Monday, September 06, 2004
By Chris Woodfin
UA Media Relations
When University of Alabama head football coach Mike Shula wanted to upgrade his football team's strength and conditioning program, he turned to a familiar face--Kent Johnston.
Johnston was a strength and conditioning coach during Shula's playing days at the Capstone. A graduate of Stephen F. Austin, Johnston began his career at Alabama as a graduate assistant in 1983 and eventually became the head strength and conditioning coach before following Coach Ray Perkins to the NFL in 1987.
The Texas native enjoyed success in the NFL, eventually helping the Green Bay Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI and was honored in 1997 as the "Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year" by the Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches' Society.
The reasons for Johnston coming back to Alabama were simple.
"I came back because I love Mike Shula and love The University," Johnston said. "My wife played basketball here. We had a lot of memories here."
The time constraints placed on practice and training was the biggest difference Johnston has had to deal with since returning to Tuscaloosa.
"You have to differentiate college football and the NFL because of the time components you have with the athletes," Johnston said. "We are not restricted in the NFL. We never were restricted. Here you have so many hours you can put in a week with the guys. We have to do a lot more team and group activities more so than just individual activities. We will work individually with the guys but we are just more limited because of the time constraints. That's probably the biggest difference that I see in college and the NFL."
"These younger athletes respond better. The older you get the more you've done. So you have to really get creative in your training method to spark improvement. Whereas a younger athlete, an 18 or 19 year old kid, they adapt to about anything you throw on them."
When he returned, the program for the spring was already in place and Johnston helped to develop the summer conditioning program to build on the work that was accomplished around spring practice.
"In the spring, Coach Shula really wanted a lot of mental conditioning," Johnston said. "He and Coach Kines had set a pretty good agenda when I came in here and we just carried it out.
"We knew with the summer program we would really have to work our strength and power programs. Because we did so much running, conditioning, mental aspecting in the spring, we knew were going to have to get after it on the weights. So we went four days a week. We worked within the time constraints that we had available. We had a lot of guys doing volunteer work. I think most of the guys feel good about where they came in the course of that eight to ten week period we had."
One of the more unique aspects of Johnston's program is his use of martial arts and yoga to help improve the players' movement and mobility.
"That's just evolved over the years to try to do things that help protect the guys' joints more than anything," Johnston said. "You look for things that maintain movement and maintain mobility. If you set a pyramid up of athleticism, the foundation of that pyramid has always got to be movement and mobility. By mobility I mean the range of motion through the joints. The martial arts are a great way to maintain that and improve that. That's the whole thought process behind it.
"You begin to watch what they do in their training. Taekwondo is useful for the lower body. Judo is a leverage sport. Football is a game of leverage. Yoga is a great spinal stretching exercise. You just take bits and pieces and try to formulate a protocol that does everything that we can to help keep the guys on the field and healthy."
"We aren't trying to make fighters out of the guys or get them into meditation with yoga. It's all more of just trying to take some of the applications of that particular art form and transfer them over to football."
Though the facilities have changed since Johnston's first stint at Alabama, the willingness to work has remained constant.
"The facilities are unbelievable," Johnston said. "I've traveled a lot in the league (NFL) and seen almost every facility in the league and this one is second to none that we just put together here.
"The one thing that I can honestly say that surprised me more than anything else is that the work ethic of these guys has been so phenomenal. I expected that we would have to work a little bit more on that area than we did. But they have been through so much the last four years. They have faced so much adversity. We all know about that. They are just hungry. When you get a group of hungry guys together, what more can you ask for? Then it's just up to us as coaches to get them to play to the maximum of their ability. That was the most pleasant surprise. The athletes are bigger than they were back then, all of those things have changed, but the willingness to work, that I think has been a trademark of Alabama, is still here."