It’s unusual for everyone to have a good laugh when a 300-pound guy is throwing jabs and crosses a few inches from your head.
But that’s exactly what the scene has been weekly in the Boise State football team’s weight room.
The Broncos have inserted boxing into their offseason conditioning regimen, taught by former Boise State wrestler and current mixed martial arts instructor Jesse Brock.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Brock said. “It’s something a little different for them, breaks up the routine a little bit. They want to learn something new, and it can hopefully make them better.”
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It started last summer when strength and conditioning coach Jeff Pitman felt that mixing things up after four seasons was due. He knew some other teams, including ones where he previously had coached, implemented some boxing training.
The offensive and defensive linemen were the only players who got to take part, but that has expanded to all but the quarterbacks and specialists this winter.
“We were ready for something different,” Pitman said. “You hit the pad and it pops, they like that. Those bigger guys, the rips and swims, hitting a strong, moving target ... it correlates onto the field. There were some situations last year, I could see guys strike harder and sustain it in games.”
What intrigued the Boise State staff, beyond simply finding a fun, new way to condition, were the positives in boxing training.
Pitman said “the linemen really liked it,” noting improvement in hand placement and hand-eye coordination. For running backs, pass blocking can be improved. Linebackers can use the lessons in getting off blocks. Receivers and cornerbacks have to keep or get off press coverage. For all, boxing improves shoulder strength, vital at any spot.
But Pitman noted that one big benefit isn’t in the striking but the footwork.
“Footwork is key in football, and same thing with boxing,” said Brock, who trains at Combat Fitness/SBG Idaho. “Your feet have to be underneath you. That’s what sets up the punches. People laugh when they hear it, but the arms are the least important part of boxing.”
Coach Bryan Harsin said having Brock, not only an accomplished wrestler for the Broncos, but an MMA pro with a 23-9 career record, lends a lot of credibility. He said with the team focusing on “technique all the time,” this is another element, maintaining the right position even if they’re tired so they aren’t overreaching or putting themselves in a bad spot.
“It kind of gives you that natural balance. The skill, it’s a different skill, it’s not something we ever talk about,” Harsin said. “I think it’s been a great tool for us to improve our guys athletically.”
Boise State also mixes in yoga among its offseason conditioning routine, and Pitman said the team made “drastic” changes in the last year, including a shift in its weightlifting schedule and a focus on post-practice recovery.
When he wanted to continue to address explosiveness, Pitman remembered Brock from working with him during his first stint at the school, when Brock won Pac-12 titles in 2002 and 2004.
“I was definitely excited. I think some of the more forward-thinking coaches out there have started using things like mixed martial arts or yoga, outside-the-box stuff, to train their guys,” Brock said. “I’d never done it ... but I’m a Bronco, so I was really happy to do it.”
Brock called a friend who worked with Samford, an FCS team in Alabama, and got a few pointers. He’s added his own twists, and now he has become part of the Broncos’ ever-busy schedule.
“He does a hell of a job,” Pitman said. “We’re going to keep doing it, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg since we just started doing it.”
VENABLE JOINS STAFF: Former Boise State nickel Winston Venable, who played in the NFL and CFL from 2011 to 2016, has joined Pitman’s strength staff. He replaces Jalil Brown, who was announced Wednesday as Northern Arizona’s defensive backs coach.