Summer Workouts: This is the first in a summer-long weekly series that highlights the offseason conditioning — from cardio workouts to weight-lifting and diet — for some of the area’s top returning high school athletes.
“You’re not nervous?” Quince Orchard defensive end Adam McLean asked a more compact teammate as they headed to the tennis courts outside the Cougar Dome Tuesday morning. “I’m always nervous before running.”
The idea that anything makes the 6-6, 290-pounder nervous is likely laughable to the Montgomery County offensive linemen he pushed around last season. Through double teams and game plans, the Penn State commit made 47 tackles and racked up seven sacks, stats that combined with his formidable stature to bring offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame and nearly 30 others.
But those who wouldn’t believe his pre-conditioning apprehension are those who “just see results,” as McLean put it. Not the grueling three-day-a-week summer conditioning sessions more challenging for a player his size than it is for others, not the extra jump rope and cardio work aimed to help him handle that weight, not the lifts that built him from a 180-pound freshman at Avalon to one of the most coveted defensive linemen in the class of 2015.
Before he transferred to Quince Orchard ahead of the 2012 season, McLean didn’t understand the importance of lifting, nor how to do it. But when he joined the Cougars, he learned to lift and quickly “sprouted up.”
“It was like my body was waiting to take that weight,” McLean said. “Over time, I just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
He emerged as one of the strongest Cougars, making particular gains in his bench presses, squats and hang cleans, “the three main lifts for every position,” as he put it, that are of particular importance to linemen.
“As defensive linemen, we tend to have really big butts, really huge thighs, massive up top,” McLean said. “A lot of that stuff works explosion, and that’s what you need coming off the ball.”
As a sophomore, McLean bench pressed 220 pounds, “couldn’t squat” and “didn’t know how to hang clean.” He’s now squatting 435 pounds, cleaning 275 and benching 375. He’s built that strength with those three weekly lifting sessions in the summer and a diet he “tries to keep clean” — grilled chicken, fruit and as few fatty foods as possible.
“When he first got here, he was a big body, but he wasn’t really strong,” Cougars’ defensive line coach Mike Sarni said. “The strength makes a huge difference. Body maturity and getting faster and stronger has made him into a lot better of a player.”
As he’s gained muscle quickly, he’s also had to learn how to carry it. Anxious as it makes him, that’s where he sees the payoff in conditioning. The Cougars drill plyometrics: hops both forward and laterally over high hurdles (done with a pause, then consecutively), quick footwork drills on ladders and shorter hurdles, and one-legged drills over both. As he battles through those drills, McLean pictures their in-game application.
“Those work on fast-twitch explosion, hitting the ground and getting right back off it as soon as you touch the ground,” McLean said. “For example, if the quarterback pump fakes and you stop because you read the pump fake, then he throws it. You’re back on your feet running at top speed again…for defensive linemen, getting up, jumping for the ball in the air, it’s all explosion.”
McLean and his teammates also work through quick sprints on the Quince Orchard tennis courts: sprinting to one line, shuffling back, then sprinting through again. They work through footwork with karaoke drills, and work through intricate patterns around hurdles and ladders, requiring quick, coordinated legwork.
“It’s just staying low, keeping your feet moving at all times, and not getting stuck,” McLean said. “A lot of times, you’ll see guys sprint then break down, then get stuck and take time to get back to top speed.”
While McLean, as the biggest player on the Quince Orchard team, doesn’t always have the fastest feet or finish sprints first, he appreciates the impact agility and speed work can have on his game, even though defensive linemen tend to play in ultra-short bursts. The drill he finds most helpful — if also most nerve-wracking — is four 300-yard shuttles done for time. The goal is to complete six 25-yard down-and-backs in under 1 minute 10 seconds each with a 2-3 minute break in between.
“I feel those are extremely good for conditioning,” McLean said. “You’re tired, you’re fighting through your next set, but you have to get through it, and I feel like that’s very beneficial for me.”
As he sat in first-year Cougar Coach John Kelley’s office, tired and drenched in sweat from a morning workout, McLean admitted the workouts are “tough, especially for a big guy.”
“I get through it because of my team,” McLean said. “If it were just me out there with the coaches, by myself doing that, I don’t know if I could get through it.”
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