Dettmann trained Barry’s Badgers

While Barry Alvarez was transforming a moribund University of Wisconsin football team into a three-time Rose Bowl champion, it was John Dettmann’s job to get the players into top physical condition.

That’s a key role for a program that since Alvarez’s arrival in Madison has prided itself on a physical style of play that wears down opponents.

Dettmann, a featured speaker at the 2011 BizTimes Milwaukee Fittest Execs program, joined the UW football staff when Alvarez was named head coach in 1990. Dettmann became the head strength coach for the football team in late 1991 and held that post until early 2009. He remains the director of strength and conditioning for the entire UW Athletic Department, overseeing conditioning programs and facilities for all of the Badger athletic teams, a role he was held for more than 20 years.

During his work with the football team, some players provided a major challenge. Darrell Bevell arrived on campus after he had been out of football on a Mormon mission. Bevell was skinny and out of shape, but he was Wisconsin’s starting quarterback as a freshman.

“He was handing Bibles out for two years,” Dettman said. “He was out of shape, and he had no physical conditioning program.”

The next year, as a sophomore, a stronger and quicker Bevell was named first-team all Big Ten and scored the decisive touchdown in the Rose Bowl.

“He worked his ass off,” Dettmann said.

On the other end of the spectrum was offensive tackle Aaron Gibson. He arrived on campus as a 6-foot 9-inch, 400-pound behemoth. Gibson had to lose weight and get into shape. Eventually he became the starter on another Rose Bowl championship team, was a first-round NFL draft pick and had a five-year pro football career.

“He was kind of a freak that never had to push himself (until college), because he was always the biggest kid,” Dettmann said.

Each athlete poses different challenges to a strength and conditioning coach, Dettmann said. It is critical for strength and conditioning coaches to take time to get to know the athletes personally in order to figure out how to motivate them to put forth the effort and do the work necessary to maximize their performance, he said.

“It varies with each individual, they’re all different,” Dettmann said. “Each individual is motivated by different things, for different reasons at different times. You have to get to know your clientele. We have an advantage with these kids because we recruit them and we get to know them.”

Working with the UW football team, Dettmann was part of a staff that turned the Badgers from a 1-10 team in 1990 into a consistent Big Ten contender. The Badgers played in 14 bowl games, including three Rose Bowl victories, while Dettmann was the team’s head strength coach.

Dettmann has seen the emphasis on strength and conditioning at the professional and collegiate levels change dramatically during his career. When he started working at UW the Badger football program was focused primarily on power lifting with no training program for speed and agility and little attention to nutrition, compared to today.

The UW Athletic Department had a small training staff in 1990.

“Twenty-five years ago one guy did 20 sports,” Dettmann said.

Now Dettmann has nine members on his staff, each focusing on the unique physical demands of different sports. For example, the average football play only lasts four seconds, so those athletes need to be more explosive than a basketball player that is running up and down the court for a longer period of time without a break.

“There are different energy systems for the different sports,” Dettmann said. “They’re all different, based on the demands of the game.”

Professional and college athletes no longer show up to preseason training camp to get in shape. They show up to camp in shape. While many college students head home at the end of the school year, the football team stays on campus to work on strength and conditioning programs.

“They stay here,” Dettmann said. “They’re here all summer training.”

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