Diamond Vols looking to build on physical growth despite current adversity
Tennessee turned heads during the shortened 2020 season where the Vols went 15-2. The most surprising part of Tennessee’s hot start was the approach at the plate.
A year after ranking in the bottom of the SEC in long balls, the Vols posted 31 through 17 games, good for 2ndin the nation. While the results surprised many, it didn’t surprise anyone in the Vols’ clubhouse. Especially not Tennessee’s Director of Baseball Sports Performance, a position similar to strength and conditioning coach, Quentin Eberhardt.
“It’s no surprise to me with the talent those guys have and the work they put in,” Eberhardt said. “It’s another thing we say, you can do anything. … The culture we’re creating kind of allows this, in my opinion. We’re not afraid to work in any aspect. The coaches, the players, the managers, nobody is scared to work.”
The Big Orange’s power renaissance was made possible by the development of their sophomore class, a group that included everyday starters Jake Rucker, Max Ferguson and Connor Pavolony.
Twelve of the Vols’ 31 longballs came from its sophomore class including nine from the fore mentioned starters. That same group combined to just hit two homers a year ago, both coming from Pavolony.
Eberhardt spent his career as a strength coach in the minor leagues before joining Vitello’s staff in 2017, and the sophomore class immediately impressed him when they arrived on campus in the summer of 2018.
“They kind of spoiled me,” Eberhardt said. “I knew how I was as a student athlete, but I didn’t know what to expect. So, when they came in it was guys that had some athleticism, but they were very respectful and had an attention to detail. I just assumed that all freshmen were like that, and then let’s just say I gained a new respect and appreciation for that class once this past class came in this summer.”
“They were still athletic they just didn’t have as much attention to detail. They were more like freshmen than (Max) Ferguson and Cam Sewell’s class.”
It wasn’t just during scheduled workouts that players impressed Eberhardt with their abilities and athleticism. The willingness to go above and beyond, both then and now makes this group special.
“You give these guys a list of things they can do, if they want, on their own,” Eberhardt said. “If you want to get better, you’re going to have to do things on your own. So, they come to you and ask, ‘what can I do next, what can I do next?’ The guys are hungry, and you see that, it’s like wow, and you start to see the things come to fruition on the field, it’s amazing.”
That ability to go above and beyond will pay off now more than ever with the team away from campus due to the coronavirus.
The Vols are relying on the culture they’ve built in Vitello’s three seasons in Knoxville to help the roster develop during their time away from campus.
“I know when guys go home, I can’t be with them holding their hand,” Eberhardt said. “One thing that we do is create the culture of trust and treat this like an extend winter break. You have to go home and knock your schoolwork out and they have the workouts on their phone. … When they go to work out, they’re able to knock the workouts out as if I was there.”
With gyms closing all over America some Vols will have to make adjustments to their normal workouts.
Without weights Eberhardt puts a workout in place that relies on TRX suspension training, bands, medicine balls, body weight work and even getting creative and using cans of soup for shoulder work.
“Some guys have some ability in their home, we’re able to modify some stuff to do things body weight wise,” Eberhardt said. “We’re just treating it as normal adversity and making adjustments. Is it ideal? No, but you just have to overcome the adversity and make it as good as you can.”
“I’m not worried at all with our group. With the culture we’re creating, in the process of creating, I’m not worried at all about that.”
Nutrition also becomes an area of concern for players while they’re away from campus. Healthy meals are no longer provided for them daily as players now have to show maturity to eat right when it may not be easy.
Once again, Eberhardt credits the culture Vitello has created as why he isn’t worried about the student athletes while they’re away from Knoxville.
“With the culture, we stress to them the importance of nutrition,” Eberhardt said. “Now I expect them to still be human beings, still be young men but you are a little different then your buddies. You’re, in my opinion, an elite level athlete. You have to treat your body accordingly. Does that mean you’re a robot? No, you’re going to have a cookie, just don’t eat the whole bag every day.”
“Another thing we do with our nutrition staff is teach them how to cook, teach them how to grocery shop, teach them how to read nutrition levels, so with the education and giving them the information and they see the benefit it’s going to take care of itself.”
It’s a time of uncertainty in the college baseball world, but Tennessee is confident in the way it built its program, and the players it’s built it with. The culture of hard work has taken the program to places it hasn’t been in over a decade, and Eberhardt believes it’ll leave Tennessee in a good place when the team reports in the fall.