It is Brad Bielaniec’s job to make sure that the Appalachian State football team stays strong, well conditioned and healthy.
The team’s goal is simple when it comes to strength and conditioning, according to Bielaniec.
“First and foremost, we do all we can to make the body able to play the game and then be able to succeed in the game,” Bielaniec said.
Bielaniec, whose official title is director of athletic performance for football, returned to App State in January after being the head strength and conditioning coach at Marshall in 2019. One season earlier, he was an assistant strength coach at App State.
He faces an uphill battle to keep the No. 18-ranked Mountaineers at their playing weights and in shape through the COVID-19 era. The players are not on campus since it is closed, and the NCAA does not allow the staff to meet directly with the players.
Bielaniec said he and his staff have to hope that they players were coached well enough before the restrictions took place.
“It’s very restrictive,” Bielaniec said. “We are only allowed to post workouts. We are not allowed to comment. It’s all on a voluntary basis, so we leave it up to the kids. The kind of group that App State has, a lot of the kids that we have are doing the right thing.”
Bielaniec said the players have had to improvise when it comes to their workouts. Many have their own equipment they can use to build and maintain strength. Some others have had to be more resourceful.
“You can use everything from your staircase to the tailgate of your truck,” Bielaniec said. “It takes some creativity and some outside-of-the-box thinking, but you find a way to get it done.”
Bielaniec said he is more concerned that the player maintains high standards of nutrition and not worry as much about building strength. He gave out protein bars and protein powder to maintain their nutritional balance.
“That’s where I put all of my eggs, in that basket,” he said.
Bielaniec is looking forward to the day when the restrictions will be lifted and he and his staff can get back to what they were brought to App State to do, which is to improve performance through building strength and endurance.
One potential negative impact from the interruption in supervised training is that players might be more at risk for injuries after they return.
“Once we get a better idea of when they get back, it’s going to be a process of making sure they get back to playing shape, but they have to be healthy,” Bielaniec said.
But building up college football players and keeping them in shape is a year-round proposition. Players continue their conditioning during the summer months to make sure they are in shape for the fall workouts and the beginning of the season.
Appalachian State’s first game of the 2020 season is Sept. 5 at home against Morgan State. The Mountaineers’ next two games are at Wake Forest on Sept. 11 and at Wisconsin on Sept. 19.
“We’re doing what we can,” Bielaniec said. “When we get the OK to go, we’ll have a smooth transition back. That’s the biggest deterrent now is just waiting to hear just how much time we’ll have to prepare for the season.”
There is more than building strength involved with these new workouts. Building flexibility and preventing injuries are equal partners with building strength, according to Bielaniec.
“We can get anybody strong, but knowing what to do to help alleviate injuries, so what we look out for are soft-tissue injuries,” Bielaniec said. “Anything that is a non-contact, because football is a contact sport and you might break an arm or you might break a finger. But if I’ve got a guy running around in practice and he pulls a hamstring, that’s on me.”
Bielaniec also said being a strength and conditioning coach involves knowing the individual players’ mental condition.
“It’s not just about how strong they can get,” he said. “It’s about first and foremost the player’s health and wellbeing.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 has not allowed Bielaniec to do the job the way he normally does. He, like many coaches, prefers to be more hands-on with the players and the restrictions put in place do not allow him to do that.
“I miss seeing the kids on a day-to-day basis,” Bielaniec said. “I miss seeing the look in their eye when they complete something, so not being able to see them and not being able to be around them, it’s very difficult.”