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While football coaches don't have access to their players during the summer, it's Griz strength and conditioning coach Matt Nicholson's job to keep them in shape and ready for fall camp.

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean football season isn't already well underway.

The Montana Grizzlies' summer conditioning program wrapped up this week deep inside the bowels of the Adams Center where the Griz worked under the guidance of Matt Nicholson, the program's second-year strength and conditioning coach.

Nicholson, 28, and his 5-year-old son Ryan were up at 4:30 a.m. five days a week this summer making sure the Griz are in top shape for the opening of fall camp Aug. 7. The former Houston linebacker and then assistant coach at Colorado School of Mines under Bob Stitt took a few minutes after a morning training session to chat weight lifting, workouts and Dwight Howard with the Missoulian.


Q. When you were first hired last year we talked some about your playing days which were filled with rehab time in the weight room. That's how you got hooked, but what made conditioning something you wanted to dedicate a career to?

A. First and foremost being a former walk-on in college, you already had people doubting you. The weight room becomes the most important place for you to develop yourself. The kind of consistent effort I put forth -- and I saw the results of that and the changes over time -- you always had teammates around you that didn't put in that work every day. That gave me an extra something. Well, why not be in a career to help push guys to realize their potential?

Q. And fitness is pretty important to you, so you'd probably be doing some of this on your own anyway.

A. (laughs) Yeah, staying in shape and staying strong. The interns and GAs (graduate assistants) we have right now, we do all the workouts. We know what they're going through. ... They're gonna listen to somebody that can do it, more so than somebody that's barking out orders that doesn't actually walk the walk themselves.

Q. Can you give me an idea what a summer conditioning day is like?

A. We train five days a week (for eight weeks), Monday through Friday. ... We train them based on a high-low system; you can't come in and burn out a guy's nervous system every day he comes in there. You have your tempo lower days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, some high-volume running conditioning there, but it's like interval-based running below 75 percent. They're not going 100 percent, but it's not easy. It helps those guys recover so they can come back on those high days -- Monday, Wednesday, Friday -- and be more prepared. ... On Friday, that's our tough conditioning finisher. A lot of lactic-capacity work, repeated sprints and speed endurance. That's our toughest day, taxing them. High low, high low.

Q. What's it like seeing the players on the Fridays, the high days? I'm sure they're not too happy with you, but they know this is going toward something bigger.

A. They come in Friday and they know it's gonna be a hard day. The biggest thing I preach with them is consistency. You know it's gonna be hard, so you can either sit around and not get the most out of it or take it as it comes. It doesn't matter what this workout is gonna consist of, we have a standard we need to meet. They've done a really good job from a consistency point. Last Friday was probably the best training session we've had since I've been here. We got done and, man, those guys killed it.

Q. I'm sure everything you do is designed for a specific football skill. Can you tell me about weight lifting for a purpose versus just bulking?

A. We want to make them strong functionally. You talk about the periodization of the training schedule throughout the year and you emphasize different qualities. You get them strong all spring and when we get toward the back end of summer we work on power development, because that's the most important thing for these guys. It's not squeezing out one-rep maxes, it's getting more explosive and being able to sustain that performance.

Q. These guys mostly all had workout regiments before you got here. Is it difficult to gain their trust? You come in and say this is what I want you to do, but maybe they don't know why.

A. Certainly. It takes time. They have to know, have to go through it for a while and see how their bodies feel. That's when the bond comes. They have to know why we're doing things and we explain that to them. We're not just out here doing this to do it because everybody's always done that. If we're sitting there as coaches and we can't say, 'This is why we're doing this,' then we probably shouldn't be doing it. Everything has a purpose; every day has a goal. That makes the buy-in a lot easier.

Q. I'm sure it can feel like a grind for both you and them. Do you splice in anything to keep it light?

A. Uh, no (laughs). You can go out there and play tug-of-war and that's great, but I've got limited hours. We have eight weeks. These guys know when we come in we're not playing games, not playing dodgeball. Every single minute I have with these guys is geared toward getting them better. ... Team building is grinding for eight weeks, putting in that consistent work together. That's gonna build a team more than us going out there jumping around playing tug-of-war.

Q. I saw Dwight Howard (of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks) was working out in your weight room this week. How the heck did that happen?

A. I don't really know; probably staying up at that expensive (Resort at Paws Up) ranch out there. But he was here and he's, well, large. (laughs).

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