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Strong Mind, Strong Body: A Conversation With Doug Elisaia

Doug Elisaia's career in strength and conditioning started out of necessity but grew into who he is today, the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Utah football team. At the small school in Iowa where he played football, the position coaches ran the workouts. Essentially, they didn't have a strength and conditioning program, and it was during this time that his curiosity and interest grew into a desire to learn how to work out and discover the science of training.

Utah Strength and Conditioning

"When we get to the fourth quarter and the pressure is on and teams are tired, we’ve been to that place, that’s common ground for us, we’ve been there all off-season. We take the guys there every single day." - Doug Elisaia

Now in his eleventh season, Elisaia is widely considered one of the best in his trade, and it's well deserved. He's confident, soft spoken, and very well respected. The responsibility placed on him and his staff, is much larger than people think, and he is very comfortable shouldering the weight.

"As a strength staff, and as a strength coach, I'm probably the only other guy that has to address the entire team," Elisaia said. "I like to explain to the guys about where my staff is coming from in the weight room. You know, their position coach may have to deal with 15 guys. I have to deal with every single guy, all 130 guys, all 130 attitudes, and all 130 different personalities."

Most people would cringe at the thought of dealing with that many hormone driven college males, paired with the added dynamic of young men from different backgrounds, from all over the country, is a recipe for a powder keg that very few people have the intestinal fortitude to handle.

"I have to create an atmosphere that makes them want to come back every day because training for football is a year round deal now," Elisaia said. "It's not like there is an off season anymore. The off-season is my in-season, so they are here with me pretty much all year round. So it's got to be an environment that they want to come back to."

Utah Strength and Conditioning

Right now, Coach Elisaia and his staff have the team for about eight hours a week. With recent changes in the NCAA mandate, two of those hours can be used for film and meeting with the coaches, but with the recruiting season in full swing, Elisaia gets to use every bit of that time to train. The team is now in what he classifies as "off season one," which lasts from the second week of January to the beginning of spring football. Their focus during this time is size and lots of it. After spring ball, the players are off until June. But it's not all leisure. Elisia says each player is given a program to follow through the "active rest" period during the month of May.

In June, it gets real. The strength and conditioning staff will take the team for the eight or nine weeks leading into fall camp, where they will focus on speed of movement. Elisaia also notes that it's not hard to spot who didn't follow the program during the month that the players were off working out on their own, but that it's not something he's worried about.

"The bar has been set so high here," Elisaia said. "I have been here 10 years, and in that time, guys understand what the expectations are. I feel like the guys come in ready, and that they really enjoy training. There's a certain amount of pain that's involved in working out, and they understand that. It's a business mentality. They come in, and they have fun. And I think the biggest thing is me letting them have their own personalities. We recruit these kids because they have great character. They don't come in here and I'm all over them and in their face. I let them have fun, and when it's time to get down to business, they get down to business."

Utah Strength and Conditioning

With all the changes happening at the University of Utah, the weight room has remained consistent. The way Elisaia has run his program has not changed. The way they train has evolved, coaches have come and gone, ut in the weight room never changes. It's hard work for yourself and your teammates.

"I think that's part of the success that we have in the weight room developing athletes and developing guys mentally," Elisaia said. "Nothing changes, you tweak the program, but the expectation and what they expect from each other in here, stays the same. There's a lot of that going on as far as coaches leaving, all that other stuff, but in here, they aren't thinking about that. They're thinking about their teammates. They're thinking about the grind. They're thinking about their goals and each other. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters, those guys playing for each other."

Coach Elisaia credits this consistency to Coach Whittingham and the trust he places in Doug and his staff. Elisaia feels that he has the full support of the head coach, and he trusts and believes in what Elisaia and his staff do.

"Kyle hired me to be the strength coach here, and he lets me handle that aspect of our team," Elisaia said.

Utah Strength and Conditioning

The strength and conditioning program at the University of Utah is elite. Elisaia and his staff have created a culture of hard work and dedication that is very hard to match. He cultivates success and shows people that they can push themselves further than they could ever imagine. He trains the mind as intensely as he trains the body, and it has paid off on many occasions. He attributes Utah's late game heroics of last season to the work they have put in during the off-season.

"We want to take them to the fourth quarter when we train," He said. "When we get to the fourth quarter, and the pressure is on and teams are tired, we've been to that place. That's common ground for us. We've been there all off-season. We take the guys there every single day."

Utah Strength and Conditioning

Ultimately, the relationships he has built with the players are what makes his job worth doing. He treats every one of them like he treats his own kids, and he hopes that the mental and physical strength they gain during the time spent with him translates into life experiences. Every now and then Elisaia has a former player walk through the doors of the weight room and share with him how the lessons they learned from him have paid off.

Elisaia is more than a strength coach. He's a mentor, a friend, and a guide through one of the most important times in a young man's life. He understands the position he is in, and he wouldn't have it any other way. He understands that success isn't dictated by what happens on the football field. It's dictated by how you approach life and the obstacles you encounter, and your willingness to push yourself past your perceived limits in order to achieve your goals.