Trainer, doctor, conditioning coach stay on top of things

CORVALLIS — Injuries played a significant role in Oregon State’s dismal 3-9 season in 2011.

And the lack of them has played a part in the 6-1 start for the 11th-ranked Beavers, who face Arizona State in Saturday night’s Reser Stadium square-off on ESPN2.

A year ago, Oregon State went into the season without starters James Rodgers (receiver) and Joe Halahuni (tight end) — both coming off surgeries — and reserve tailback Jordan Jenkins at less than full strength after surgery of his own. During training camp, cornerback Brandon Hardin and offensive tackle Michael Philipp were lost for the year because of injuries.

Then during the season, a number of key players were slowed or missed multiple games due to injuries, among them tailback Malcolm Agnew, guard Josh Andrews, receivers Jordan Bishop and Micah Hatfield, cornerback Sean Martin, defensive tackles Castro Masaniai and Mana Rosa, linebackers Feti Unga, D.J. Welch (ne Alexander) and Tony Wilson and safety Lance Mitchell.

It’s been a much different scene through seven games this season. The Beavers (knock on wood) have been relatively healthy, with quarterback Sean Mannion (knee surgery) missing two games as the only casualty.

Why the difference?

“Part of it is luck,” says Doug Aukerman, in his first year at Oregon State in a position called senior associate athletic director/sports medicine. “Sometimes you have a lot of injuries; sometimes you don’t.”

But there is more to it than that, says coach Mike Riley, who heralds the work of Aukerman, trainer Ariko Iso and sports performance coordinator Bryan Miller as major reasons for the Beavers’ good health.

AUKERMANAukerman, the team physician at Penn State for eight years, was hired in January by Samaritan Health Systems in Corvallis and retains some administrative responsibilities there. Clinically, however, he spends the majority of his work time with Oregon State athletes — football players in particular. Aukerman and the OSU athletic department’s other physician, Craig Graham, share a pair of offices at Valley Football Center and Gill Coliseum.

For the first time, Riley says, OSU football has a physician on campus to deal with health and injury situations. Access to medical help for the athletes is higher than before.

“It’s one of the best things we’ve done since I’ve been here,” says Riley, in his 12th year as the Beavers’ head coach. “Having Doug here has been a big change for us.”

Iso came to Oregon State — her alma mater — in late June 2011 after nine years as an assistant trainer for the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers. She oversees a football training staff that includes two full-time assistants, two full-time employees who work part-time with football, a grad assistant who works mostly with football aand six students from the school’s athlete-training program.

ISO“Ariko is a very professional person in her job,” Riley says. “She is knowledgeable and has great personal skills with the players. She is extremely dedicated to what she does.”

Miller was hired in 2006 and took over the OSU strength and conditioning program a year later. His staff includes six assistants — who work with other sports but have a role in football — two full-time interns and three student interns.

MILLER“I’ve really enjoyed my relationship with Bryan,” Riley says. “He’s a weight-training coach who buys into the overall philosophy of what we do as coaches. He teaches discipline to our kids and is always thinking progressively, staying on top of the current trends for athletic conditioning.”

Riley felt the decision for operations to Rodgers, Halahuni and Jenkins could have come earlier and allowed them to rehab and be ready for the start of the 2011 season. Things were different after the ‘11 campaign, with a half-dozen players (Bishop, Anthony and Brian Watkins, Colin Kelly, Grant Enger and Mishawn Cummings) undergoing their surgeries prior to the Christmas break.

“After last season, Ariko and the doctors did a great job taking care of the guys so they would be ready for either spring ball or the season,” Riley says. “A year ago, we had a number of playing rehabbing into (training) camp.

“And Bryan and his staff did a nice job in the offseason getting our guys ready. There is something to the idea that conditioning plays a big role in injury prevention.”

Riley credits Aukerman and Iso with early diagnosis on Mannion that allowed the sophomore quarterback to return to practice a week after his surgery for a torn meniscus.

“That’s one think I like about them — they’re very proactive,” Riley says. “If they suspect anything, they get it checked out. And that impacts time of recovery.”

Aukerman says Iso deserves the plaudits.

“I don’t know there’s anything too tremendous I’m doing other than just being available,” he says. “Ariko does a nice job staying on top of things and identifying injuries and trying to treat them early. There is a sense of urgency to treat injuries when they come up as opposed to what might happen in the general public.”

Iso doesn’t rush into surgery decisions, however.

“Many conditions can be rehabbed or treated non-surgically,” she says. “But at this level and with the participation we’re asking, there is more demand on the body. We can go for more aggressive treatment compared to the normal population.”

Iso stresses communication in any injury situation.

“I try to take care of the little things before they become bigger issues,” she says. “Our athletes know they’ll be in trouble if they don’t report anything. We have good communication through cell phones and our computer system.

“If something happens, the athletes know, the coaches know, the doctors know. I came in late before my first (football) season and was really playing catch-up. I was more prepared before this season. It’s a matter of me being more comfortable with the system, and the athletes being more comfortable with me.”

Even so, Iso admits, “you just never know.”

“Every year, injuries happen,” she says. “Sometimes it will be random. Some years, we have a lot of shoulder injuries. Some years, it’s knees. Some years, it’s concussions. Some years, not too much of anything.

“It could all be luck, but this year to me is about our coaches knowing players better, some continuity, some facilities being upgraded. The coaches never push players to practice when they can’t. You never see our players limping through practice to make (an injury) worse.

“Also, it seems like when you’re winning, injuries are a little less painful than when you’re losing.”

Miller, who has experienced both sides while at Oregon State, credits a “collective strategic approach” between strength/conditioning staff and coaches for a gradual progression of improvement in athletic performance during his six years on the job.

But he says there was a marked upswing during the past offseason, led by seniors such as Jordan Poyer and Markus Wheaton.

“They made the decision to lead not by example but by telling teammates what they expected from them and not be afraid to hold them accountable, whether they like it or not,” Miller says. “There was a shift in the type of (player) leadership that began in January and is still going now.

“When you have better athletes who work a little harder, you’re probably going to be more successful and you’re going to stay a little healthier.”

During the offseason, Miller and his staff worked to cut weight in certain players and add weight and strength to others.

“We’ve increased the strength-to-body weight ratio and the body composition on the squad,” he says. “And we made the summer conditioning more competitive and more specific in terms of what the athletes wanted and needed.

“Coach Riley has said many times this is the best-conditioned team he has had going into August camp during his years at Oregon State. That says a lot about the product we presented to him and the hard work of the players.”

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