An out-of-shape sportswriter can't do justice to The Barwis Way. We'll just let the coach tell it. His routine combines Olympic lifts, conventional lifts, balance and functional training, injury prevention, "prehab," plyometrics as well as impulse, speed, core and agility training.
It is all part of a reshaping of a buttoned-up, stiff-upper-lip institution, maybe forever. Come on in, put your feet up in Schembechler Hall. When was the last time you saw Lloyd Carr lounging around his office in shorts and tennies? That's Rich Rod this summer as he settles in. The offense goes from pro style to Rodriguez's spread option which will be playing, at times, at light speed. Could those beefy All-American Michigan linemen of the past have kept up?
More importantly, with all this upheaval, can Rodriguez and staff get Michigan back to being Michigan? The program isn't cracked -- 20 wins the past two seasons -- maybe just smudged. Ohio State is dominating Michigan and the Big Ten. Appalachian State still hangs out there like a carbuncle on Heidi Klum's grill.
"There probably used to be a day and age where we would go out of the tunnel in that winged helmet and that would be worth 10 or 14 points," Rodriguez said. "Those days are over. We can use it ... but we can't count on it to give us any points."
When it comes to weight training, Barwis refers to the lump of football Play-Doh he inherited as "100-something freshmen." Compared to West Virginia, the average Michigan lineman is "a little taller but the body fat was lot higher." Most of the Wolverines, he said, had never clean lifted before in their lives. Under Barwis, everyone started out with 10 reps at 135 pounds. One of the prize pupils, defensive tackle Will Johnson, is now doing four reps in the clean at 335 and bench pressing 515 pounds. Junior defensive end Brandon Graham sliced his weight from 287 to 255 and saw his bench press go from 315 pounds to 430.
What does this have to do with getting Michigan's mojo back? Plenty. Rodriguez has been consistent in giving his strength coach much of the credit for the rise of West Virginia. Mountaineers linebacker Marc Magro came in at 207 pounds, running 5.19 in the 40. He left after last season weighing 250 having shaved almost a half-second off his 40 (running 4.7 seconds). Division III transfer Owen Schmitt developed into a punishing fullback who played with such ferocity that he routinely caved in his facemask. Ask quarterback Pat White how much he owes to Barwis for his speed (and Heisman candidacy).
"Everybody gets stronger in our program," Barwis said. "Everybody always gets faster in our program."
Seville believes it. Some of his West Virginia loyalties have transferred to Michigan because he actually likes the people that left. That's hard to believe in the acidic offseason climate created in Morgantown. It was back in 2000, but Seville still remembers his short time with West Virginia's strength coach. Barwis came in for his get-acquainted speech to the wrestling team. Paint peeled. Five wrestlers quit during warmups and one cried during practice, said Seville, now a student at Dallas Theological Seminary.
"Everything gets exaggerated over time," Barwis said.
Not in this detail. Seville recalled Law School Hill, an insane incline that Barwis required the wrestlers to run.
"It gets so steep at the top that you have to put your hand down (for balance)," he said. "People come down backwards because if you come down forward, you'll fall. A friend showed up late and did 42 Law Center Hills."
Presumably, the friend is still alive.
At 6-feet-6 and 225 pounds, Michigan quarterback Steven Threet will never be confused with White, but after spending one offseason with Barwis, he feels faster. That's a big part of what the coach is building. After all the plyometrics and core training, Michigan still has to build mental strength.
"We have to scare people again," Threet said. "There used to be a certain intimidation factor. You'd see Michigan run out and touch the banner and you knew you were in for a long day. Some of that has started to go away."