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HAMMOCK: GAC football gaining in strength thanks to Schofield

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

What happens in the Friday night spotlight is the perspective on high school football for most fans, who aren't privy to the behind the scenes preparation for the one weekly showcase.

They don't see the planning and the teaching that coaches emphasize for months, and they know even less about what happens to get players physically ready --the athletic training and the weight work.

But those two factors, particularly in high school football, are as important as the Xs and Os. Just ask Greater Atlanta Christian.

The Spartans' 2009 team finished 1-9 as its focus in the weight room waned. The group had only five players who could squat more than 400 pounds and only five who could clean 225 or more. There wasn't a single player on the roster who could bench press 300 pounds or dead lift 450 pounds or higher.

Those numbers come from Gary Schofield, GAC's director of athletic development. He only brings them up to praise what the program's football players have done since 2009, when they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

GAC --9-3 last season and 2-0 so far in 2011 --now has 22 players who can squat more than 400 and 30 who can clean more than 225. The Spartans now have four 300-pound benchers and eight players who can dead lift more than 450.

"The kids believe, that's first and foremost, the kids' belief," Schofield said. "It's not me or the coaches or some magical piece of equipment or technique. It's not a very different or revamped program. It's the belief. To me, that's the reward, the effort they put forth. When I see kids absolutely worn out from effort, from giving their all, it's rewarding."

Schofield, in his 10th year overall at GAC, compared his current group of football players to what the school had in the early 2000s when it made deep playoff runs and finished once as state runner-up. But he said this year's players are even stronger than back then, calling it the "strongest group of kids I've worked with at (the high school) level."

It's no coincidence that GAC's back-to-back rough seasons (4-7 in 2008 and 1-9 in 2009) followed the 2006 and 2007 seasons, when Schofield took a two-year hiatus from the private school.

But having him back is a good thing for GAC in all sports. He work with more than 300 of the school's athletes daily and sees 92 percent of its student-athletes during the course of the year. Some work with him after school, some in class during the day and some at 6:30 a.m., when he hosts sessions for students whose demanding academic schedule doesn't allow time for athletic training during the school day.

Schofield has clearly made a difference in GAC's football program and with guys like Lavondre Nelson, a naturally strong kid who has gone to another level thanks to his trainer. The 165-pound running back squats 525 pounds, cleans 285 and benches 285.

"(Nelson) was always a quick guy, always a strong guy, but he's gone to the next level," Schofield said. "It's absolutely shocking to watch."

One guy who enjoys watching it is GAC head football coach Tim Cokely.

He has seen the strength program cycle back up with the help of Schofield, a master motivator who works tirelessly to make sure kids believe in themselves.

"As I see it, Gary builds the foundation," Cokely said. "If football's the house, the foundation is strength and conditioning. In my sport, you can't have success without that foundation."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.t