Jul. 23—There's a lot that goes into an athlete's performance, whether it be on the court, pitch, diamond or field.
One of the most important aspects to having success in sports is generated behind the scenes in the weight room.
Two schools that have committed to giving their athletes an added advantage in strength and conditioning — Goshen High and Concord High — made moves in creating positions that nobody else in the Northern Lakes Conference has currently.
Last summer, Goshen made the decision to hire a strength and conditioning coach that would oversee all of the athletes after Craig Frazier retired from being involved with the school for over 30 years. They decided on Tyler Miller, a 2003 then-Redskins alum who studied sports science in college.
"In our case, the person responsible for the weight room retired," Goshen athletic director Larry Kissinger said. "Craig Frazier was a PE teacher at GHS and designed the curriculum for the PE classes. While Craig was always available to help coaches design programs, it was not a formal expectation. When Craig retired, instead of hiring a new PE teacher, it afforded us the opportunity to hire an expert in the field and to formalize the position.
"As a classroom instructor, Tyler's expertise builds understanding of how exercise and diet will promote a longer and healthier life beyond each athlete's playing days."
At Concord, things changed in 2019 when a 13,000 square foot facility was built on campus to promote health and fitness at the highest level.
The administration hired Scott Pherson in April to become the new director of the Fitness and Performance Center after Matt Murphy resigned from the position in January.
Pherson is a Ball State alum who spent time coaching multiple sports at Columbus East High School in southern Indiana before making the move to Concord in the spring.
"Several years ago, some representatives from both our coaching staff and our wellness department went down and visited Noblesville," Concord athletic director Dave Preheim said. "We went down there and that was really where the idea came from. We saw a program that was similar to what we ended up with, and that's what we basically built ours around. They were pretty open about saying that they don't worry about what a lot of the schools in the north are doing because they aren't doing what schools in the Noblesville area are doing.
"The (weight) room we were using was built in 1982. There's not much in schools going on the same way that it was in 1982. So we knew we had outgrown the space, both the general size and the equipment, so we knew we wanted to make a sizable investment."
Growing up, Miller enjoyed being active. Unfortunately at times, his body didn't give him the tools to be the athlete he would've preferred to be. That's where the motivation to transform his body first came to fruition.
"When I was in middle school, I got cut from the basketball team because I probably had like a 10-inch vertical leap," Miller said. "I was always kind of a bigger kid. And really, the weight room helped me become an athlete. ... It's not quite the Michael Jordan story, but I went from being the kid that got cut in sixth grade because I was unathletic to having a Division-I track and field scholarship because of the strength, power and movement quality that I built in the weight room. That's a big reason why I'm so passionate about (strength and conditioning)."
After finishing up his athletic and academic careers at Purdue, Miller was added on as a strength coach at the school soon after graduating and stayed there for a couple of years. After that, he started his own strength and conditioning business down in the Indianapolis area that he operated for nearly a decade before getting the opportunity to come home back to Goshen.
"It was not necessarily an easy decision," said Miller of taking the position at GHS. "With the pandemic and having to give up running my business, it wasn't easy uprooting my family either. ... Moving back home was a big change, but we just felt moving close to family where my parents, sister and brother-in-law are was a big draw to coming back. It felt like I was being called by God to move back."
Just like with any new job, the transition process can be rocky to navigate. That's especially true when it comes to training hundreds of high school athletes during a pandemic. Keeping a set schedule became the toughest part of the job initially due to students coming and going for periods of time throughout the school year.
"It's definitely been a learning process for the kids to catch onto what I'm having them do," Miller said. "With COVID, it was probably the screwiest year to start something like this and to try to implement systems. ... But we were here for a good chunk of the second semester, and we've had a full summer to fully get the systems implemented. The kids have made a lot of progress and have a good expectation of what's going on. I'm excited about where we're headed."
Five days a week, Miller has been in the gym this summer getting the Goshen athletes prepared for the upcoming grinds of their respective seasons. The boys and girls are split up into sessions. Each have strength training sessions three times a week with speed and agility sessions mixed in two times a week.
"One of the biggest challenges with high school athletes is some of the inexperience," said Miller when asked about the transition from teaching at his business compared to Goshen. "It's really about slowing things down, taking it movement by movement rather than expecting them to reach that college athlete-type tier.
"We've implemented a level system where all the kids aren't doing the same program, because everybody's skills aren't developed to that advanced level yet."
With Goshen being one of the only schools in the area to have a person like Miller on campus, he's hoping that the program he's putting into place gives the RedHawks that extra advantage in each sport to take the next step and continue to improve into the future.
"Hopefully it gives us a big advantage," Miller said. "I hope we can kind of hit the ground running and do a little catching up with some of the schools in our conference that have been more successful than us."
Pherson has hit the ground running this summer, developing Minutemen athletes with no wasted time.
Though he was hired in April, Pherson started running his summer workouts as newly appointed director of Concord's Fitness and Performance Center in June.
"The transition's been good," Pherson said. "When I got the job, I ended up writing the programming for (Concord football coach) Craig (Koehler), so the kids in the class coming in saw some of the stuff that we were going to do. Then coming in this summer, we've been working on tempo. Getting things accomplished in the building like the boards, the decals and the new logo. Just doing stuff to kind of hype it up.
"... The first day was kind of slow, but now, you'll see when the girls come in. They get in line, they go when it's time to go. When the whistle's on, boom, they get in between the lines, they get on the racks and do what they're supposed to do."
Looking at the way Pherson carries himself during his workouts, you can tell that the passion he has for his job is immeasurable. Growing up though, something like what he's doing now never really crossed his mind.
"I didn't even know this existed when I was growing up," he said. "I was the quote-on-quote athlete in high school. I did multiple sports. I was the kid in the neighborhood that got everybody together to go play basketball or football. ... Sports, I think give everybody a leg up in life. When you're an athlete and you compete, you learn a lot."
Pherson didn't pursue any sports in college, deciding to enroll at Ball State. He changed his major a couple of times, trying to find the right fit for him before deciding on physical education and school health.
His track to Concord began soon after college when his old high school football defensive coordinator, Pete Gast, was hired as a head coach and brought Pherson on as an assistant.
"I started coaching football and said 'hey, I can do the weight room'," Pherson said. "I didn't have any certifications or anything, but I was able to get in there and see that love grow. From then on, it's just been almost compounding interest. ... I've learned from some of the best in the country, I've got a bunch of letters after my name, a bunch of certifications. And now I'm here."
At his last job at Columbus East, Pherson was responsible for numerous things. He was a football coach and a track and field coach, on top of being the strength coach and weights teacher. In his current role, everything's a lot more centralized. His focus is on the fitness center, and that's basically where it stays.
"I'm maintaining the facility, making sure we're getting all the groups in and scheduling everything correctly," he said. "I'm in more of that administrative role here. ... It's a little different, but it's awesome because at (Columbus) East, I was able to work with all the athletes. They took weights. Same thing here, I'll still be able to work with all the athletes but actually get to attend some of the games since I won't be coaching."
Now, the focus for Pherson is adjusting schedules and making sure every athlete, including middle school students, get an opportunity to work out at the facility.
"I know I want to have a before school opportunity for those that weren't able to fit it in their schedule," he said. "And I want to have after school opportunities for my middle school students that are transitioning to the high school level. We want to get them in here and get them trained, but we also want them to just see this place so they can be excited to come be a Concord Minutemen."
By making strength and conditioning a major priority, Concord has become an example that other area schools may start to emulate in the future. Pherson believes it's only a matter of time.
"Indiana's done a great job of doing that," said Pherson, regarding the expansion of high school strength and conditioning positions. "There's new positions opening. Every week, I'm seeing a post about something. This is the future of high school strength and conditioning. ... If you have athletes at your school, you should have a certified strength coach. That's what they do, and that's what they focus on. You're going to have better and healthier athletes, and I think that's what we all want."
Evan Lepak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 240326. Follow him on Twitter @EvanMPLepak.