No summer break for Mountaineers

West Virginia University strength and conditioning director Mike Barwis (back) spots defensive lineman Craig Wilson during a squat.

Mike Barwis can make the West Virginia University football players do whatever he wants whenever he wants within reason — and often beyond it.

How does he do it?

It isn’t the raspy voice that sounds like he swallowed a box of Brillo Pads.

It isn’t the abundant energy that seems like he chugged a Red Bull, then chased it with a Mountain Dew.

It isn’t the imposing physique that looks like he could suit up for the Mountaineers and fill in for Jay Henry, Marc Magro or any of the other linebackers.

It is the genuine affection he showers upon the players, especially after he has pushed them to extremes during summer workouts.

“In my opinion, a kid will never give you 110 percent unless he knows you love him and care about him,” Barwis said Tuesday afternoon during an interview inside the Milan Puskar Center. “That’s the bottom line. These kids know that they are my family and I love them.”

When he stopped talking, Barwis noticed Florida State transfer Barry Wright walking through the lobby and across the room. Wanting to provide proof to back up his statement, Barwis screamed at Wright.

“Barry,” Barwis yelled, “how often do I hug you guys?”

“All day,” Wright said with a laugh.

“See,” Barwis said.

“You have to respect somebody as much as they respect you to get them to do what you need them to do,” he added. “If you don’t truly care about a person, then you don’t truly have their best interests at heart.”

The Mountaineers are in the middle of their eight-week voluntary summer training program, which began May 30.

“It comes down to one thing: The kids have to be willing to do the work,” Barwis said. “All we do is supply them with the tools. The kids are the ones who have to have the pride, the ambition, the drive and the dedication to make themselves achieve. We have those kinds of kids.”

Barwis leads the workouts along with his staff — Marcus Kinney, director of skill development; Autumn Speck, deputy director of strength and conditioning; Jeff Giosi, associate director of strength and conditioning; Chris Allen, assistant strength coach; and Jason Pompili, assistant strength coach.

“I’m a multi-dimensional strength coach,” said Barwis, who has been involved with the school’s strength program for 14 years, including the past three as the director. “Our whole staff is multi-dimensional in their perspectives.

“Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they come in and do their Olympics lifts, they follow that with conventional lifts, move from there to functional and balance training, move from there to injury prevention, move from their to core training, move from there to plyometrics and explosive training, move from there to functional flexibility, then we go outside and we condition,” he explained.

“Tuesday and Thursday, you are looking at speed and agility primarily with flexibility incorporated.

“Nutrition is done everyday. We design diets for the kids and programs for the kids to eat properly and provide them with proper nutrition while they are here.”

The Mountaineers also participate in position-specific drills without footballs under the guidance of Barwis and his staff.

“But we aren’t allowed to coach them (because of NCAA rules),” he said. “And the football coaches obviously aren’t allowed to help.”

Barwis said the multi-dimensional approach he and his staff take gives the Mountaineers an advantage over their opponents.

“There are people out there now who do a one-dimensional strength program,” Barwis said. “They just lift weights. Most of those people are starting to change their programs because they are getting beat by people who do other things.

“I think you have to stay ahead of your competition. I think right now we are the frontrunners in the country as far as laying everything out and doing different perspectives. And that’s good. The objective is to stay in the front. You are giving the kids an opportunity to be better than the people they play against.”

Barwis and his staff work closely with WVU Coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff to determine the best plan for the Mountaineers.

“The programs are designed specifically to meet the needs of these coaches and this team,” Barwis said. “I sit down with coach and we come up with what we are trying to accomplish.

“He tells me where he wants us to be at certain times of the year. He tells me where he wants peaks and where he needs valleys. If I can accommodate what he wants, we are going to be a better football team.”

Although the workouts are voluntary, Barwis said “all of the scholarship players and most of the walk-ons” have stayed in Morgantown this summer to participate.

“The way I say it is, the workouts aren’t mandatory but neither is your playing time,” senior center Dan Mozes said.

“I think the biggest draw and the reason they come is, they know someone else is getting something they aren’t and they know they probably won’t play if they don’t,” Barwis added.

“It’s something you desire. Everyday when you get up, you want to see that and you come to it regardless of whether it’s difficult or not because you know it’s making you better. You know it’s going to be exciting.”

And exhausting.

“There’s nothing like Mike Barwis workouts,” junior linebacker Marc Magro said. “It’s mentally and physically draining.”

“We never know what’s coming either,” senior linebacker Jay Henry added. “You think you do, then they switch it up on you.”

The Mountaineers shed “blood, sweat and tears” during the workouts, not to mention “too much vomit to even name,” Mozes said.

“He pushes you to the limits,” Mozes said of Barwis.

That gives the Mountaineers a mental edge, senior defensive lineman Craig Wilson said.

“It shows you that you can always push yourself farther than you thought you could go,” Wilson said. “You can always go one step higher.”

Players offered WVU’s 46-44 victory over Louisville in triple overtime last year as an example.

“If it wasn’t for Barwis last year pushing us like he did, we probably wouldn’t have won that game,” Mozes said. “We were in so much better shape than those guys. It was amazing.”

So is the commitment that has been displayed this summer by the Mountaineers, who want to live up to the preseason expectations heaped on them by college football experts nationwide.

“The only way to win the championship is to work like a champion,” senior guard Jeremy Sheffey said, “and that’s what we are doing.

“We have more people here this summer than any other summer I have been here, and this is my fifth summer because I graduated high school early.”

In addition to the physical and mental benefits they provide, the summer workouts also offer an opportunity for the Mountaineers to build chemistry and camaraderie.

“If you aren’t here in the summertime,” Mozes said, “you don’t get to bond with the guys. (That) creates on-the-field success.”

Another advantage is, it allows them to worry about plays, schemes and techniques rather than conditioning.

“If (Coach Rodriguez) sees we are in shape in August,” Magro said, “he isn’t going to spend an extra half hour before practice or after practice conditioning us.”

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