As Jeremy Pruitt took the podium at SEC Media Days, the first-year Tennessee head coach mentioned his strength program that Craig Fitzgerald oversees.
With tight end Eli Wolf in attendance for SEC Media Days, Pruitt mentioned that if Wolf is going to play the position that he would need to learn how to block.
In the SEC, blocking from the tight end position means putting on weight and defending SEC-caliber players. Pruitt said Wolf has “gained 20 pounds since January” in Fitzgerald’s program.
“I hold myself to a very high standard,” Wolf said at SEC Media Days. “As far as my role, I will do whatever they ask me to do. If that includes standing on the line and blocking, I’ll do that. If it includes going outside and catching passes, I’ll do that, as well. My role is whatever they need me to be.”
Wolf said that since “the time I got here until now, my blocking especially has come a long way.”
“That comes with weight and strength,” he said. “The weight room has been huge for me.”
Since Fitzgerald has taken over, UT’s weight room has been stripped and gutted and holds free weights and no mirrors now.
“A weight room is a weight room to me, but the new one they put in is nice,” Wolf said. “It fits what we need to do and makes workouts efficient and we can get through them quickly and efficiently.
“Our whole weight room staff is unbelievable. Coach Fitzgerald is a high intensity guy. Every single morning he is always there. Even if you come in and kind of tired, within 15 minutes you are just jacked up and ready to lift. He knows exactly what he is talking about, everybody’s numbers have been going up.”
Everywhere Fitzgerald has been, results from the weight room have carried over to the field.
Fitzgerald oversaw the strength and conditioning program at South Carolina (2009-11) and Penn State (2012-13) as Director of Football Strength and Conditioning.
Former Penn State running back Bill Belton (2011-14) went through Fitzgerald’s program.
“Throughout my time at Penn State, having Fitzgerald as my strength coach were my better years of college athletically,” Belton said in the book Fulmer Hires Pruitt.
Fitzgerald came to Penn State under then head coach Bill O’Brien who replaced Joe Paterno during a transition time for the program.
“I felt prepared going into the (2012) season and I was in great shape,” Belton said. “We did a good job of basically pushing the team to new heights and being able to compete with the top teams in the Big Ten.”
Penn State still had success going 8–4 (6–2 Big Ten) during O’Brien’s first season replacing Paterno, a time that turmoil surrounded the program. Penn State was ineligible to play in a bowl game due to sanctions imposed in wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal stemming from Jerry Sandusky.
Part of that success was a result of Fitzgerald clearing out the weight room and rearranging it his way like he has done at Tennessee.
“We had a lot of stationary machines and Fitzgerald removed them with racks,” Belton said. “Once we started moving weights, we could see the difference and it transitioned onto the field. Fitz brought in a new mentality with him. I felt a lot more explosive and I never felt like that ever in my life. Being in a college program under somebody’s guidance like that, it definitely takes you into a new place. I think it’s a great hire for Tennessee.”
Another player that experienced results within Fitzgerald’s strength program is Reginald Bowens.
Bowens played on defense at South Carolina from 2009-12 during Steve Spurrier’s most successful time as a Gamecock head coach, winning the SEC East in 2010 and winning 38 games in four seasons.
Bowens attributes a lot of South Carolina’s success then due to being in Fitzgerald’s strength program.
“Coach Fitz’s strength and conditioning program is designed to target all aspects of the game of football, more importantly the SEC,” Bowens said in Fulmer Hires Pruitt. “Coach Fitz designed his program to challenge you mentally and physically all in a competitive nature. His program pushes your mental and physical toughness needed to survive in the SEC.
“Coach Fitz brings an intense motivation every day and believed in getting better every workout. His focus at South Carolina was for our team to be fast and as strong as any opponent. He instilled in us to out-work any opponent competing at every aspect from lifting to conditioning drills.”