By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
Strength is the most integral aspect of athletic competition. When two teams meet on the field or court, the team with the strongest athletes is usually going to walk off the victor.
College athletes build up that strength with the help of strength and conditioning coaches, and last month St. Bonaventure’s Darryn Fiske was honored as one of the nation’s finest. Fiske was one of 21 collegiate strength and conditioning coaches to be named a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA) this year, joining coaches from power conference schools like Florida, Wisconsin, Auburn and Tennessee.
Fiske, who has been at SBU since 1998, has overseen significant improvement across the board with the Bonnies’ athletic teams. The men’s basketball team has made two NCAA Tournament appearances, while 2012 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Andrew Nicholson was selected in the first round of that year’s NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. The women’s basketball team has made four WNIT appearances and an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance, while men’s swimming has won four Atlantic 10 titles, men’s tennis has won two and the baseball team has won one.
“I am truly honored and humbled by this certification and distinction of Master Strength and Conditioning Coach,” said Fiske. “To be mentioned in the same category of elite strength and conditioning that the MSCC represents is incredible. It represents knowledge, expertise, skill, mastery, and longevity in a profession that turns over quite frequently due to the perceived connection between strength coach and sport coach.
“I am proud to bring that distinction to St. Bonaventure.”
“We are honored to have Coach Fiske join the ranks of the Master Strength and Conditioning Coaches. He is truly a model of an outstanding strength and conditioning professional,” CSCCA executive director Dr. Chuck Stiggins told GoBonnies.com.
That model wasn’t molded overnight; it took the same kind of work ethic, planning and goal-oriented mindset that Fiske expects out of his student-athletes. His daily routine during the school year involves waking up at 4:30 a.m. and being in the weight room by 5:15-5:30 to set up training. The first team starts warming at 5:50 and starts training at six. Two more teams follow in the morning, while four teams train in the afternoon. At around 7 p.m., Fiske closes up, goes home and gets ready to do it all again the next day.
“I absolutely love being on the floor of the weight room with the student-athletes and pushing them to get better physically,” said Fiske. “Honestly, I hate sitting behind a computer and writing up programming. That daily interaction of working with all of our student-athletes gives me the opportunity of working with different athletes and different team dynamics and cultures. It really keeps me fresh and really keeps things in perspective.”
The longevity he’s had at Bona has allowed for a multitude of memories, starting with the 2000 NCAA Tournament team.
“The double overtime loss to Kentucky was when I really fell in love with SBU. To hear that arena go from (chanting) “Let’s Go Bonas” in our little cheering section to the whole arena, except Kentucky fans, cheering “Let’s Go Bonas!” was incredible and a great memory. I mean, Michigan State, Syracuse, and other universities’ fans were cheering for us. It was really neat to see the Bonnies back in the tournament after a 22-year absence. It really brought the whole Bonaventure community together.”
Other fond memories include the 2001 and 2003 A-10 championship men’s tennis teams, whom Fiske called “some of the hardest training group of young men that I have ever been around.” The 2004 A-10 champion baseball team was mentioned as a “shining moment” in the aftermath of the 2003 basketball scandal. The men’s swim team was mentioned as “a team that always comes to training with a purpose,” and the 2006, 2013 and 2014 conference champion teams were rewarded for their hard work and dedication.
The 2012 men’s and women’s basketball NCAA Tournament teams bore mentioning, but as Fiske was just as proud to point out the women’s soccer team making every Atlantic 10 Tournament from 2008-2014. “Only three other teams in the A-10 accomplished that feat and they all are more funded than our women’s program,” he said.
Last but certainly not least, Fiske listed the men’s and women’s cross country teams winning in-season invitations (“For those programs to have such a turnaround speaks more of coach Bob MacFarlane than anything the strength program could do”) and the 2015 softball team making their first conference tournament since the mid-2000s (“Those ladies fought through some adversity to get in that tournament and when they did made us all proud”) as some more cherished moments in his tenure.
“Every day something happens that makes me smile and so I am very proud of all of our athletes,” he said.
That pride and appreciation is returned by his athletes, who had nothing but good things to say about the man they work with on an everyday basis.
“He has had a huge impact on me and my teammates, not just as athletes but as human beings,” said Imani Outlaw, a junior guard on the women’s basketball team. “He has taught me incredible work ethic and continues to push me further than I thought was possible.
“Even though he has a tough exterior, he is one of the most caring coaches I have ever had.”
Outlaw’s comments on the way Fiske pushes his athletes were a common thread. Marcus Posley, a senior guard on the men’s basketball team who Fiske said is one of his all-time strongest basketball players, noted that aspect as well.
“What I like most about Fiske is that he pushes you outside of your comfort zone,” said Posley. “He has turned me into a strong guard and he teaches us what it means to buy into the program, and every guy down the line has developed this hungry mentality.
“I could be working out in the weight room, pushing weighted plates down the turf field, doing wind sprints or even a pool workout. Bottom line is that he knows what it takes and that’s why he pushes us the way he does, because he wants us to reach the next level. This (will be) beneficial to us in the future.”
The mental aspect of the game plays a major part in an athlete’s progression as well. When men’s basketball center Jordan Tyson’s freshman season went south, ending in a medical redshirt, Fiske played the role of motivator.
“He’s been a motivator for me plenty of times,” Tyson said. “He has been there for me when I’ve gone through rough times this year, and didn’t give up on me.
“He’s believed in me since the moment I came here, and he’s the same way with all his guys. It’s very inspiring to see someone so committed and passionate about a job. I know for sure I’ve gotten a lot stronger through working with him.”
The high praise from his athletes clearly means a lot to Fiske, but he also takes notice of comments from opposing coaches who credit the Bonnies’ physicality. After Saint Louis played Bonaventure in the 2013-14 regular season, Billikens coach Jim Crews said, “Coming into the game we knew it was going to be a very physical matchup. The Bonnies are always tough and really take a physical toll on you.”
The strength and conditioning work helped make Andrew Nicholson a lock for the NBA. From the time Nicholson stepped on to the St. Bonaventure campus he had NBA-level skill; his A-10 Rookie of the Year honor and 60 percent field goal shooting in 2008-09 back that up.
But Fiske’s assessment of freshman year Nicholson was that he was a physically weak big man (at 225 pounds, he was undersized at his position) who could get pushed out of the paint very easily. The strength and conditioning program helped him bulk up, and in his senior year he was listed at 240.
“His frustration level grew (throughout his freshman year),” said Fiske. “Fast forward four years of being in the strength and conditioning program at Bonaventure and Andrew’s strength levels have increased to the point where nobody can physically manhandle him now. And with his improved skill development attained by working with our basketball coaching staff, he became the best player on the court night in and night out.
“Did I help get Andrew to the NBA? That’s subjective. I will say the strength and conditioning program helped him physically so he could do the things he does at a higher level. But what I cannot say nor would I ever say is that Andrew is in the NBA because he trained with me. That’s ridiculous and absurd. He was given a gift from God. I just made sure he fully developed that gift physically.”
To continue developing athletes in the rapidly-improving Atlantic 10 conference, Fiske recognizes that improvements would be extremely helpful to the strength and conditioning program. He acknowledged that it is a sensitive subject on campus right now, since academics, athletics, student life, infrastructure, and staff are all areas that need more resources. If those resources were made available to all, however, he outlined a few aspects of the program that could be improved.
A new weight room facility would be the first addition. Fiske said that the current facility is currently a little small for the demands placed on it. Next, more staffers would be hired. The Bonnies currently have one full-time certified strength and conditioning professional and one part-time certified assistant to work with 200-plus athletes. With all the new NCAA legislation regarding safety and welfare of student-athletes, staffing is a necessary area of improvement.
Finally, Fiske discussed a plan for strength and conditioning education. He is working with Claire Watson, the chair of Bona’s physical education and sports studies program, to develop a possible curriculum for students interested in getting into strength and conditioning. The program would be an internship or mentorship where upon graduation students can actually be prepared to sit for a nationally-accredited certification exam to become a strength and conditioning professional.
For any of these developments to occur, Fiske acknowledged that his partnership with the Bona athletic program is going to have to continue to be a successful and harmonious one.
“I control what I can control and I am happy that my relationship with the coaches and athletes is as strong as it is,” he said. “I’m not too concerned about how others outside of the program see me because that is all subjective.”
He won’t be on the podium in the postgame press conferences, or featured on many media outlets other than this one. But when the university hired Darryn Fiske in 1998, the athletic program became much stronger as a whole.