A college football head coach must have a hand in everything that goes on relating to the program. Whether it’s game planning, recruiting, scheduling, facility upgrades or even marketing, the head coach is really in charge all of the time.
Except for the summer. Coaches aren’t allowed to have much, if any, contact with their team, and thus have to rely on their strength and conditioning staff to keep the ship sailing in the right direction. For Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech football, that’s not a problem.
“As a head coach, when you finish that spring game, kids go through finals and get a little time off. Then when they come back, you essentially turn over your entire team to your strength and conditioning staff,” Fuente said. “I just think Ben (Hilgart) and his staff have done a fantastic job, not just with the gains that we’ve made from a physical standpoint, but continuing to preach and teach our culture and our mindset on a daily basis.”
Fuente hired Ben Hilgart upon his arrival, prior to the 2016 season. Since then, Hilgart has had two summers, as well as two winters, in which he is the primary coach in charge. Sure, Fuente gives Hilgart direction, but Hilgart is responsible for executing it. So far, he’s executed it to perfection.
“For me, it’s the extension of what we’re teaching,” Fuente said. “I’m not a strength coach, and I don’t pretend to be one. I’m sure there are people across the country that know more or less about bench pressing or hang cleaning, but to me, it’s about continuing to get the kids’ ear, and continuing to command respect from them but also performance, and to see the guys believe in what we’re trying to build, whether it’s ‘Hard, Smart and Tough’, or the culture that we want on a daily basis, the discipline level it’s going to take to give ourselves a chance to win.
“To me, disseminating that information and that culture is as important as the gains you make numerically, either weight or how much you lift.”
Hilgart seems to have successfully connected with the players in his short tenure. He’s gained their trust, and in turn, players have physically transformed their bodies while also buying into Fuente’s culture.
“Coach Hilgart, I mean, he has juice,” said cornerback Greg Stroman. “That’s what I call it, he just has juice every day. The guy doesn’t wear long sleeves for cold games. It’s great to have. You just feel like you want to run through a brick wall for him. I would.”
Virginia Tech Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster has seen good strength coaches before. Prior to Frank Beamer’s retirement after the 2015 season, Foster saw firsthand how Mike Gentry developed players during workouts. Now, Foster sees Hilgart making the same impact that Gentry did.
“My take on all of this is, there’s a next generation of coaches coming through right now,” Foster said. “Coach Beamer was in his generation, in his era, and was an iconic guy with what he was able to do with special teams and those kinds of things. Coach Gentry was on the forefront of the strength and conditioning development of your players, and now you’re seeing the same kinds of people, but it’s a different era. You’ve got a younger dynamic offensive coach, who’s been known for developing offensive schemes and doing those types of things, he’s made his niche a little bit, and you see Ben in the same regard, in my eyes.”
“It’s not just about getting bigger, faster, stronger, and he’s big on that, but doing assistance lifts and doing things that are injury preventative, and those are the types of things that I see more than was maybe done before,” Foster said.
Foster says that Hilgart has successfully pushed the Hokies’ culture in winter and summer workouts, and that it’s helped Virginia Tech’s coaching staff pick up right where they left off with the start fall camp.
“I know this, I stick my head in there quite a bit and I like our approach, I like our energy, I like just the way (Hilgart) goes about business and the way the kids have bought in, and it’s showing with their results,” Foster said.