Creative Raiders keep motor going long, strong

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge seniors Jacob Mundy, left, and Andy Fischer celebrated after the Raiders upended Class 2A No. 1 Evansville Mater Dei in last week’s sectional championship. The Raiders capped the victory with two first-down conversions, and they attribute their late-game stamina to a gamut of unconventional weightlifting practices aimed at building raw muscle, core strength and endurance.  


Herald Sports Writer

It’s early August, 95 degrees in a sweaty gym and the Southridge football team has finished the first portion of its summer offseason routine: an hour and a half of basic lifting — bench, military press, squats.

But there is still work to be done. Now, each player grabs a 45-pound plate, maybe two depending on the day, and begins performing lunges across the gym, stopping on each step to shove the weight straight up above his head.

These are called “finishers.” Finishers also can be endless cycles of curls, triceps extensions or squat presses. And how do finishers make you feel?

“Like my arms are about to fall off,” Raider defensive end and offensive guard Andy Fischer said.

But flash forward three months to last Friday. The temperature has dropped significantly. Raider Field is the new backdrop and the weights are now actual people, the massive Evansville Mater Dei defensive line the Raiders must surpass to cling to a 21-19 lead with four minutes remaining in the Class 2A sectional championship. The plays are simple. Dive, sweep. And two third-down conversions later, quarterback Luke Stetter takes a knee for the Raiders’ first sectional title in four years.

“Our entire weightlifting program has been 10 times harder than it was last year, and everyone can really feel it,” Fischer said. “(It’s) being able to go the extra mile in the fourth quarter.”

It’s that work in the summer — some old favorites from defensive coordinator Steve Winkler mixed with some new wrinkles from head coach Scott Buening — that has paid dividends during Southridge’s postseason run, which makes its next stop at Paoli (10-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Usually undersized but never short on motor, the Raiders have blitzed opponents for nearly 275 rushing yards per game in the postseason, twice needing fourth-quarter drives to seal must-win games. And it all started months ago with some weights and two of the Raiders’ secret weapons.

Actually, those weapons aren’t that secret. In fact, Winkler probably will tell you about them if you ask. He said it’s just the workouts they do that no one else does.

The first is called pullovers, a kind of above-head arm extension that Winkler says “at one time was written as the only exercise for the upper pec.”

The second is the “dirty 30.” Named for the number of reps it requires, it’s a grueling, all-purpose workout requiring a mixture of strength and cardiovascular punch. Winkler claims the Russian Olympic wrestlers perform the drill when they don’t have the time for an extensive workout.

“It’s five exercises, six reps, curls and bent-over rows, upright rows, military press and good-mornings,” Fischer explained. “And the fun thing is you aren’t allowed to put the bar down. You have to hold it up the whole time so it’ll get you tired quick.”

A player will start standing with the bar hanging in front of him, then jerk the weight up to the chest and do six squats. Then, the bar comes over the head and the player will do six upright rows, extending the elbows above the head. It goes back and forth like this for four more sets — the bar in front, over the head, in front, over the head — all while not stopping.

Winkler said the purpose of the lift isn’t necessarily to accrue brute strength, but it does hit a variety of areas and adds the kind of core strength needed for a 48-minute grapple with other teams every Friday — especially considering at least nine Raiders either start or receive time on both sides of the ball.

“If it weren’t for (our training), there’s no way we could play both ways like we do,” Fischer said. “There are a lot of guys who do not see the sideline a lot, so it really helps during the summer workouts that we pushed and just went that extra mile.”

The finishers mentioned were incorporated by Buening. Those, combined with the Raiders’ main lifts that are timed to ensure little rest between each sets, are all part of a comprehensive workout that aims to build the strength the best way there is.

“If you want to get stronger, it’s all different ways to get to (muscle) failure. That’s all it is,” Winkler said. “You tear your muscle tissue, it repairs, it gets bigger, it gets stronger.”

That extra muscle and stability is especially crucial for an offensive line that relies heavily on its quickness off the ball and ability to pull quickly around the edge.

The aforementioned Mater Dei game may be the best example of an outsized Raider team using its power and stamina to outman the Wildcats all night. Except for an 84-yard draw run by Mater Dei’s Nolan Goebel, the Wildcats ran for just 143 yards to Southridge’s 292.

This week against a Paoli offense that throws for better than 150 yards per game, maintaining ball control will again be central to keeping the Rams off the field. And if it comes down to the fourth quarter — as it has during every game for the Raiders this postseason — expect a heavy dose of dive and sweep built on months of training.

“That last four minutes, that’s when everyone is tired and cramping and we have to move the ball,” Winkler said. “We used to call the offensive line the red wave, just move those chains no matter what. You get 31⁄2 yards, 31⁄3 yards, you get your third down and go move those chains.”

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