Extreme summer workout

Specialized training helps athletes make transition from high school to college

By Todd Mishler /Contributor

(Published August 21, 2006, 9:29 a.m.)

Barrett Danz was a starter on the Williams Bay High School football and baseball teams for three years, gaining all-conference recognition in both sports.

But he wanted more, and decided that a WIAA Division 7 program wasn't the answer to realizing his dream.

So, a year ago, he transferred to Mukwonago High School, a perennial powerhouse that had claimed the Division 1 state football championship in 2004.

Danz became a starting linebacker for an Indians' squad that made it to the state championship game last fall, losing to eventual titlist Racine Park.

But that still wasn't enough for Danz, who will play football for Carroll College this fall. To make the transition from high school to college, Danz has joined an increasing number of prep athletes who are taking advantage of training and fitness facilities to achieve that necessary edge in making a successful transition to a collegiate program.

The 18-year-old turned to NX Level Pro Performance Center near Waukesha, a business that former University of Wisconsin standout Joe Panos opened in May 2005. Danz's father, David, is an attorney in Elkhorn who found out about the center from a friend in Delavan.

Danz began his conditioning sessions in December and finished earlier this month. That's because he is practicing with the Carroll College football squad after considering several NCAA Division III schools in Wisconsin and Division I-AA teams Valparaiso and Butler of Indiana.

He has added about 30 pounds to his 6-foot frame since starting the workouts, mostly with head trainer Brad Arnett, a three-year starting offensive lineman at UW-Whitewater who worked with dozens of athletes at the universities of Minnesota and Arizona for almost 10 years before joining Panos' team.

"I'm up to about 245 pounds," said Danz, who's targeted to play defensive end or linebacker with the Pioneers. "I went up there four days a week. We ran every day and alternated between lateral and linear drills, and there was always the strength training. My speed has improved so much, and I've gotten a lot stronger."

But Danz said there's much more to it than lots of grunting and groaning or bettering his 40-yard dash time or lifting more weights.

"You learn about your body and what all of these movements are for and do them with a minimum number of steps," Danz said. "You break everything down, you learn new techniques and throw out the wasted steps. You repeat and repeat stuff until it becomes natural.

"The mental side is another huge aspect," Danz added. "Some days I didn't feel like going or was lagging, but Brad pushed me hard all of the time. You can't say that you're tired or go through the motions. So he knows how to keep me motivated. I have too much respect for them not to show up."

About 500 athletes of all ages and abilities train at the facility that features a 3,000-square-foot weight room, a 60-yard sprint track, a 40-yard football field, a hitting cage for baseball, golf and hockey, and an area for plyometric exercises.

However, the impetus behind the center is taking the high school and/or college athlete to the next level, thus the place's name, in their development. So, individual and small-group activities provide the focus.

"We put everybody through an assessment and see where they're at and why they're here," Arnett said. "We check their core strength and stability to get all of the variables in place and create a road map from there. Everything is based on strength and body weight, whether you're lifting a 5-pound barbell or doing a 500-pound squat, and its relationship to movement.

"Another key component is getting to know the kids, who have to realize that if this stuff was easy then 50,000 of them would be doing it," Arnett added. "Everybody has a desire to win or be successful, but few are able to internalize that commitment consistently and prepare to be good. They have to endure the pain."

Arnett said that Danz is a prime example of what can happen if a person buys into the system and gives 100 percent.

"Barrett came from a smaller school and didn't have the training background that many of these kids had," Arnett said. "But once he started seeing the improvement and that he could stay with these guys and understood better what he was learning, you could see his confidence go up. He started opening up and asking questions, and then he started doing more and raised his expectations. He's aggressive with everything now and is his own worst critic."

Danz has attended former Green Bay Packer receiver Don Beebe's House of Speed program twice and the UW's camps four times and participated in an offensive/defensive camp in San Diego. He's happy with his accomplishments but realizes that striving to improve never ends.

"My dream was to play college football, so going to Mukwonago was the best thing," he said of leaving home and friends. "It blew my mind how dedicated the coaches and players were, and I improved drastically and learned things like picking up reads and shedding blockers, stuff that I probably wouldn't have improved on at a smaller school. That one year and that kind of competition gave me a jump on college.

"I still wanted to add muscle and weight, and working at NX Level will help me get off to a solid start as a (college) freshman," Danz added. "When you walk into the place-and it's a great facility-but you meet Joe and Brad and know what experience and credentials they have. I am so much more prepared than I would have been otherwise and I'm still learning."

Todd Mishler, a freelance sports writer and author in Janesville, is a frequent contributor to The Week.

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