July 18 was a tough day for the AFC football players.
After last season's 1-8 record, coach Brad Winterland looked to the 2014 offseason as a period of time to fix the mistakes of the 2013 offseason that led into the unsuccessful year. One of the glaring issues that Winterland and his staff pointed to was the lack of conditioning late in games and in the season.
So this summer, Winterland channeled his inner 1980 USA Men's Olympic hockey team coach Herb Brooks, and focused on being the most fit team in the conference.
"None of us, we didn't want to do 1-8 again," senior halfback and defensive back Tyler Stacey said. "We want to win and make a difference, and we all knew that it starts with these workouts."
The consensus wasn't to grab the chalk and make X's and O's changes, but instead shifting the focus on having more mental toughness, which complements conditioning. So Winterland got to work.
The Raiders fourth-year coach made sure to nip bad habits early, and pushed his players hard. Every Friday was called a Friday Finisher, and it was essentially a competition. Players earned points correlating on their performance of who could do the most work on lifts or runs, and make the most improvements.
July 18 was the last Friday Finisher, and Winterland saved the most grueling for last. He researched fitness workshops online, and found an intense workout that several fitness gurus use as an end-of-session grading system for physical testing.
"I just threw together several workshops, and tweaked the workout a bit," Winterland said. "It was more of a mental toughness thing than anything else."
Winterland's Frankenstein cut-and-paste workout became known as the Raider Run, and it is grueling.
"I had no idea it was going to be so hard," said Stacey, who finished the circuit in 1 hour, 20 minutes. "It was very tiring, and about halfway through, I didn't know if I was going to make it or not."
The workout totaled a 7-mile run, 80 pushups, 135 crunches, 160 jumping jacks, 450 jump ropes rotations, 30 mountain climbers, and 30 squat jumps. The players started on the school's track and ran six laps before delving into the pushups, crunches, jumping jacks, and other workouts. Once finished, the players did five laps and repeated the core work.
The laps were run in a pyramid style, going down to four at a time and back up to six. The only rule was that players had to be constantly moving. If players walked or stopped for 15 consecutive seconds, they were disqualified.
"I wasn't sure I would be able to do it," said quarterback Jake Hilliker, who finished in 1 hour, 15 minutes. "I was just trying to keep pace with the guy in front of me and try to pass him. I never walked, but somehow my legs kept going after about halfway."
Slowly kids peeled off, and were awarded a grade based on how far they got in the Raider Run. Eleven players finished.
"I thought at first I would be all right with [Winterland] giving me a C," Hilliker said. "But when I was pushing myself, I couldn't bring myself to stop. I wanted that A-plus."
During the summer leading up to the 2013 football season, Winterland and his coaches thought it would be a good idea to let the kids have more control over the practices in an attempt to build leadership.
In hindsight, the move backfired. The conditioning and strength goals weren't met, and the performance of the ensuing season suffered. With the new approach to the 2014 offseason, he hopes that players will have a strong base for toughness, and will come together during tough situations.
"So many times, we go to clinics and touch base with other coaches in the offseason," Winterland said. "We still did that, but we spent more time soul searching and looking in the mirror. Last season was 100 percent on us coaches, and our summer last year was kind of laid back. I don't know why I let it get that way, but unfortunately it happened, and we learned from it."
Winterland has seen a surge in performance compared with previous offseasons, both in conditioning and in the weight room.
"We're in the best shape we have been since my time here," he said. "We've already topped our weight room goals, as well."
Sterling football coach Jon Schlemmer also took a different approach to simple weight training and cardio, and implemented yoga into his team's offseason work. The new program was intended to help with flexibility, and add a new wrinkle into the training program.
"When high school kids lift, and when they lift a lot of weights," Schlemmer said, "they tend to tighten up. [Yoga] was aimed to help get stretched out and go along with those lines of improving in a different way.
"We've been lucky enough with those with the expertise to help us."
The Golden Warriors did the sessions about eight times over the summer months, and Schlemmer said it's been a fun way to train. He hopes to see some benefits translate to the field.