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Making sure the Vikings stay strong

Tigard grad Andrew Pompei looks to provide power to the Portland State football team
by: Jaime Valdez LIFT IT — Andrew Pompei leads the way during a Portland State University weightlifting session.

PORTLAND - Andrew Pompei knows that specialization is the key to success.

The Tigard High School graduate, now 27, explored the world of weight training only after graduating from Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, back in 2006.

Pompei, who also played football at Coe College, served post-graduate internships in strength and conditioning coaching to expand his professional experience and become a full-time head strength coach - not for credit but of enthusiasm for the art - at the University of South Florida, Northern Arizona University, and capped it off with a graduate assistantship at Nevada.

'I started doing personal training and realized after about a year and a half that it wasn't really my niche - I wanted to work with athletes more than the general population,' said Pompei, who now is the head football strength and conditioning coach at Portland State University. 'This involved a lot more than I thought it did - a lot more science behind it and not just coming in, writing up a quick workout and putting guys through it. The strength coach position (at PSU) came open and I threw my name in and, after a long interview process, I was fortunate enough to get the position.'

A football strength and conditioning coach's duties include making sure players satisfy their lifting and running workouts three or four times a week and working out injured guys who can't complete the regular drills. Pompei also consults nutritionists to make sure the players eat well and stick to their customized diets to lose or gain weight.

'If your players need to be more explosive, more powerful, maybe get stronger if they needed to gain size, you need to put together different programs for each position,' he said. 'Is doing a one-mile run or a five-mile run going to be useful for a football player? It's not. Do you want to be doing 100-yard sprints? Probably not. You want to be training in things that are relative to the sport and giving them proper rest time so you're training the metabolic aspect that you want. Instead of just having them run, catch their breath real quick, run again, it's probably not going to be effective unless your goal is actually running them into the ground to wear them out.'

Pompei meets with other PSU coaches to make sure the players and front office adhere to NCAA rules. He keeps contact with training staff to discuss how to treat player injuries. He strengthens relationships between himself and the players to maximize their motivations and tracks player developments to determine which regimens work and which do not, all the while learning what it takes to run a weight room and coach a team.

'The No. 1 thing that you take away from playing football is discipline - not just in athletics, but in life: learning to fight through the hard times, being able to overcome obstacles,' Pompei said. 'You take away a little bit from every coach you ever had, and every coach who you've worked for or worked with: techniques, attitudes, and certain ways to interact with players that will make you more successful.

'(Former Tigard High School head coach and former Portland State running backs coach) Frank Geske, in particular, had a good way of coaching different players differently. With some guys, it's easy to be up in their face, yelling at them, really getting into them, whereas other guys, if you do that to them, they'll just kind of shut down and you've got to take a different approach to them - maybe just say, 'Hey, that was a good try, but let's do it this way next time, let's see a little more effort.' Some guys get motivated by saying 'Come on, let's go! Let's do it,' and other guys get motivated by almost insulting them and saying they can't do it: 'You're worthless,' that kind of thing. I think he was good at that.'

Pompei says his resilience sparked his mental and physical fortitude.

'I feel like I always wanted to prove something - if someone said I couldn't do something, I would try even harder to do that,' he said. 'That kind of intrinsic motivation to work harder than anyone else or be better than anyone else - I was the kind of guy that if someone said I couldn't do something, I would try even harder to prove them wrong because I wanted to be the best.'

To be the best coach he can be, Pompei strives to make strength training fun with a variety of activities that keep players interested in the weight room.

He created the Viking Conquest, a workout circuit with different types of exercises assigned to each opponent on PSU's 2011 regular season football schedule, varying in difficulty with the caliber of the opponent. Players are scored from one to 10 on technique and effort and need a seven or better to win. The Viking Conquest is designed to make players think about each opponent and what it will take to win, and learn to push through adversity and injuries.

Pompei's morning, afternoon and evening lifting groups have all gone 9-2, struggling to complete the Seal Walk drill (which becomes incredibly more difficult when performed over 80 yards), assigned to NCAA Division III Willamette University as an eye-opener. Players also have trouble with sets of 20 Man Makers, in which an athlete drops to a push-up position and raises each arm, weight in hand, up to his waist with a push-up between each lift.

The athlete then hops to his feet and explodes upward, pushing the weights toward the sky.

Next are SEAL Walks, in which players lean forward with their feet on a board and pull themselves, using only their arms. The shoulder circuit, a series of dumbbell lifts in which one flips his wrists to bring the weight from his waist to his shoulders, raises the weight above his head and lifts the weights out to his wingspan in consecutive sets.

Dumbbell curl squats to press, weighted squats combined with dead lifts and overhead arm extensions, are incredibly difficult right after the Shoulder Circuit and Seal Walks, Pompei says.

Another game is Jokers Wild, in which players draw cards to find out which workouts they have to do; if a King is drawn, coaches have to do the workouts instead. The games exist to teach kids to be respectful, accountable; making sure kids make it to summer workouts even when they're voluntary.

'You've got the guy who's been a god in his high school - he comes in, thinks he knows everything and wants to do what's worked for him in the past,' Pompei said. 'There's the guy who's never been in a weight room before in his life - he just has that God-given ability and comes in and he doesn't really know what he's doing and doesn't really feel comfortable, so he's a little hesitant. There are guys who've never been in a weight room who will be super eager to learn everything, do everything the best they can even though they're not there yet - they will be soon. It's about seeing who's willing to win each event and push through.'