Georgia Tech guard Omoregie Uzzi and quarterback Tevin Washington live in symbiosis. Uzzi, the two-time All-ACC lineman, shields defensive tackles out of arm’s reach from Washington. Uzzi can explain his teammate and roommate’s returned benefit.
“We live right by the Krispy Kreme, so he makes sure I don’t make so many trips over there,” he said.
As the Yellow Jackets plow into their first full week of preseason camp, many of them do so with minds and bodies committed to forsaking glazed doughnuts and fueling up in a manner more conducive to making tackles, adding muscle mass and building endurance.
“I feel like I can run way longer than I could last year,” A-back Orwin Smith said. “It feels good, especially coming back from that (toe) injury and then being one of the guys that’s in the front running (in conditioning drills). Like I tell ‘em, I feel like it’s what I’m eating.”
Hired in May, strength and conditioning coach John Sisk has driven the emphasis performance through nutrition. As a result, all of the incoming freshmen and between 30 and 40 team members met over the summer with Leah Thomas, dietician for Tech’s varsity teams as well as the director of the Total Person program, far more than in previous years.
“He’s made it pretty clear, this is a piece of [a player’s development], and if they’re missing it, then they’re missing a piece,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ main points to players include eating five or six smaller meals a day rather than three big ones. Another is finding the right balance and volume of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, with an emphasis on complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. She took players on tours of a nearby Publix, suggesting they stick to the perimeter of the store (where the less processed items are) and showing them how to read labels (“If it’s really whole wheat, whole wheat would be the first ingredient in the list”).
Acknowledging that no one has flawless eating habits, she gave players a list of better choices when going to fast-food restaurants. Offensive tackle Ray Beno said he has made big changes to his diet. He hasn’t eaten fast food since May, even his beloved Taco Bell.
Beno said he is “just trying to watch what I eat. Not really a calorie counter, just being mindful.”
Smith, who said he used to eat anything available, can match Beno’s restraint. He said he hasn’t eaten a hamburger since May. His menu is heavy on oatmeal, fruit, baked fish, chicken and turkey burgers.
“You just get so used to [not eating well] because you eat whatever you want and you still see yourself performing at a certain level,” Smith said. “But I try to tell guys to stop eating it. You may think you’re at peak performance, but you’re not.”
To that end, Smith also organized a yoga class for the team over the summer.
“A lot of times, athletes, they’re doing these repetitive movements, but they create a lot of imbalance within their bodies,” said Tonja Bennett, the class instructor. “Yoga comes in and it balances it.”
The classes lasted about 90 minutes in the locker room, twice a week.
“She stretches everything from your foot all the way to your biceps,” Smith said. “Even your neck. And some of the poses are very difficult. You’re balancing and stretching at the same time.”
Quarterback Vad Lee, defensive end Emmanuel Dieke, safety Isaiah Johnson, tackle T.J. Barnes and walk-on linebacker Joshua Rogers were among the more frequent participants. Barnes found it beneficial if difficult, including one exercise that required him to stretch his back muscles and hold the pose for close to a minute.
“I don’t know the name of the position, but it made me want to not come back,” he said, “but I kept on coming.”
The Jackets may never achieve run-pass balance. But after an educational summer, perhaps different kinds of equilibrium can sustain them.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog