Utah Has Sports Scientist To Thank For Lack Of Injuries

Oct 28, 2019, 4:56 PM
University of Utah linebacker Andrew Mata'afa during fall camp. (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)...
University of Utah linebacker Andrew Mata'afa during fall camp. (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utes are healthy, for the most part, besides the question marks surrounding Britain Covey’s absence this season. Utah is looking pretty good thanks to an unsung hero in the program, sports scientist Ernie Rimer.

It has been a relief for head coach Kyle Whittingham who has experienced both the good and bad when it comes to injuries over his 35-year coaching career. So, why has this season been different?

Firstly, any meaningful player on Utah’s team right now is not 100 percent healthy. Everyone has bumps and bruises they are battling through, fortunately, there have not been any consequential ”season-ending injuries”, as coach Whittingham calls them.

Secondly, I am not going to share with you any specific details regarding the changes. That would get me in trouble and I really do not want to have to apologize to Coach Whittingham again for running my mouth like an amateur.

There are things I am allowed to share when it comes to the evolution of sports science and the philosophy for Whittingham and his program.

Our Lord and Savior, Ernie The Scientist

Rimer became the Director of Sports Science in 2014. I was entering my junior season at the time and I noticed a change.

The first month of my existence in Utah is a blur. I sat in my locker for hours prior to any physical workout in a daze. My body was not used to the altitude nor the physical strain. I came unprepared and paid the price because of it.

Fortunately, I made it through that first month and the workouts started getting easier, my body adjusted and I stopped thinking about quitting and going home. That was the summer of 2012.

I was not the only one who struggled physically and mentally shortly after arriving on campus. Over my four-year playing career I witnessed a number of players join the team only to quit a couple of weeks later.

But in 2014, when Rimer joined the staff, our workload and schedule changed. All of a sudden, offensive lineman and defensive lineman were lifting more than they were conditioning (running) and wide receivers and defensive backs were running more than they were lifting.

An emphasis was put on technique and the strength and conditioning staff taught the underclassman how to utilize the proper sprinting and lifting techniques. In fact, the new players would lift without any weight on the bars. They did not sit in their locker for hours on end wondering how much a flight home would cost, like me. Lucky buggers.

Rimer also invented a new fitness test, one that replicates the speed and tempo of a football game. Without going into too much detail, it was like putting your team through a two-minute drill when you are running out of time in the half and need to drive the ball 50 yards – uptempo, quick snaps type of thing.

The big breakthrough has come this season. An emphasis has been placed on workload. Rimer studies the upcoming strength of schedule and determines how long the team needs to practice for that week. He also studies how much stress the body can handle based on where the body is at currently and where it needs to be by kick-off next week. Remarkable.

Rimer also convinced coach Whittingham that ”less is more” when it comes to practice time.

Coach Whittingham told me as we were standing on the 50-yard line some half an hour before kickoff against the California Golden Bears that the team now spends more time in the film room than they do on the practice field. If you knew how long they practiced just six years ago to what they do now, you would be amazed.

They also limit the contact of their players. Key players such as Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss were wrapped in cotton wool during fall camp this season. Sure, they practiced, they just did not get hit very often.

In 2016 and 2017, the Los Angeles Rams were the healthiest football team in the NFL. Their star players barely played any snaps in their pre-season games. Is there any resemblance to what Utah is doing this season?

One would have to assume so.



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Utah Has Sports Scientist To Thank For Lack Of Injuries