FARGO — It was in mid-March when North Dakota State football players went their separate ways after the campus was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For head strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer, that was like having over 100 kids leaving his house.
Keeping tabs on each one, and how they were staying in shape, was an exercise in virtual organization. Some had their own weight sets at home. Some constructed their own. Some did whatever they could, like squat metal bleachers at their small-town football field.
Since he arrived in 2004, the same year NDSU began a Division I FCS schedule, the off season for football was the on season for Kramer. It’s a time when strength training can make or break a player’s development.
On June 1, the players returned home. Kramer’s home.
“The guys were ready to get back to work,” he said. “It’s the weight room. It’s a place where it’s not fun to be some times. It’s hard work. But they were fired up to be back together and fired up to work from what I’ve seen.”
NDSU has been working its players in groups of 10 at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, something that Kramer may continue even when the coronavirus threat disappears. Whenever that may be.
“I like the fewer kids,” he said. “You see more stuff and you coach more stuff. We’ll probably keep the COVID thing going for weeks, months and years after this.”
The 2½-month absence from using campus facilities was not terrible in terms of a strength and conditioning timeline. The Bison had already finished winter workouts and were preparing for spring football that normally lasts until the end of April.
The coaching staff in the past gave the players two weeks off after that so in reality, on the strength calendar, the Bison players are only about two weeks behind where they normally would be. Where they mostly lost out was on-field and meeting room practice time.
“For strength coaches, it was not bad timing,” Kramer said.
The hardest part from March through May, Kramer said, was for the players finding a routine. Last week, they were eased into summer workouts to prevent overuse injuries like pulled or strained muscles.
The fitness level was all over the board. A few players gained muscle mass and looked bigger and stronger upon returning, Kramer said.
“It’s always amazing how much variation you get in the human body,” he said.
With each upcoming week, the Bison plan to phase in the intensity of summer workouts. The running portion will gradually be implemented in the next couple of weeks.
The NCAA Division I Oversight Committee has tentatively approved a plan to allow coaches to work with players beginning on July 6, thus ending the current voluntary workout period. That would be followed by two weeks of “enhanced training,” according to ESPN, which would lead to the beginning of fall camp.
The plan still has to be approved by the Division I Management Council at its June 17 meeting.
NDSU has its returning players and freshmen from the area working out at its facility. The school is planning to have the entire team on campus starting July 6 including all incoming freshmen moving into dormitories.
The Bison begin their season Sept. 5 at the University of Oregon and so far everything is on as scheduled.