(Editor’s note: Following is the second of two-part series centering on St. Bonaventure master strength and conditioning coach Darryn Fiske. Today: How he’ll approach offseason workouts when players return July 18-19).
ST. BONAVENTURE — He’s as enthusiastic as anybody involved with the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.
And, ordinarily, the summer is his time to shine.
Darryn Fiske commands the court when Bona transitions from basketball workouts to conditioning. He pushes his players in the weight room, ever-present, asking for, inspiring that one extra rep. He’s built a rapport with them, the evidence for which can be seen in the body transformation of, say, Amadi Ikpeze, who went from portly post presence to chiseled backup center his senior year.
Right now, however, and going forward, Fiske is as cautious as he is committed.
The Albany native, entering his 22nd year as Bona’s strength and conditioning coach, is, of course, eager to be back with those players, set to return to campus July 18-19 after nearly a four-month hiatus. He’s excited to begin the process of getting them to where they need to be, both in size and strength.
He also understands that everything is different now.
He’s not only essentially starting from scratch after a months-long quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he’s also operating under the auspices of numerous safety guidelines and with the responsibility of keeping players healthy under the current conditions.
And that’s the singular-turned-dual task before him.
“IT’S GOING to be a challenge, obviously, because a lot of our guys are probably nowhere near where we need to be or would want them to be in terms of being in shape, No. 1, or some of guys that need to gain size,” he acknowledged. “I’m sure somebody like Osun (Osunniyi) is not the 220-pound guy we’d want him to be right now.
“But that’s where health and safety (trump that), because I’m not expecting much of our guys at the moment because of the pandemic, so you’ve got to kind of curb your expectations to ensure that what we’re doing is safe, that they’re going to be able to recover from what you’re asking them to do.”
There’s no sense, he said, in trying to throw everything “and the kitchen sink” at them on Day 1. “And then for the rest of the week, these kids are paralyzed,” he said. “There’s other things that could occur that are not even COVID-related.”
UPON PLAYERS’ arrival, Fiske will follow the step-by-plan released jointly by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. This, he said, is a uniform set of protocols designed to safely return athletes to peak performance, “so you’re not, on top of COVID — and I hate to say this — ending up with a Maryland situation where a kid drops in conditioning.”
That adds an entirely new element to an already demanding job for Fiske, who oversees the strength portion of all 17 of Bona’s varsity athletics teams, and will soon be doing the same with the soccer, cross country and tennis squads.
But it’s one and the coaching staff intend to take very seriously.
“It’s going to take some time, but it’s also why we’re bringing them back so early, so we have enough time,” he said. “Hopefully, when we get our guys on campus, we’re going to be able to pick up … if somebody like ‘Shoon needs to gain weight, now we’re here, he’s here, we can be a little more hands on with him.
“How do we do that from this day forward?”
Fiske, too, is a planner. And it’s never been more difficult to plan than in this current period of extreme uncertainty. He’s at the mercy of not only the inherent challenges of the coronavirus, but also the constantly-changing landscape set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state government.
“So what you do is, you have your general plan and then you have your contingency plans after that,” he said of his approach to upcoming workouts. “If we’re not going to play in November, but we’re going to try to get going in December, okay, now we’ve just added a few more weeks to our preseason, and so what are you going to do for that?
“OK, now they’ve moved it to January, so we have even more time. It’s a basic plan, then a contingency plan just like anything else.”
IN TWO-plus decades here, Fiske has risen to the challenges before him.
Under Mark Schmidt, Bona has boasted some of the strongest and most physical teams (think 2011-12 Atlantic 10 championship squad) and many of the most well-conditioned (think of the limited rotations Schmidt often employs and the likes of Jaylen Adams and Kyle Lofton playing 39 minutes a game) in the Atlantic 10.
The Bona coaching staff has developed the reputation of being the best in player development in the conference, and Fiske has been an integral part of that from a body transformation standpoint.
Now comes perhaps his biggest professional challenge to date: returning players to normalcy while attempting to guide them safely through a continuing global pandemic. It’s a charge he’s ready to embrace.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “This is unprecedented, this is going to be something … it’s going to be very fluid. What we might be able to do one day, we might not be able to do the next.
“My biggest concern, as a coach, is we do all of this, we gradually get them back in shape, then a kid tests positive, he has to go into quarantine for 14 days and you’re back to square one. While the rest of the team, if they test negative, is at step eight, well now this player is back at step one.”
He added: “That’s going to be the frustrating part in terms of, generally we all progress at the same rate, and now, that may not be possible or even feasible to do if someone tests positive. You may be starting and stopping quite a bit.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)