Stephen Bailes and Talon Brown both say they typically skip breakfast.
We didn’t ask about lunch.
Bailes, 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, and Brown, 6-5, 290, are two parts of what is sure to be a sizable offensive line for the Heritage High School football team this fall. With all-county running back Chase Cline returning to highlight a speedy backfield in 2011, it could go a long way to returning the Mountaineers to the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.
“We’re in here working as hard as we can,” Brown said. “Everybody wants it bad.”
“In here” was the Heritage weight room last Saturday for an evening Mountaineer strength coach Brandon Waters organized as a “Night of Champions.” Family and friends ringed the walls as the Mountaineers pushed for max lifts and reps. Raucous cheers met players whose lifts met or exceeded offseason goals.
“Anything to build a little momentum and get some people behind us,” Mountaineer sophomore Joey Evans said.
Russell considered the night an unqualified success.
“We wanted a chance to show off our weight room and show the community what our kids have done to get better,” he said. “All the credit for this has to go to Brandon Waters. We had a lift-a-thon the last couple of years, and I told him I’d like to do something different.”
For Bailes and Brown, getting better is a personal matter.
Bailes strikes an imposing figure, even without pads. The Mountaineer junior missed the final three games last season with a shoulder injury. Becoming more athletic, not just stronger, has been a point of focus this offseason, he said. Brown, who’s dropped 70 pounds since his freshman season two years ago, is looking to further hone his form.
Waters has had a significant impact in both cases, Russell said.
“Brandon has made a difference in all our athletes,” he said, “not just football. The strength difference now from where we were when we first stepped on campus is just incredible.”
Evans elicited a stirring high five and chest bump from Waters after hitting a target weight last Saturday. Nearby, Brenda Evans, Joey’s mother, nodded approval. It’s hard to see the “Night of Champions” as anything but a success, she said.
“I think it lets the parents see what’s going on. I see what’s going on right here,” she said, pointing at Joey’s right biceps as he finished a set. “I think it’s an excellent thing because if the parents are behind the program, the team will go far.
“I don’t care for the loud music cranked up, but it helps them.”
Having family and friends there to cap winter workouts wasn’t simply about community support, Russell said.
“The cheering can make a difference in five more pounds sometimes,” he said.
Junior Chris Wood didn’t seem to need very much cheering to turn in a big night, but it helped, he said. The Mountaineer linebacker reached the winter goal of joining the 1,000 pound club, achieved when a player amasses 1,000 pounds lifted during a workout in any combination of the squat, bench press and dead lift.
“The team can see the difference,” Wood said. “It’s helping us so much. (The ‘Night of Champions’) motivates you to make sure you get it because everybody’s watching.”
The Mountaineers have made strides in each of Russell’s two seasons as coach, including a landmark win over defending state champion Catholic his first year there. The spread offense he instituted upon arrival opened the running lanes to help Cline blossom into one of the region’s most dangerous backs last fall.
While the emphasis has been on overall strength and agility this winter, sheer size and brute force remain key components in football success. The size Brown and Bailes afford Heritage up front will be something many teams simply won’t have this fall. Maintaining the gains they’ve made this winter is a high priority.
The novel approach Waters implemented for offseason workouts helps, but a 285-pound frame still has certain calorie requirements. While he’ll often skip breakfast, Bailes said he’ll make up for it when pizza’s on the menu.
“That’s pretty much a base meal for me,” he said.
Considering it’s Brown’s favorite dish as well, we must be talking about some awfully large pies.