ATHENS — During his nine years as part of Georgia’s strength staff, Rex Bradberry has worked with his share of workout warriors, and he has trained more than a few late-night pizza junkies. He has sent a few from each category on to the NFL, too.
Once those players have moved on to the next level, however, Bradberry said a lot more of them end up spending far more time in the gym and a bit less at fast-food restaurants, and that’s a lesson Georgia’s players are hearing more and more.
“Our guys, they all want to play at the next level, and they talked to guys who are at the next level who were telling them how important nutrition is,” Bradberry said. “So that started creating a buzz.”
The buzz eventually led to a decision to a full-time job for Bradberry, who was officially made the team’s nutritionist this spring.
While Georgia has always had a nutritional advisor as part of the school’s athletics association, the idea of making the job a key component of the Bulldogs’ football conditioning staff is a new development.
During the past few months, head coach Mark Richt and other members of Georgia’s coaching and strength-and-conditioning staff visited other schools to see how they ran their strength programs. When they returned, the idea of adding a full-time nutritionist to the staff seemed like a no-brainer.
“Looking at what some schools were doing across the country and based upon some of the needs that Mark thought would help our players, this was an area in which we thought we could add some value and it would only benefit us and couldn’t hurt us,” Evans said.
Bradberry was already on staff at Georgia as a graduate assistant in the strength-and-conditioning department while he was finishing his doctorate in Kinesiology. His focus was already on nutrition, and he had been working with several of the players on improving their eating habits for the past year.
Now, the challenge becomes expanding his efforts and educating 125 football players who often aren’t too interested in being told they can’t make a stop at Waffle House several nights a week.
“That is a challenge because these guys grow up eating a certain way, and it’s an educational process to say, your body, that’s your machine, and we’ve got to fuel that thing properly,” Bradberry said.
In his new role, however, Bradberry will have more opportunities to sell players on his program.
Bradberry will have training meetings where he discusses how to properly choose foods that will fit each individual player’s nutritional needs, teach them what to eat to recover from intense workouts while maintaining their strength and weight, and he’ll be a regular fixture in the dining halls on campus, taking players through the process of selecting their meals with a discerning eye.
“We think it’s going to be a great recruiting advantage to have somebody right there every single day to keep an eye on those guys and be able to educate them,” Richt said.
Bradberry said the veterans on the team have already done a good job of buying into his program, and in turn, many of the younger players are following suit.
He said the key has been avoiding diets and instead implementing what he called “nutritional plans.” Instead of dramatically altering what players eat, he has tried to find healthier alternatives that players still find appealing.
The sales job isn’t that tough, he said, when players start considering life beyond college football. Most want to play in the NFL, he said, and it just takes a quick phone call to their former teammates now playing at the next level to learn how stringent NFL teams enforce dieting restrictions.
“Once they get a little older and start thinking about that next level and making money or just being healthy for life as a father one day or as a husband,” Bradberry said. “It’s like anything, with maturity comes a little different way of thinking.”
Several of Bradberry’s most diligent disciples have already shown impressive results. Offensive lineman Tanner Strickland had always been a beast in the weight room, but his weight and mobility hindered him on the field. In the past few months, Bradberry said Strickland has dropped more than 20 pounds of “bad weight,” however, and the lighter frame improved Strickland’s play. On the flip side, receiver Tavares King has spent his first two years in Athens trying to pack a few pounds onto a rail-thin frame. This offseason, Bradberry said, King has added healthy weight and begun to fill out, which he hopes will translate into major strides on the field.
Those are the early success stories, but Bradberry hopes there will be plenty more. Still, he said, no matter how much time he can devote to teaching the value of a healthy meal, the ultimate success of the new initiative rests on the players’ willingness to follow through on the program.
“Hopefully it has a positive impact,” Bradberry said. “We believe it will. But I can’t be with every kid 24 hours a day. It’s going to take them taking ownership of their diets and how to eat.”