Training table needs to become a reality

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As we look back at the 2009 season, there will be plenty of time to discuss what went wrong for the Irish. But any type of analysis begins and ends with the Irish defense.

The Irish finished 87th in total defense, and during the four game losing streak that ended the season, the Irish only forced two turnovers and surrendered over 400 yards to everybody but UConn. It was abundantly clear that while the Irish were inept in every facet, the team failed because it couldn’t stop the run. After listening to the comments of Jack Swarbrick on Friday, I think we’ve gained some valuable insight into the reasons why.

“The weight loss on defense was 13 pounds per player during the season,” Swarbrick said when discussing the need to improve nutrition for the football team. “Our weight loss on the defensive side of the ball was a little shocking.”

Those numbers provide resounding proof why the Irish defense wilted as the year progressed, and were buoyed when Swarbrick revealed that only 42 percent of the football team ate dinner at the dining hall on a nightly basis.

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t eating anything,” Swarbrick said. “We have to schedule a little smarter. You can’t create obstacles for yourself.”

People seem to wince when the topic of training table is brought up, as if the idea of serving different food to student-athletes is somehow an injustice. But Notre Dame absolutely has to make changes to their nutrition game plan, and the statistics Swarbrick brought up supply resounding proof that the athletic department is light years behind.

I had the chance to tour Oregon’s football facilities last season, and was amazed at the nutrition system they have set up for their football players. Attached to the weight room and training facilities was a juice bar, where a staffer prepares nutrition shakes for players before and after workouts. Talking with Florida strength and conditioning director Mickey Marotti, who ran Notre Dame’s program from 1998 to 2005, his staff at Florida puts a gigantic emphasis on diet and nutrition, something that I’m sure Notre Dame’s staff does, but is unable to implement without specialized meal plans for scholarship athletes.

It’s interesting that during his introductory remarks, Brian Kelly mentioned nutrition when asked about winning and losing.

“Eating at Burger King at 3:00 in the morning is not going to make you the best for your 8:00 o’clock workouts,” Kelly quipped.

(If Kelly knew how bad meal participation was among his players, he’d at least be thankful those guys were eating…)

From the sounds of both the head coach and athletic director’s remarks, a change is in the works. A Student-Athlete Advisory Council brought up the issue six months ago, and right now, the university is trying to figure out a model that works best.

“It’s at the top of the list. It’s just how do you make it work,” Swarbrick said.