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Hokies Gaining an Edge on and Off the Field

By Chris Baylor | August 23
Hokies Gaining an Edge on and Off the Field
Inside the Virginia Tech Athletic Dining Hall overlooking Lane Stadium via Hokiesports.com

There is the old saying “Body development is 80% nutrition and 20% gym performance”. Well, for the Virginia Tech Hokies Football Team, there is no truer statement. Back in December of 2020 Virginia Tech Athletics unveiled a nearly $20 million Student-Athlete Performance Center replacing the old Bowman Room on the fourth floor of the Jamerson Athletics Center. This area currently serves as the primary space for the sports nutrition staff to collaborate and work to meet the nutritional needs of student-athletes from all of Virginia Tech’s varsity sports—and you guessed it, this includes the Virginia Tech Football Team.

The center entails a full-service kitchen that prepares nutritious meals tailored to player development and recovery. Virginia Tech Athletics has invested heavily in the last 12 years with the school spending over $3 million annually on food for student-athletes. Proper nutrition, fueling, and hydration correlate to better on field performances for Virginia Tech players. The space is located conveniently within the area players conduct study hall, training, practice, and lifting allowing for an even more efficient access to nutritious foods in what is undoubtedly long, strenuous days for the players. Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock stated in 2020, “The Student-Athlete Performance Center has more than 25,000 square feet of space—tripling the previous space. It will provide constant nutrition for our student-athletes and wonderful event space for athletic activities, graduations and more.” The facility also features a large area that allows athletes to eat and fellowship amongst their peers, with the football team connecting and growing off the field. The Student-Athlete Performance Center is unquestionably a huge addition to Blacksburg, something that the current players and staff feel helps them gain a competitive edge against the competition. Director of Nutrition Alyson Onyon concurs, with a strong statement in 2020 that “This dining facility will be one of the best in the ACC and in the Country”.

The average person needs to consume around 2,000 calories a day to maintain their current weight. A person’s Basal Metabolic Rate is the number of calories you burn as your body performs basic (basal) life-sustaining function. It is no secret that the typical football training is intense, requiring the body to exert additional calories past that of a typical sedentary human being. Football is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world, and players need to fuel their bodies appropriately for optimal performance. The exact amount of calories a player needs per day does depend on several factors including weight goals, age, height, and genetic factors. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association a football player needs about 50 calories per 2.2 pounds of body weight. For 335lb Redshirt Senior OL Silas Dzansi, this would equate to 7,614 calories per day. In short, Virginia Tech Football Players consume an incredible amount of calories each day to ensure their bodies maintain football condition. However, what those calories consist of is vitally important—something the new Student-Athlete Dining Hall understands.

With Fall Training Camp underway, training has intensified. However, the largest gains are without question made in the offseason. Weight training, conditioning, and disciplined nutrition are not just required during the fall, in fact, their importance in the offseason increases exponentially in Body Development. In fact, as new Head Coach Brent Pry has mentioned in several interviews, the players spend the most time with the Strength and Condition Staff. Dwight Galt IV (“The Energizer Bunny” per Redshirt Senior LB Dax Hollified) has hit the ground running with the fellas, as we have seen the intensity and competition in the weight room increase from day one. Jarrett Ferguson (RB 1998-2001) has been brought back to Blacksburg and serves as the Assistant Director of S/C after serving a 13 year tenure on Tech’s strength and conditioning staff from 2006-2018. “Ferg” as he is known as by his players, has also added additional passion, energy and competitiveness in the weight room—pushing his players to go beyond what they think is their maximum level. Pushing your body past what you think it is capable of is where the results in efficiency are born. The new S/C staff understands that winning is earned in the weight room. Underclassman can utilize this new staff and its “3-headed monster”, per Coach Pry (consisting of S/C, nutrition, and player development), to develop their bodies in the offseason. A player who was once overlooked can step back on the field for Fall Camp stronger, tougher, and healthier and create an instant impact on the field for the coming season.

247 Sports recently released an updated weight list from 2021-2022 for the current roster. There is a vast array of evident changes with the most apparent lying on the defensive side of the ball. In total the Defensive line shows a consolidated total weight gain of +79lbs with the linebacking crew close behind at +72lbs. With just ~12 months of progress and one offseason, it is clear that players are responding to the tools available to them to continue to develop and grow their bodies to the most efficient size possible. These changes all start with the food consumed—ensuring that it is the healthiest and body-friendly possible. Today the players have access to this nutritional food thanks to the recent facility upgrades, however it has not always been that easy in Blacksburg. With limited access to nutrient-dense food, players faced more difficulty in nutritional discipline.

In a recent SOS Podcast Redshirt Senior LB Dax Hollifield was heard praising the nutritional changes of the VT Program and the positive impact it has had on the team from previous years. Citing that “before we would only get a meal and walk over to D2 for breakfast, getting one meal after practice. Now breakfast, lunch, and dinner—it’s all day long, we can get great food cooked by amazing chefs. Instead of guys going out at night after practice to Wendy’s or McDonald’s they can get really good, high quality nutrition and that’s really been a big difference’. With timing being extremely important “especially after a big lift, right after a practice, it’s crucial for our recovery and development”. Another addition of value outside of the food itself, according to Hollifield, is the “ability to get closer with the guys up there in the dining hall, going up there talking to my boys, that’s a good hang out spot”.

Virginia Tech Football has encumbered numerous changes in the last 300 days, and with change comes the opportunity for new doors to open. Doors that, in the past, may have been challenging to get through. Whether that be dining hall doors, coaches’ doors, or weight room doors, it is apparent that fall 2022 in Blacksburg has the potential to be special. It is also apparent that the new Student-Athlete Dining Hall is indeed one of the best in the ACC and in the Country. With this recent addition Virginia Tech is gaining an edge on its nutritional value and player development, something that will surely have a positive ripple effect for years to come.

Chris Baylor

I was born in Philadelphia, PA. However, 15 years of my life was spent growing up in the suburbs of Houston, TX. My family has a rich history of Hokie Alumni. I am a 2016 graduate of CALS, with a minor in professional writing. When I am not working in my career within the agricultural lending world analyzing credit risk, I like to fish, hike, golf, and spend time with loved ones. If it has anything to do with Virginia Tech Sports, I am there!

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