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Argo coach revamps training methods

Players can expect camp with a difference

MATTHEW SEKERES

The Globe and Mail

Thursday, June 8, 2000

Toronto -- Who needs the bench press? Certainly not John Huard.

The new coach of the Toronto Argonauts doesn't accept the testing methods of the rest of the football world. He'll conduct his coming Canadian Football League training camp the Huard Way, which means no free weights, no water and plenty of jumping rope.

His methods are called modern by those in the Argo organization. Others would use less-flattering adjectives.

"How [players] approach [camp], and if they take it with the attitude that we're here to win a Grey Cup, they'll be fine," Huard said. "If they're here to complain about the grass being too tall . . . or that they don't have water, then they are in for a long haul. Training camp's going to go the way I understand football. And I know if you do it that way, you'll be successful."

There will be no water during breaks at Argo practices, players instead will receive Popsicles to combat dehydration. And when the whistle signals the end of the day, players will skip rope before heading to the showers.

Fitness testing will consume an entire day of camp so Huard can collect data on returning players and the newcomers.

The team's second annual media day training camp was held at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus yesterday and reporters were put through some of the drills that await players next week.

Upper-body strength was measured by tossing a 20-pound medicine ball away from the chest while sitting. Huard said the exercise more accurately reflects a natural football position because hands are kept together, and elbows are tucked in, unlike the bench press, which uses a wide grip from a semi-lying position.   'It's irrelevant'

"We're not into bench pressing," he said. "It's irrelevant."

Huard's rejection of the bench press could be considered football heresy. It has long been used by the National Football League as the accepted means of measuring upper-body strength. Year after year, draft-eligible players at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis do as many repetitions as they are able with 225-pounds on the bar.

Huard's argument is that the bench press requires a player to lie with his back flat, which isn't likely to happen during a game. If the Argos are caught in that position, it will be a long season, even longer than last year's 9-9 campaign.

He also rejects power squats -- in which a bar with weights is placed across the back of the shoulders and the lifter repeatedly bends at the knees -- because it compresses vertebrae and could do lower back damage.

Huard prefers the one-legged run, in which players travel 20-yards on each leg. The exercise measures the dominant leg, and the time recorded tells coaches how powerful the legs are.

The Huard Way is structured and disciplined, something that may take some getting use to.

"I couldn't have more polar coaching opportunities," said receivers' coach Jeff Fairholm, a holdover from the staff of deposed coach Jim Barker. "Last year, with Jim, it was loosey-goosey. This year, with John, it's not that way at all."

The Huard Way didn't work well in Shreveport in 1994. He was fired before the first exhibition game, and he's been out of the league since.

He had a bizarre tenure that year in Louisiana, even by CFL standards.

Shreveport's players reportedly complained about being forced to live in barracks at the state fairground with no pillows, blankets or sheets on their bunk beds.

They also were forced to clean up their own quarters -- quarters that housed visiting pig farmers during the annual state fair.

The medical staff staged a near-mutiny after Huard's exhausting practices produced a litany of battered and bruised Pirates in the trainer's room.

Huard yesterday denied that the players were mistreated and said such reports were false.

Argos hopefuls will stay in the dorms at Erindale College when training camp opens on Saturday. And sessions won't be gruelling, the coach said, compared with NFL training camps during which players suffer eight weeks of two-a-day practices.