It’s a hot spring Wednesday afternoon. Puyallup High School’s basketball team is practicing in the gymnasium, and through the double doors to the school’s weight room, football coach Gary Jeffers oversees a workout session of about 60 kids.
He tours through multiple stations. One coach leads kids in stair runs and core workouts. Another coach is on the softball field outside, leading medicine ball workouts and plyometrics. Then there’s a triceps and deadlifts station, max squats, hamstring curls and cleans.
“This isn’t some volunteer assistant coach sitting in a chair, putting his feet up and reading a book,” Jeffers said.
It’s similar at Todd Beamer, where most players also take coach Darren McKay’s advanced weight training class. Graham-Kapowsin has about three days a week of weight lifting and two days of speed and agility training, like many schools.
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But most coaches say they see players skipping the school’s no-cost team workouts to flock to private trainers.
At the Tacoma-based Rise Football Academy, owner Aaron Trolia said they have 1,000 kids from more than 30 schools participating in football training at their facility. The cost is $1,800 for six months and three days per week of training.
“It’s money and there’s a market,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said. “It’s like AAU basketball and all these baseball academies.”
Of the 40 South Sound football coaches who responded to The News Tribune’s survey, 97.5 percent of them said they offer organized offseason strength training to any high school athlete with minimal or zero cost to the student. They say they offer most of what outside training facilities do, but for little or no charge.
And 75 percent responded that they’ve had athletes at their school not participate in a winter or spring sport in order to focus on training at an outside facility — despite 97.5 percent saying it would be more beneficial for athletes to participate in another sport instead of specialized training or 7-on-7 football.
If they wanted to coach kids and not make money, they would be high school coaches. Why aren’t they high school coaches? I know a lot of guys who have played a lot of football, but they can’t coach.
Sumner High School football coach Keith Ross
“The extra workouts on top of their school sports is too much,” Sumner coach Keith Ross said. “These kids are going to practice at their school and then practice at Rise because they are being told they need to be there because Rise is tweeting out that they have coaches coming. That’s not trying to get them better, that’s trying to entice you to come. And they’ll tweet at one of our players to say a coach is coming tonight, when that same coach already came to our school.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said last year that football is the only sport where the high school coach still matters. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that if he hears a trusted high school coach say, ‘Take him,’ then he will take him.
But how long will that last? How long before third party trainers become the go-to source?
COACH VS. TRAINER
Trolia said he hated working out in high school, hated it in college and hated it after being drafted by the Seattle Mariners.
It’s one of the reasons he said he started AT Sports Inc., which has a facility in Tacoma and owns the Rise Football Academy and Northwest Prospects Academy.
He was a sophomore at Curtis High School when he said he was humiliated during a weight-lifting session.
“I’m this tiny kid, barely lifting any weight, and I’m getting yelled and screamed and laughed at by the older group,” Trolia said. “I was the best athlete in the room, but I hated working out. And that continued because of that day when I got humiliated and I just associated working out to it.”
AT Sports Inc. vice president Jameel Cante, who attended Curtis with Trolia and went on to play football at Washington State, said they began their company to make weight lifting a less hostile environment, and it’s a place where kids can work out with men and women of influence.
One of Trolia’s baseball partners is six-time MLB All-Star Nomar Garciaparra. One of their football trainers is Kent-Meridian graduate Reggie Jones, who was on the New Orleans Saints’ roster when they won the Super Bowl.
This is Rise’s third summer in operation.
“We’re pairing kids with people they idolize,” Trolia said. “Those kids want to be Reggie Jones or the rest of our guys, who teach from a position of experience.
“Versus a lot of coaches around here are limited at their high school experience. They can impact kids on an amazing scale – we’re not taking that from anybody. But you can’t teach what you never experienced. You cannot prepare a kid for Division I football unless you’ve experienced Division I college football. Period.
“If the kids are learning from someone who was stunted in high school, how are they supposed to be prepared to show up in college to succeed? Kids are not getting prepared to perform in college, they are prepared to get to college. We’ve always said here that we can teach you to thrive in college because that’s what all of us here did.
“We want to be and we’ve always been, ‘How do we fill the gaps that the high school coaches have?’ There’s always been that gap.”
Representatives at the Bellevue-based Ford Sports Performance did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Anything you do to get in maximum shape I think is great. But if it diverts away from the team – we look at those things. What kind of teammate are you? What kind of leader are you? There’s probably a benefit to having that personal trainer, but there’s a benefit to being a teammate, as well.
Eastern Washington University assistant coach Brian Strandley
Trolia said another problem with high school workouts is the top players hit a ceiling. So they need to work out with players of their talent level instead of those on the school’s junior varsity.
“We didn’t start this seven years ago to make money,” Trolia said. “But we are making money because we are providing a service that people want to pay for.
“People tell us, ‘You guys are only doing this for the money.’ But so is every single high school football coach. They are not running those workouts after the high school season. People forget that we all did that stuff. It’s run by players. So now you don’t even have a professional that is in front of the kids and teaching them how to lift properly, teaching them how much to lift, when to lift, what to lift, what to eat, how to run. They don’t have anyone running that stuff. They have a high school senior telling a freshman he needs to lift more.
“We’re not selling college scholarships, and we don’t have to. We sell our environment, the relationships, the mentorship. What we sell is the people.”
‘ALL ABOUT THE MONEY’
Mount Rainier coach Tremain Mack was a Pro Bowl returner with the Cincinnati Bengals after being drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Miami, and he said he, too, has players skipping his team workouts to attend those at private facilities.
He like other coaches, though, sees the benefits of supplementing personal training with team workouts.
Sumner’s coach was a former All-American linebacker at Central Washington University and former linebackers coach on their 1995 NAIA national championship team. He said he just can’t co-exist with outside trainers, yet.
“It’s all about the money to these guys. It’s all about the money,” said Ross, who has multiple players on his team who train at Rise and at least one who trained at FSP. “And they make kids think they have to go there when they can do the same stuff with us.
“If they wanted to coach kids and not make money, they would be high school coaches. Why aren’t they high school coaches? I know a lot of guys who have played a lot of football, but they can’t coach.”
Trolia said just the opposite.
“I can guarantee you that anyone on this staff could get a high school coaching job like that,” he said as he clapped his hands. “Those high school coaches, they can’t apply here and get a job here. They aren’t qualified enough.”
So you can see where the friction comes from.
Jake Heaps said it comes down to trust. Coaches don’t have problems with trainers they trust.
Heaps had run the Empire QB Academy after stints with the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks. He and Russell Wilson recently started the Russell Wilson QB Academy together.
Heaps said he never missed a workout when he played at Sammamish’s Skyline High School, vaulting to the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country.
“College recruiters are recruiting you from your film with your high school team,” said Heaps. “And everything else after that is just sugar on top.
“I think there are a lot of people in this game that make it about them. These are 14-18 year old kids and there’s no handbook for how to go about the process. And sometimes you get people who are supposed to be mentors not giving you the right advice or helping you focus on the right things. There’s not great decisions being made.”
Kurle used to be more against outside training facilities than he currently is.
He’s come around because if done right there are more benefits than negatives, he said. He can lead general offseason workouts, but WIAA rules prohibit any out-of-season coaching, which means he can’t lead position-specific football drills.
But outside facilities such as FSP and Rise can.
“I still haven’t fully warmed up, but I just took a step back and said, ‘OK, I can’t coach them in the offseason,” Kurle said. “There’s technique and some things they can get better at and our kids don’t miss our mandatory lifting or agility training to go to Rise.
“You know, I think a lot of it — and it’s me, too — is we don’t want our kids being coached by someone else. And that ego gets in the way sometimes and I’ve had drag-out fights with some people about this. Some of them are doing it right, some of them don’t and some are learning to do it better. I don’t think anybody is doing it perfect right now.”
And coaches say it’s hard not to get defensive when they see what they perceive as Rise or FSP promising scholarships and posting offer alerts to social media. Whenever an athlete gets an offer they typically tweet it, and coaches view that as a marketing tactic.
What some coaches interpret that to say is that those athletes are being recruited because of the trainers, even though high school coaches do the majority of speaking with college recruiters.
The News Tribune reached out to seven local college recruiters and two agreed to speak on the record. Eastern Washington University assistant coach Brian Strandley said he has never stopped at a private training facility during his recruiting, even though he sees others doing so.
And 15 of the 40 coaches who responded to the TNT survey said that they’ve had a least one player who has transferred from their school and was affiliated with a private training organization — with a few coaches pointing to football transfers at Garfield.
One coach said he’s had to recruit his own players to stay.
“We have never suggested that some kid should transfer to a different school,” Trolia said. “Transferring schools has been a problem long before Rise or FSP existed.
“And as far as a coach having to recruit his own kids, guess what? We do, too, by putting together quality programs worth while. You have to do the same as a coach. And instead of using us as a resource, coaches say, ‘They’re in it for the money.’ Well, guess what? You’re in it for the money, too. All these coaches either get paid with money or ego. ”
There were also complaints of facilities broadcasting that they turn zero-star players into the No. 1 player in the country at their position.
Jeffers coached San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Josh Garnett at Puyallup High School. But he laughed when asked if he had “built” Garnett.
“If I built Josh Garnett, I’d have 20 Garnett’s coming out of this program,” Jeffers said.
Ross had a similar answer about Stanford-bound Connor Wedington, who is the first Sumner student-athlete to head to an FBS school since the early 1960s.
“I can’t teach that – nobody can teach that,” Ross said. “You can’t go anywhere and pay anyone to teach you that. That’s Connor’s God-given ability.”
If the kids are learning from someone who was stunted in high school, how are they supposed to be prepared to show up in college to succeed? Kids are not getting prepared to perform in college, they are prepared to get to college. We’ve always said here that we can teach you to thrive in college because that’s what all of us here did.
Aaron Trolia, president of Tacoma-based AT Sports Inc. and the Rise Football Academy
College coaches deal with something similar with NFL combine trainers.
Strandley saw the benefits to their two players drafted working with trainers, supplementing their team training with extra one-on-one workouts. But they never allowed those players to miss team practices or workouts.
“Anything you do to get in maximum shape I think is great,” Strandley said. “But if it diverts away from the team – we look at those things. What kind of teammate are you? What kind of leader are you? There’s probably a benefit to having that personal trainer, but there’s a benefit to being a teammate, as well.
“Imagine putting yourself in a coach’s seat – you are telling your team to be held up to certain standards within the team unit, like being a good teammate, part of the brotherhood and family. But that’s tough to do when you have one set of rules for the more talented players and another for the guys who are not quite as talented.”
Troy Taylor, the offensive coordinator at the University of Utah who was a co-coach at Folsom High School in California when UW quarterback Jake Browning was there, said there are just as many benefits to helping younger, less talented players develop as there are to players getting their own individual training.
“There’s no way to be great unless you are going to really work at it — so getting better is great,” Taylor said. “However, you want to make sure you aren’t missing the work with your own team and building chemistry and being a leader and not putting yourself in a position where you are overtraining and getting injuries.”
Skyline coach Mat Taylor – who was not included in the TNT survey – said he might have one player on his team who gets extra training.
“If coaches want to play both sides of the fence and tell some kids to train outside the team and you don’t stand a firm ground, I think you run the risk of creating an environment of selfish players,” Taylor said. “Or maybe you start to see a side that you know is not the kid’s personality, but it’s manifesting and looking selfish when he maybe is just feeling all this pressure because they are telling him how good he is doing in these drills. Well of course you are – because they want you to come back tomorrow.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677