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Rock Gullickson shepherding a spirited S&C offseason program


One of the biggest challenges for strength and conditioning coaches everywhere is finding ways to relate to kids to make weight lifting fun.

Using his 39 years of experience, Rock Gullickson has quickly found his niche in his first offseason at Tennessee.

The Vols start every workout the same way, with their new S&C coordinator shouting, “We got abs!” and the players repeating the motto. Then the music drops, Gullickson does an awkward or silly dance and guys go instantly into core work.

“The way he says it, the voice inflection and the way he goes about that it gets us pumped up,” senior offensive lineman Jashon Robertson said.

“It’s the energy that he brings in his own way. He’s fun. We get the opportunity to see him in a different way everybody else does. We spend a lot of time with him in the offseason. We get to really experience his personality. He makes it a good time. We’re having a good time just moving some weight.”

Butch Jones hired Gullickson in January, charging his longtime friend with overhauling a program that was mishandled after the departure of Dave Lawson. Gullickson is being paid $375,000 annually to change the culture in the weight room, and make Tennessee big and bad again.

Offseason happy talk happens everywhere, but the transition at Tennessee has been noticeable to date.

Gullickson, who spent the last 17 years in the NFL, oozes positivity and the players believe the results have been real.

“Rock is awesome. Anytime you bring an NFL guy into a college atmosphere, it always awesome to have that kind of voice,” senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said.

“He has done a great job. He's got my body to where I feel the best I have ever felt. He definitely knows what he's talking about. He's getting paid a bunch of money to have us in the right position where we need to be.”

Robertson concurred, adding, “He’s a guy who’s been in the league, knows what it takes to get there and just knows what it looks like. There’s a significant amount of trust that comes with that experience.

"You can’t ignore longevity. For him to be on this level doing the same thing for us, it’s just a tremendous opportunity to get better that you know and can trust to put you in the best position to be successful.”

Both Vickers and Robertson, as well as guys like Darrell Taylor, Kahlil McKenzie, Jonathan Kongbo and Quay Piccu, have emerged as the alpha dogs in the weight room for the Vols, setting the tone each day and feeding off of Gullickson’s energy.

Despite nearly two decades away from the college game, “Rock” has found a way to bond with younger kids and get them to instantly buy into what he’s teaching.

“He's just brings energy every single day. He brings it whether I don't feel like being there or guys go feel like being in there,” Vickers said.

“We were power cleaning one day, and he came over and said, ‘You better make my day.’ “I was like, ‘Man, I can't let Rock down.’ He just brings that type of energy where guys don't want to let him down. Guys feed off of that. That's why we have been working so hard this summer.”

While weight room results don’t happen overnight, Gullickson has quickly changed many players’ outlook on nutrition this summer. Tennessee’s new S&C coordinator has outlined a specific regimen for each player, emphasizing six servings of protein each day, rest and recovery.

It’s not anything particularly unique, but the message has translated better this offseason, with many players — including Vickers, Alexis Johnson and others — seeing significant results with weight loss or lower body fat percentages.

“It’s all positive,” Robertson said. “It’s all what you should be eating and doing rather than what you shouldn’t. ‘He isn’t saying, ‘You can’t have this or that.’ It’s all about getting your six servings of protein. When you wake up, before you go to sleep.”

Said Vickers, “My nutrition is the best it's ever been with him being here. Just having him teach us the ends-and-out of things has been awesome.”