Navy head strength and conditioning coach Bryan Fitzpatrick discusses offseason training.
During the offseason, Ken Niumatalolo made one of the toughest decisions of his 11-year tenure as head coach of Navy football.
Niumatalolo named Bryan Fitzpatrick the head strength and conditioning coordinator for football. That was a notable move because Fitzpatrick replaced Mike Brass, who had overseen the strength and conditioning program for 17 years.
“It was a tough, tough decision. Obviously, I have great respect for Mike as a person and the job he does,” Niumatalolo told The Capital in March. “I had to put personal feeling aside and do what I felt was best for our program.”
Fitzpatrick, who spent six years as an assistant under Brass, took charge in January when Navy football began its winter workout program.
“I just felt like we needed a change in that department,” Niumatalolo said. “You are always looking at ways you can improve the program and I just felt like it was something I had to do.”
Brass, who still holds the title of senior associate athletic director for sports performance, now works with the Navy baseball and men’s soccer programs. Fitzpatrick admitted it was initially “awkward” replacing his former boss.
“Coach Brass has been in this business for 30 years and I learned a lot from him, particularly about the Naval Academy as a unique institution,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Obviously, it’s somewhat bittersweet. I’m forever grateful to Coach Brass for hiring me. I never thought I’d wind up as the head strength and conditioning coach here at the academy. God works in mysterious ways.”
Fitzpatrick just completed his first offseason in charge of getting all the Navy football players bigger, faster and stronger. Niumatalolo has repeatedly raved about the overall condition of the football team and praised Fitzpatrick for making a major difference.
“I’m really, really excited about what our team did in the summer. Our strength staff did an awesome job and our players have come back in great shape,” Niumatalolo said on the opening day of practice on Aug. 3. “We came back bigger and stronger. We look really, really good. I couldn’t be more pleased with where we were at physically to start camp.”
Niumatalolo felt comfortable making such a significant change because he had observed Fitzpatrick over the years and was impressed by what he saw.
“I would not have done this if I didn’t have the utmost confidence in Bryan. I’ve watched Fitz over the last few years and seen how he works, seen how the players respond to him,” Niumatalolo said. “Fitz has great energy and really knows what he’s doing. I think the kids respect him and respond to him.”
Niumatalolo observed numerous weightlifting sessions during the month of June and came away feeling confident about the new approach.
“Before I left for Hawaii I went and watched us work out every day and it was very, very obvious there was a different culture in there. I loved what I saw,” he said. “During the summer our guys are in there in the heat and there are no (football) coaches around. You need to be highly motivated. Bryan is the same way every day. He is high energy and really brings it in the room. I wanted that energy to transfer to our players and I think it has.”
Navy football has utilized a weight room located on the ground floor of Ricketts Hall for many years. That space is currently being re-purposed as part of a major renovation that is adding a $20 million Physical Mission Center to Ricketts.
As a result, Navy football players now work out in a temporary weightlifting facility that was created on the artificial surface of the new indoor practice facility located in Halsey Field House. Fitzpatrick said the players have embraced the makeshift setup and nicknamed it the “Halsey Penitentiary.” That comes from the fact there is a cage surrounding the weight room.
Niumatalolo admitted he was initially upset about the situation and made his feelings known to athletic director Chet Gladchuk.
“We had to move our weight room to Halsey Field House and at first I was complaining to Chet and saying ‘Who else lifts in a place like this?’ It’s actually worked out well for us. We’re lifting in Halsey and it’s hot and humid in there. It’s forced a little bit of a toughness mentality,” Niumatalolo said.
Senior safety and defensive captain Sean Williams agreed with that assessment.
“As a football team, we pride ourselves on toughness and when presented with a difficult situation with the weight room being in Halsey we wanted to embrace the hard theme and jailhouse feel,” he said.
FINDING HIS CALLING
Fitzpatrick grew up in the Seabrook area of Prince George’s County and attended DuVal High in Lanham. He was recruited to play football at Towson University and was a three-year starter at safety, serving as team captain as a senior.
After exhausting his eligibility, Fitzpatrick remained on scholarship as a fifth-year senior and served as an intern with the strength and conditioning staff. It was an eye-opening experience and Fitzpatrick decided that was the type of career he wanted to pursue.
“I figured out that football was going to end and I wanted to stay involved in the sport,” he explained.
Fitzpatrick got his start in the business as a graduate assistant at Penn State University, working under veteran strength and conditioning coordinator John Thomas and speed development coach Jeremy Scott from 2006 to 2008.
“At Penn State, I got my first taste of big-time football and how a weight room could be,” he said. “John and Jeremy showed me how to hold athletes accountable. I got a chance to be a part of something special there and it was a true blessing.”
Fitzpatrick worked with dozens of future National Football League players during his time at Penn State while also earning a master’s degree in education leadership.
John Thomas recommended Fitzpatrick to Tom Kanavy, who was the head strength and conditioning coach with the Minnesota Vikings at the time. Fitzpatrick spent one year on staff with the Vikings and saw the business at the professional level.
“That was a great experience because I was able to learn how to train a lot of different individuals. You were working with veterans and rookies and they had to be handled differently,” he said.
Fitzpatrick moved on to West Virginia and worked under Mike Joseph, who has been in the business since 1998. Fitzpatrick held the title of coordinator for speed development.
“As you move along in this business you observe and absorb things,” Fitzpatrick said. “Penn State was high intensity with a lot of machines. West Virginia was more Olympic-based. Being exposed to different philosophies and styles put more into my tool box.”
Fitzpatrick now leads a Navy football strength and conditioning staff that also includes Bryan Miller, Cliff Dooman and Alex Lee. Miller served as the head strength and conditioning coach for the Oregon State football program for seven years. Dooman has been at the academy for almost two decades while Lee is in his fifth year in Annapolis.
“I think we have a really good balance of guys on the strength staff. All four of them come from different backgrounds and viewpoints,” Niumatalolo said. “If you watched us work out you would be surprised there are so many moving parts. We’re cutting edge, man.”
SETTING THE STAGE
Fitzpatrick feels the foundation of the strength staff’s job is to uphold and reinforce the culture that Niumatalolo has established. At Navy, that means toughness and discipline, determination and dedication – all of which starts in the weight room during the winter and summer months.
Fitzpatrick said Navy football conducts strength and conditioning drills on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday during the offseason. Wednesday is a recovery day while Friday is reserved for team-building exercises.
“I think we’ve worked out a little more than in the past and maybe we’ve demanded a little more out of the guys,” Fitzpatrick said. “As strength coaches, we can only set the stage. Really, the credit goes to the players, who have worked incredibly hard and given us great effort.”
Fitzpatrick said specific goals were set individually for each player while more general goals were set for the position as a whole.
“We had a good summer, not a great one. I think guys are trending in the right direction,” he said. “I would say that every player has made tremendous strides in one area or another. Guys have been able to check the box in various areas.”
Nose guard Jackson Pittman did not mince words when asked if he noticed a difference in how Navy football weightlifting sessions went this winter and summer. The 6-foot-3, 309-pound Pittman is among many players who look noticeably more fit and muscular this August.
“Coach Fitzpatrick changed the the way the whole offseason went and really pushed us. We started at ground zero with just body weight stuff and went all the way up to maxing out,” Pittman said. “I’m stronger than I’ve ever been coming out of the summer and I’m real happy about that.”
Another philosophical change Fitzpatrick has brought to the program is how much the Navy football team lifts during the season. Pittman said the strength staff does not want players to lose the muscle mass they have developed.
David Forney, projected to start at left guard for Navy this season, said the current strength staff has emphasized having players pause on every weightlifting repetition, both at the top and the bottom of the lift.
“Our strength staff is awesome. They’re younger guys who bring a lot of energy and really connect with us players. Coach Fitz was a player himself so that helps in the weight room because he sees things that directly correlate to the football field,” Forney said.
Forney, a Walkersville native who attended Georgetown Prep, actually lost about 15 pounds during the offseason by simply turning baby fat into muscle. The 6-foot-3, 297-pounder thinks the hard work will pay off during games.