FARGO — As if 2020 wasn’t upside-down enough, Jim Kramer entered a social media world nobody thought would ever happen. He’s on Twitter.
The North Dakota State assistant athletic director for athletic performance is the guy behind the scenes who has played a front-and-center role in establishing NDSU’s Division I FCS dynasty. He has always preferred to work behind closed doors. In other words, the Sanford Health Athletic Complex weight training center is his sanctuary.
But the dispersal of all student-athletes out of their schools across the country because of the coronavirus outbreak has Kramer trying to keep the football players in some sort of physical shape.
On Monday morning, he posted the following tweet: “Up and at’m boys, more to come this afternoon.”
The boys have found some creative ways for a weight room. One tweet showed sophomore offensive guard Bryan Nohava from Hawarden, Iowa, squatting a set of portable metal bleachers in front of a small-town, rural football field.
Monte Kubas and Dirk Kuntz, the fathers of Bison players Zach Kubas, Jake Kubas and Kaden Kuntz, built squat and bench press racks out of plywood. The makeshift weight room is in Monte Kubas’ shop on the family farm near Dickinson, N.D.
The Kubas brothers are offensive guards and Kuntz is a wide receiver.
“As long as you have free weights and a bar, you can get a lot done,” said Monte Kubas, a former Bison defensive lineman in the 1990s. “Weight is weight. And it doesn’t have to be traditional plates, it can be whatever you have sitting around the farm.”
Costner Ching’s farm near Castlewood, S.D., is his weightlifting room these days. He’s got an advantage in that his father, Jeff Ching, is a former linebacker at South Dakota State who has been a personal trainer.
A lawnmower shed “was upgraded with all the equipment,” said Costner, who will be a junior defensive tackle.
“I had it throughout high school and I’m extremely blessed to have it,” he said. “You make some stuff up. I’m using seed bins to raise up the weights better. You’re doing everything you can do to simulate what we had in the weight room at NDSU.”
That includes running drills, too. Ching said the NDSU campus closed so quickly that he couldn’t get into the Bison locker room and grab his cleats so he’s using his old ones. He does his quick-burst running patterns on the grass fields on the farm.
“There are divots and you have to watch your ankles,” he said.
Kramer has used his Twitter account to give his players examples of doing something with very little. He posted a video on Tuesday of doing “inverted rows” with a rope around a tree. On Monday, he used milk cartons for an exercise to work on upper back muscles.
In normal times, his day would consist of working with six different groups at different times. Now? He’s all over the map with social media, video and phone calls.
No day, no hour, no minute, is normal.
“You can’t monitor stuff, it’s tough,” Kramer said. “Technology? I don’t care what the greatest technology guys say, technology never works. I’ve put in long days before but these are still longer yet. You’re trying to make sure they’re OK first before worrying about the strength and conditioning part. Then you have to figure out what they have for equipment.”
Kramer said he’s asking his players to set aside at least one hour a day and to send him video of them working out. That’s not always easy, with some players helping a family business or other home situations that can arise.
“I think they’re getting their work in,” he said. “But they could also show me video of them working out and then they could go back to lying on the couch. I’ve seen some interesting things today with workouts, guys lifting with no shoes on.”
Normally, the Bison would be in the first several practices of spring football, but that’s been shelved. The players were able to finish winter workouts following the Division I FCS national title win over James Madison in early January.
That’s the trick with the COVID-19 pandemic: to maintain the physical gains they made in January through early March.
“You just want to maintain what you developed over the winter months,” Monte Kubas said. “Stay on par. Hold serve.”
Kramer said that isn’t the immediate concern, although the longer the separation drags on the more it will be. He did say all the other schools are in the same boat, “but that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
The plethora of different training aids, however, will most likely put another challenge to Kramer when the players do return. The details of who was lifting what will make for a different level of strength with each player.
“We’re going to ask kids to be honest, what did you have available to lift with?” Kramer said. “We’ll be trying to figure that out. Who squatted with dumb bells and who squatted with body weight?”
Normally, Kramer is a strength and conditioning coach who asks very few questions. He’s an instructor. But these days, there are no players to work with face-to-face.
And not only that, he’s on Twitter.