The hashtag #findaway has been popular among the John Milledge Academy football team in recent weeks.
Since student-athletes have been off-campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have had to inject a little creativity into their workouts because the school’s weight room is off-limits. Some are lifting trailers and doing exercises on home farm equipment while others, like rising senior Patrick McDonel, have even made their own weight plates out of concrete.
The football team, along with the rest of John Milledge's student-athletes, will not have to be creative at all once they can return to campus as a revamped weight training facility awaits them. The building’s physical footprint has not changed as of yet, but the weight room is in the process of receiving a new look from the flooring to the lights and everything in between.
“We feel like we have first-class student-athletes and we feel like they deserve first-class facilities,” JMA athletic director/head football coach JT Wall said. “Our strength and conditioning program is kind of the backbone of who we are as far as an athletic program. If we’re going to keep saying that, we need to invest in that. That’s what we’ve done.”
Wall’s football program has been first class in the GISA through much of his 10-year tenure. The Trojans have played in three of the last four AAA state championships and won two, including the 2019 title in a rout of Valwood. Wall and others have pointed to the program’s rigorous workout regimen as one of the main reasons for the team’s success, so a new weight room is a case of the rich getting richer.
“We feel like we got a lot of conditioning in inside the weight room,” he said. “That’s why it’s so hard for anybody to copy what we do. We could give it to them on paper, but the way our guys know how to work and the way our coaches know how to coach and push these guys and it transitions to the field or court.”
“We’re trying to find the balance between the weight room, on the field and how we can condition inside,” added JMA football assistant coach Cody Mahler. “It’s all about tempo and the speed in which we train.”
The private school tapped Sorinex, a Lexington, S.C.-based company, for the new weightlifting equipment that better utilizes the space available inside the football fieldhouse. The setup features new flooring, weight racks, bars and plates. New LED lighting and mirrors are on the way to complete the fresh look.
Wall says it’s been a long time since his high school alma mater’s weight room has gotten an overhaul of this magnitude.
“When I first got here [as a coach in 2009] it looked like it did when I was a player,” he said. “Each year we’ve improved it to the best of our ability with people donating equipment and us being creative in our thinking. This is the first time in a while we’ve had brand new equipment.”
Looking around the new-look weight room, a newly-installed rollup door really stands out. That’s because the weight room upgrades are the first in a two-phase project that includes plans for an indoor multi-use facility for the school, a perk that is becoming more and more common in schools around the state. Once completed, that rollup door will lead to the indoor facility that will erase some of the school’s existing small practice field.
“It’ll be an all-purpose facility with a turf floor that will allow us to do multiple things,” Wall said. “It’s just providing another space on campus to better serve our student-athletes… We really have outgrown this space (speaking about the weight room). The second phase will obviously be a huge shot in the arm in terms of space so we can incorporate multiple sports at the same time.”
Wall said the indoor facility will be large enough to accommodate outdoor sports teams for practices when bad weather comes through. The exact size has not been determined as of yet. That and the ongoing pandemic have slowed progress on the Phase 2 front.
Significant capital projects like this one at John Milledge were made possible through fundraisers and donations. Wall said anyone looking to contribute to the ongoing project may email him at email@example.com.