Tape It Up: NC State: Flexible Freedom

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NC State: Flexible Freedom

If you can't touch your toes, you won't be playing for the Wolfpack this season. N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien and strength coach Todd Rice have implemented a strict strength training regimen that incorporates far more flexibility training than is normally expected of football players, because Rice is convinced that stiff players are slow players. And he might be on to something.

N.C. State players spent the summer fulfilling the grueling requirements of Rice's flexilibty program, the Charlotte Observer reports. Players are not allowed to participate in weight lifts until they pass the appropriate tests that ensure the athlete has the flexibility required to complete the lift properly and lessen the risk of injury. Players also take part in a series of yoga stretches before each workout to improve flexibility, and nearly every running drill of more than 100 yards has been eliminated from workouts because Rice does not consider running such distances to be relevant to the players' on-field skill set.

Rice first began using the stringent program at Boston College in 2002, after spending five years at Cal. The exercises are based on those used by Olympic lifters and sprinters throughout Europe, but are not commonly practiced in the U.S., where a premium is placed on bulking up, not stretching out.

The players at N.C. State have taken to the regimen far better than the Eagles did, working to improve their flexibility and enjoying pre- and post-workout stretching sessions to lessen the chance of on-field injury. Must be the European flair Raleigh is so famous for.

Rice has kept injury statistics on his teams since before starting the program, and notes a significant drop in per game injuries (concussions excluded) since the program has been in place - from 5.5% to 2.9%. Flexibility also helps speed recovery after injury, according to Rice, but the Wolfpack isn't far enough along in the program to enjoy its full benefits.

Exhibit A - starting tight end Anthony Hill, who went in for knee reconstruction before fall drills began and is lost for the season.

"We need to get Anthony vastly more flexible," Rice said. "And he knows it."

It may be too late for Hill, a senior, but tailback Toney Baker and receiver Darrell Blackman, to name two, are excited about the results they're seeing. Blackman thinks player flexibility will even reduce the team's penalties and turnovers, since more flexible guys means less fatigue on the field, and therefore less holding, less jumping offside and fewer mistakes.

Stretching and shorter runs translating into recognizably fewer turnovers seems a bit far-fetched, but it can't hurt to talk about it. If these players think being flexible will make them better, stronger and faster, then go with it - whether it's mind over matter or mind plus matter will be irrelevant once N.C. State starts winning games.

As soon as those statistics start rising and the wins start coming, attribute it where you will - I'll be flexible.

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