Approximately 255 miles away from Riccardo Silva Stadium, redshirt freshman center Julius Pierce is flipping old car tires and hauling tree logs in his hometown of Sanford, Florida - attempting to mimic a full-body workout.
Five-gallon water jugs are serving as barbells for upper body training and backpacks full of old textbooks have become shoulder pads as he’s walking through run plays.
College athletics across the country have been suspended until further notice due to the COIVD-19 outbreak - forcing players back to their hometowns for the time being.
As a result, spring workouts have required a level of creativity atypical of the strictly regimented lives that student-athletes live on-campus.
This makes the role of FIU’s Director of Strength and Conditioning Andreu Swasey all the more important during these unfamiliar times.
“We have kids from all different backgrounds. Some live in apartments while others are in homes, so the most important thing is [keeping up their] conditioning because, at the end of the day, an unconditioned athlete is not going to do well for you,” said Swasey.
Some players have access to equipment - but others are left to make do with whatever they can get their hands on - which may include gallons of water, bookbags, and tree logs.
This is a reality that Swasey is aware of and has shaped different programs for players as a result.
For him, the key is being in constant communication with the coaching staff - as well as players so that everyone is on the same page.
“I’ve got a bodyweight circuit and a weights circuit to account for players and what they may or may not have access to, but the communication part is key. I’ve broken it up among my staff to call and get in touch with all the guys over time, plus I meet with the coaching staff twice a week and we get the programs out to the guys,” said Swasey.
This tumultuous offseason comes at a time that the Panthers are already in transition with their strength and conditioning program.
The 49-year-old Miami native has been with FIU since 2017 and was named to his current role in January, replacing Chad Smith who held the position since 2012.
However, he doesn’t lack experience or pedigree, having served as head strength and conditioning coach at Miami (Fla.) for 16 seasons.
During that span, the highly-regarded Swasey led workout programs that produced over 100 NFL draft picks.
Additionally, he spent three seasons (1997-1998, 2000) with current Panthers’ head coach Butch Davis.
A former defensive back at Baylor from 1992-1993, Swasey’s background in strength and conditioning is rooted in a “Power-based, Olympic-style” form of training that emphasizes free weights over machines and focuses on different types of speed development.
Davis has already seen a noticeable difference in the strength numbers of the returning players.
“We only had two out of 109 players last year who could squat over 500 pounds. In six weeks of [Swasey’s] conditioning program, we currently have 17 players that are squatting over 500 pounds and another 12-15 that are over the 450-pound mark,” said Davis on the Underdog Dynasty podcast in March.
The makeshift workouts at home present two unique challenges that Swasey is already preparing for - reassessing each player’s strength level in relation to where it was prior - and preparing for incoming freshmen who are facing the same challenges as current players.
He says that the general approach will be to expect that the current Panthers’ strength levels will have fallen off to an extent, while incoming freshmen could theoretically be on an even plane as the returning players, because of the layoff.
“You assume that [players] strength levels are going to drop based on the amount of weights and availability that they have to the weights, because they’re not getting what we would be doing. So I need a baseline formation [where] everyone will be the same. Everybody did strength tests [before the layoff], now let’s create new numbers. Because what you don’t want to do is to be working out off of the previous numbers,” said Swasey.
He gives an example of how crucial the accuracy of the numbers are in relation to getting the players back to the proper shape.
“Say I squatted 500 pounds, but after the layoff, I’m at about 405. I’m not at that previous level. So if I’m telling a kid to do 80% at 405, I’m really working at his max squat, so now I’m overtraining the kid. That makes the numbers are very important, and that will put the freshmen in the same boat with all the guys that have been out,” said Swasey.
While the indefinite layoff from formal workouts seemingly may present challenges for players across the board equally, Swasey notes that the “skill position” players may be able to recover more quickly than athletes who play primarily in the interior of the field.
“Perimeter players tend to have a skillset that if they’re a fast guy naturally, that’s in their make-up and that skill will recover quicker. For interior players, it takes a lot more strength and conditioning to play at a high level. Without consistent resistance training, it’ll take a little longer for those guys to get back than the skill [position] guys,” said Swasey.
When football does resume, Swasey believes that it will take between 6-8 weeks for his training program to get the players back to the levels that they were at entering spring.
While he and Davis’ relationship stretches back almost 25 years, he doesn’t rest on the fact that they have a prior history.
Instead, he views his promotion as a new challenge - with an opportunity to shape a new group of players.
“It’s a new challenge and I look at it like that. What I’ve done in the past - that’s the past. I’m with a new batch of kids who haven’t been on my program. I know Coach [Davis’] expectations though and he expects us to be champions. So, at the end of the day, that’s the standard he’s holding us to,” said Swasey.