There are the bragging rights that go along with winning a competition among teammates, and then there are rib dinners.
Worthington Kilbourne High School senior football player Joe Schick was happy to enjoy both after his "team" won a conditioning contest last spring.
According to Schick, the football program put together six teams of about 10 players, and each team earned points for attending weightlifting and conditioning sessions.
"We have this policy where you have to hit a certain number of workouts, and the winner gets a rib dinner by coach (Vince Trombetti)," said Schick, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound center. "You have a draft to come up with who is on your team, and my team finally won this year."
For programs like Kilbourne, which has competed in Division I in its six playoff appearances but now has the fourth-smallest male enrollment among the OCC's 32 schools and is in Division II, making conditioning more enjoyable has become essential in keeping up with the competition.
Although the methods of physical preparation remain up for debate at the prep level, no one disputes the importance of being as fit as possible when it comes to staying healthy and adding quickness and strength on the field.
"You talk to five different guys and you'll get five different opinions (on training techniques)," DeSales coach Ryan Wiggins said. "The main thing is that in football you want to be explosive for five or six seconds. What you're trying to do is go strong from point A to point B. We still put a heavy emphasis on the weight room and I know many schools now are using a strength and conditioning coach. It was never that way in the old days."
While Kilbourne's emphasis on the weight room isn't new to its program, Trombetti said focusing on conditioning has had exceptional results on his current team.
The Wolves, who finished 3-7 a year ago, are 4-1 and have won four in a row. Their loss was by one point to 2012 Division I playoff-qualifier Dublin Scioto, 22-21 in their opener Aug. 30.
"We've got a pretty structured offseason program, and our seniors have done a great job leading by example," Trombetti said. "(Our workouts) have allowed us to, most importantly, stay healthier, and it allows us to do things we haven't done before because we're bigger, we're certainly faster and we've become stronger."
Methods with purpose
While Northland has a typical preseason regimen of lifting mixed with practices, its players spend two days a week in the weight room once the season starts.
Vikings coach Kevin Tooson figures it's best for his players to continue adding strength on days they're not playing or practicing the sport.
"When you get them, you might as well make them stronger," said Tooson, who is in his 11th season. "We lift more than we've done in the past during the season. Kids receive better training than they did 10 years ago. You've got kids that go to strength and conditioning people on their own now. ... These (private trainers) are bringing in a whole new expertise."
The idea of combining weightlifting, gymnastics and aerobic conditioning with elements such as kettleballs, also known as CrossFit, is something Tooson and others believe has begun to influence the preparation of players.
Licking Valley coach Randy Baughman said he has seen an increase in the emphasis on conditioning, weight training and nutrition.
"Things go in cycles," said Baughman, who is in his 32nd season. "Now I think we're back to strengthening the total body. It used to be that you'd specialize in specific muscles. We'll even use things outside like tires, logs, (large) rocks, anything we can use to make them stronger and so that they don't get bored."
Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White always has been a believer in circuit training, which features high-intensity aerobics and targets strength building and muscular endurance.
Others, like Pickerington Central coach Jay Sharrett, focus on traditional techniques in muscle building such as benching and squatting.
"We're doing a lot of the same lifts we've always done, but they're doing them at a higher level of intensity, which gives them confidence in themselves," White said. "In the good old days, you'd just send them to the weight room and let them go at it. Now we're more concerned with doing the lifts correctly."
Pickerington North coach Tom Phillips, who has been coaching since the late 1980s, agrees with Tooson that more of his athletes are using trainers outside his program than ever before.
North, like Northland, also does weight training twice a week during the season.
"I tell them that if you (train) outside (the program) to make sure it complements what we're doing," Phillips said. "I think kids are just doing more than they used to. It all comes back to conditioning."
Benefits on the field
After injuries and a 1-5 start doomed his team to a 3-7 finish during his first season last fall, Marysville coach Morgan Cotter traveled last winter to talk to Cal Dietz at the University of Minnesota.
Dietz, a Shelby native, doesn't specialize in football training but heads the strength and conditioning programs for several sports for the Golden Gophers. He co-authored a book about speed and strength performance.
Among the focuses of Dietz's advice were adding plyometrics, which are jump-training exercises that force muscles to exert maximum force in a short time with the goal of increasing speed and power.
After instituting many of those ideas into his program during the offseason, the Monarchs have started 4-1.
"We got back in the weight room and changed some of the things we were doing," Cotter said. "As a football coach, I feel real comfortable talking Xs and Os. But in the weight room, I'm not a personal trainer and don't know all of the physiology. I talked to a couple different college weight-training programs about what we needed to do and we revamped our program to more field-specific movements. We still bench and we still squat, but we don't power-clean anymore. We've put a lot of plyometrics and ... exercises in."
In addition to an improved record this season, Cotter has seen a decrease in injuries, which he credits to the new workout format. Marysville, he said, had a few hip flexor injuries last season but has not seen a re-occurrence of them this fall.
According to Trombetti, each athlete at Kilbourne, regardless of sport, uses a set of core lifts as well as a set of "auxiliary" lifts based on the sport.
"I think from a physical standpoint, we're waking up the next morning a lot less sore," Schick said.
One of the biggest turnarounds among central Ohio programs a year ago involved Ready, which went 7-3 and made the Division IV playoffs after finishing 4-6 the previous two seasons.
That success has continued this fall, as the Silver Knights have started 5-0.
The biggest credit for the success might have to do with the weight-training regimen that began after Joel Cutler took over as coach in 2012.
Cutler and his brother, Kyle, who is an assistant at Ready, have an extensive background in strength and conditioning.
Silver Knights senior running back Akili Taylor, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, passed the 1,000-yard mark in week five this season. He carries about 195 pounds on his 5-9 frame after weighing about 180 a year ago.
The results of focusing on conditioning, Taylor believes, have been worth it.
"I definitely put on a lot of muscle," he said. "It's why I'm healthy now and it helps that I'm heavier and can run through tackles better. I'm a lot stronger, bigger and faster."