by Matt Vines, Assistant Sports Information Director
The header of new Northwestern State strength coach Erik Schwager’s Twitter profile has been “Estrengthcoach” since Schwager was hired just days before college sports across the country ceased because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Schwager spent his first three months communicating workout plans and demonstrating exercises digitally and through social media, but that changed this week.
More than 10 NSU student-athletes from five sports returned to campus for voluntary workouts this week, the first time Schwager has been face-to-face with his Demons and Lady Demons.
“I’m not one that likes to do a lot of social media or post videos, so it’s nice to coach these kids in person and get them ready for their season,” said Schwager, who spent four years at Newberry College and has experience at places like Princeton and Michigan State among others. “I was so excited to work with the kids in person … that you have to make sure you don’t go overboard with the kids coming back and not knowing what they’ve done all summer.
“It’s been a blast the past couple of days being on the (football) field and in the weight room.”
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Spencer Cody is one of four football players participating in workouts, something he said is uplifting when compared to solitary conditioning.
“You can work out by yourself all the time, but working out with real teammates is truly a blessing,” Cody said. “We hold each other accountable and make sure everybody is doing the right thing.
“(Schwager) kept in touch with us through the whole quarantine, and it’s real exciting to meet him in person for the first time. I think he’s even more excited than us because he gets to be around a new group and see who he’s going to be working with for the next couple of years.”
The strength and conditioning staff as well as the athletics training staff were prepared to start voluntary workouts Monday, but COVID-19 test results didn’t return in time.
The NCAA began allowing voluntary workouts starting June 1, but NSU wanted to ensure that all procedures and safety measures reflect state and national guidelines to reduce the risk of infection.
NSU collaborated with the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center to author guidelines, which includes COVID-19 antibody testing for all student-athletes prior to starting workouts.
“We were geared up and ready to go Monday, and it was a let down that those test results weren’t back, but we put the health and safety of our student-athletes above all else,” said Schwager, who also introduced new assistant strength coach Derek Stein in person to student-athletes this week. “We started Tuesday and really got after it.
“I’m impressed with how the kids came back and how they are adapting to our system and training. The kids have been really responsive even when we didn’t have them on campus, and a lot of kids have reached out to me about workouts and what they can and can’t do. We’re just having fun right now, and I can’t wait for July and August when we can hopefully get back closer to normal.”
Junior running back Trevor Morgan said he can sense Schwager’s energy even more in person.
“It’s going extremely well so far. When you meet somebody in person and not just through text or video, you can feel their vibe and know what they expect when you train with them,” Morgan said. “It’s good to feel each other out, and it’s great to be around teammates again.”