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First-year strength coach has confidence of U. staff

Today is the start of the 2006 Utah football season.

Wait. You're probably thinking it begins in early August, not early June.

Not these days. Nearly all of Utah's football players are in town and will get down to business today getting in proper shape for the upcoming season in the weight room. It's an important time, perhaps the most important for the players to get fit.

Over the next two months, the players will get in the optimum condition that will have them ready for falls drills and the season beginning Sept. 2.

That's why the strength program is so important at Utah and other college campuses and why it is so vital to have a "strong" person leading the program.

The Utes think they have the man in Doug Elisaia, who took over the program in January.

Elisaia is known as a coach who has the blend of personality, knowledge and experience for the weighty job.

He took over for Barry Johnson, whose contract wasn't renewed after one year. Ute football coach Kyle Whittingham has nothing negative to say about Johnson, just that a change was made and he's thrilled to have Elisaia leading the program.

"He's fantastic, I can't say enough about him," Whittingham said. "I wanted a certain type of strength coach and Doug is the perfect fit. Our players are completely sold on him. He has a great rapport with the players."

"He's awesome," added Morgan Scalley, a former Ute who will serve as a graduate assistant this year.

One of the reasons it's so important to have a competent strength coach who is respected and liked by the players is because of the amount of time he spends with them.

Once a kid arrives on campus to play college football, it's not the head coach or assistant coaches who spend the most time with the individual players, it's the strength coach.

"If you tallied up the hours, he spends more hours with the players than anyone else, even the assistants," Whittingham said.

Elisaia agrees, saying, "I'm basically around these athletes more than anybody else for four or five years."

Elisaia was born in America Samoa and came to the United States to play football for a small college in Iowa. After college, he stayed in the Midwest, becoming a defensive line coach at McPherson College in Kansas before moving to Wayne State in Michigan. His last three years before coming to Utah were spent at the University of Kentucky.

He was coaching and overseeing the strength program in his last three jobs, so when the opportunity came to work in the strength program at Utah, he jumped at it. Just a year later, he was promoted to the top job.

"I needed to see my kids a little more," said the father of three. "This gives me the opportunity to work with the athletes, which is what I love the most, even more than when I was a coach."

He still puts in 12 hours days from about 6 in the morning to 6 at night, but it's not quite the absurd hours that the coaches put in.

Elisaia has a staff of five, including three full-time assistants and a graduate assistant. He delegates the various 14 sports at the U. out to them while overseeing everything. He spends most of his time with the football team and men's basketball team.

He's says the training has to be tailored to each sport, for the men and women, but says the basics are the same for all sports.

"For the most part, it's the fast-twitch muscles that are focused on," he said. "We also focus on the speed component and the explosion component in the weight room as well. We try to do what the coaches want and what the athletes need."

The only month he doesn't coach the athletes is May, when he can only supervise and answer questions for any athletes who may be around. He's not allowed to do any organized lifts. Most athletes are gone during the month, anyway, before the football players return in June.

Elisaia divides football training into three phases with a couple of sub-groups.

The first is winter conditioning, which he calls the "base of what we're doing in the summer." He calls spring practice 1-A, when there's more practice and not as much training.

The second phase is the summer conditioning.

"That's when we hit it the hardest as far as our strength levels and intensity levels," he said.

He calls fall camp 2-A, when training tapers off and a balance must be met between training and practicing.

The third phase he calls "bowl preparation," which is the month or so after the final regular-season game and (hopefully) a bowl game.

"We need to get the strength level back after the season," he said. The week or two leading up to the bowl game he calls 3-A, similar to 1-A and 2-A.

Any coach can work athletes out hard. But there's more to it, according to Whittingham.

"It's 25 percent what you're doing and 75 percent how you do it," Whittingham said, adding that Elisaia does it the right way.

After having three strength coaches the last three seasons, the Utes hope there aren't any changes in the near future.

"We hope to keep Doug around awhile," Whittingham said.

And Elisaia feels the same way.

"My wife and I love it here," he said. "It was a big deal for us to have the opportunity to come out here. Coach Whittingham has a great staff to work for and Chris Hill and the administration has been very supportive of where we're headed and what we need to do."