways of transforming the offseason. They visited with other high school and college staffs about the way they did business. The key was making sure they did all they could to reduce the potential for injury. Bigger, faster and stronger are good. Being healthy is the trump card.
You’re not ever going to be injury-free in this game. Broken bones and muscle pulls are going to happen. But Willis’ point about the joints has been a critical point of emphasis. While so much attention has been given to knees and ankles, Willis and his staff have also focused on shoulders because of the pounding that joint incurs.
He has seen the results. The number of injuries dropped at Cedar Park. The number of injuries from his first year at Colleyville Heritage (2015) to his second (2016) dropped significantly. He said even his trainers have told him that.
“The joke about doing a bench press is that nobody is playing football on their back,” Willis said. “There’s so much talk about volume and intensity. But you want to make kids as flexible as possible. As you become more athletic, then you can add volume.”
January through early March are where Panthers players get in shape. Spring break through the end of April is where the skills and conditioning are emphasized. After spring football, summer is money time for it all to come together.
Consider the offseason is voluntary. But when players are buying into the culture voluntary becomes obligation.
“I’d say our participation has increased 70 percent from last year,” Willis said. “That’s where you see the payoff.”
Grapevine head football coach Randy Jackson’s book, Culture Defeats Strategy: 7 Lesson on Leadership from a Texas High School Football Coach had a second release on Dec. 9. Jackson estimates he sold about 1,200 copies. He was also interviewed by WFAA last Sunday about the book for its weekly high school sports weekly show.