Jarrod Hewitt has a special connection with the weight room. The 6-foot-1, 288-pound defensive tackle was a competitive powerlifter in high school. He’s made himself known as a gym rat at Virginia Tech, being crowned the prestigious 2019 Hard Hat Champion.
As the reigning champion of Ben Hilgart’s strength and conditioning program, the redshirt senior was licking his chops to challenge all his teammates again and defend the title. However, the regulations brought down from the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented the Hokies from being together during this time in the weight room.
“It’s tough. Just a few weeks ago it would have been max week, and I love max week,” Hewitt said. “It’s my favorite time of the year, and I know a lot of other guys too.
“Just that camaraderie and knowing that this is my last offseason as a Virginia Tech Hokie kind of sucks, but [I’m] just trying to make the most of it. I know my teammates are elsewhere doing the same. I know for a fact, our first workout or our first practice, I have no clue when that’s going to be, I know it’s going to be a lot of fun hooting and hollering. I’m really looking forward to that.”
It’s shortsighted to think that this all has thwarted Hewitt in his daily grind. Hewitt and linebacker Dax Hollifield have pooled their resources together to create an at-home gym in Hewitt’s garage in Blacksburg.
While it’s a different experience, the duo has enjoyed getting creative in their workout plans and making their own protein shakes. A favorite exercise of the pair was showcased on Hewitt’s Instagram a couple weeks ago, the full-body yoke walks.
“The yoke walks are a lot of fun. Really painful. Me and Dax do it,” Hewitt said. “A lot of band work. We’re lucky enough to have some bands to help us during this time. A lot of running and just trying to get on the field if any of your teammates are here in Blacksburg, just trying to do specific d-line stuff or just running to get together with the o-linemen, that kind of stuff.”
The biggest addition to the garage comes from Hollifield’s home in North Carolina. It’s the squat rack that becomes a prized commodity on Fridays.
“We’ve been getting after it for sure,” Hewitt said. “Big Squat Friday ain’t going nowhere.”
Hokies fans can certainly wrap their heads around Hewitt and Hollifield as fitness freaks, but there are two other workout warriors on the scene with them.
“Dax is definitely my guy, but you’d be surprised, [kicker] Brian Johnson and [punter] Oscar Bradburn have been putting in that work,” Hewitt said. “Those two are going to come back pretty swole. They’re going to be the most changed guys when we do the before and after pictures this year.”
As a senior leader and among the most vocal players on the team, the Venice, Florida native keeps the defensive linemen accountable in the position’s group chat alongside another senior in Emmanuel Belmar. The onus doesn’t end there, though.
It’s not hard to believe that co-defensive line coach Darryl Tapp, the recipient of the first Lunch Pail Bud Foster ever gave away, is the biggest motivator for the defensive line unit.
“The guy who gets on us the most is definitely Tapp,” Hewitt said. “Tapp will send us a video of him doing 50 pushups and he’ll get on us if we’re not replying in the next five minutes. I was in the grocery store the other day and he sent a video of him doing some pushups. He wanted me to get down on the grocery store floor and get some pushups in.
“There’s going to be an end to this, and we’re going to come back and play football, so we have to be those guys who are the ones out there working every single day.”
Tapp and Bill Teerlinck bring a dynamic duo to Virginia Tech’s defensive line room, with Tapp playing in the NFL for 12 seasons after a standout career with the Hokies and Teerlinck’s eight years of coaching experience in the NFL.
The 20 years of combined experience at the highest level between the two defensive line coaches provides a boost in confidence and trust for Hewitt and others knowing that they’re learning from two of the best.
“Now I think with these guys we can see the fire in their eyes and obviously the knowledge they have of the game. It builds our confidence up,” Hewitt said. “I think the sky is the limit as far as what we can do as a defensive line and with the whole defense and the whole football team.”
Hewitt has been lauded as a guy who uses his effort in a combination of strength and speed to make plays in the backfield. Last year as a redshirt junior, Hewitt registered 33 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks.
He credits the jump to an improvement in pre-snap recognition and being able to play anticipative football as a result. Hewitt constantly watches highlights of players similar in size to him like Aaron Donald, Grady Jarrett, and Ed Oliver, and heading into his redshirt senior campaign he wants to put it all together by becoming more physical with his hands to lead to an increase in sack totals. It’s a challenge that has already been posed to the entire defensive line by Teerlinck after the group had its shortcomings at times in creating pressure.
“I think as a whole defensive line we’re going to have a lot more sacks,” Hewitt said. “We’re going to be rushing the passer a lot more. Coach Teerlinck doesn’t refer to us as defensive linemen anymore, we’re all rush men. No one plays d-tackle or d-end, everyone’s a rush man. We’re all going to get to the quarterback.
“Coach Teerlinck and Coach Tapp have already said we’re going to have a lot more pass rush drills throughout the week and season. A lot more reps and a lot more knowledge of what to expect in the pass game, offensive lineman sets, and all that stuff. We’re definitely going to take that responsibility on. There’s going to be a real big difference this year on the d-line.”
The start of the 2020 season still remains a mystery at this point in the juncture, but the motivation from the way the 2019 season ended continues to fuel Hewitt and the Hokies. While Justin Fuente and the players always downplayed the excuse of being a young team, Hewitt admitted that it was probably the truth in years past. That’s no longer the case for 2020, and the team is eagerly awaiting to prove it.
“Only a couple seniors left, and I wish those guys the best, but the rest of us, we’ve got a bad taste in our mouth,” Hewitt said. “We had our hearts ripped out of our chest a few times out there on the field. We’re all going to remember that pain. This offseason was going fantastic. We were getting it in in the weight room. It was really going to be a great spring football, so I know that fire is still with us. It’s definitely inside of me to do well this year. I think just finishing out those games is definitely going to be the biggest part.”