Apr 9, 2018
Masks with Meaning

Motivating football players in the weightroom during the offseason can be an uphill battle. There are endless distractions and the workouts can start to feel monotonous. Linton-Stockton (Ind.) High School has hit upon a remedy — the awarding of blue facemasks to players who reach ambitious offseason goals.

The idea was put into place in 1997 under then-Head Football Coach Rick Wellington and has evolved since. Throughout the years, earning the blue facemask, which replaces the standard-issue white version others on the team wear, has become a cherished honor. “Our athletes really strive to get the facemask,” says current Head Football Coach Brian Oliver. “They can get bored with going in every day and just lifting, and this initiative creates some excitement.”

To earn the reward, at the conclusion of their offseason work, athletes go through a series of seven tests based on the Bigger, Faster, Stronger (BFS) system. Players are scored on their speed, strength, and agility using the power clean, squat, bench press, vertical jump, 20-yard dash, 40-yard dash, and a dot drill.

Using the BFS system, test scores are calculated by factoring in athletes’ height and weight, as well as how long they’ve been with the program. “A senior should be able to squat more than a freshman, so the percentages go up as they get older,” Oliver says.

Based on their scores, players are placed into one of four categories-good, great, All-State, or All-American-in each exercise. Categories have corresponding point values of one, two, three, and four, respectively. The points earned for each test are then averaged, and players with a 2.7 or higher are awarded the blue facemask. “Because we account for age, height, and weight, every kid has an opportunity to earn the facemask,” says Oliver. “But it’s not easy.”

Preliminary testing is done multiple times during the offseason to give players a benchmark and let them know what needs work. The final test to determine recipients occurs shortly before the first game. Athletes awarded the facemask have it affixed to their helmet for the whole season.

“In our roster, there is a note next to their names identifying them as blue facemask winners,” says Oliver. “We also include a special write up in the program that highlights these players, describing their dedication and hard work in achieving this great accomplishment.”

A staple of the program for two decades, the tradition of the facemask reward may have been a small factor in helping the team win its first Class A State Title in 2016, according to Oliver. “I think the biggest benefit is that the challenge makes everyone work harder,” he says. “Even if they come up short, they are still making themselves better, which makes the team better. We might only have five or six athletes achieve the blue facemask out of 50 kids on the team, but if every athlete is striving to get there, they are improving themselves and the team.”

One challenge has been making sure players who don’t receive the honor keep their confidence up. “We tell them, ‘You didn’t reach the blue facemask, but you pushed yourself, you improved, and you are a better player this year than last year,'” says Oliver. “And we always say the blue facemask is great, but no matter what, you still have the jersey to wear when you go out there and play.”

The number of facemask winners varies from year to year, and this past season, there were six. They are named at a team meeting during the first week of practice each season. And watching the steady rise in anticipation of the announcement is one of Oliver’s favorite parts.

“The kids get pretty excited and start asking questions a few days after we finish testing,” he says. “We usually know who has won, but we wait a couple of weeks and let their excitement build. The winners always get a standing ovation from their teammates. I enjoy the lead up to that point and recognizing the accomplishments of these players in front of the whole team.”

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.


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