The Sports Scientists at BYU Have a Big Effect on the Football Team | Info Watch Daily
Info Watch Daily

The Sports Scientists at BYU Have a Big Effect on the Football Team

The Sports Scientists at BYU Have a Big Effect on the Football Team

The science of health and wellness of football players has come a long way from choking down salt tablets before practices, drinking pickle juice to combat dehydration and making sure to eat a big steak before a game.

The science of health and wellness of football players has come a long way from choking down salt tablets before practices, drinking pickle juice to combat dehydration and making sure to eat a big steak before a game.

As part of its commitment to prepare for its 2023 entry into the Big 12, the BYU football program has hired two sports scientists to its staff: Skyler Mayne and former Cougar linebacker Coleby Clawson.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and the players have made constant references to the impact of the sports scientists during fall camp.

“Those two addition to our staff has been huge for us,” Sitake said. “They have the background and work with our strength staff and our training room. They are using data and research get our guys in the optimal position to be successful in their performance.

“We talk about being as healthy as we can even though we are pushing the players as hard as we can. I like having them with the team working with our sports medicine group and our strength room. It’s a good system and we’re really grateful for them.”

Sitake gave an example of the input of the sports scientists during fall camp.

“Last week we did two days of physical modes of work,” he said. “We did that on Saturday and Tuesday and we’ve never done that before. Our research and data told us we could do that.”

Clawson – remembered fondly by Cougar fans for knocking Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford out of the 2009 game on a clean hit in a huge upset win – graduated from BYU in 2010 with a major in exercise science and a minor in business. His journey took him to Rocky Mountain University, where he earned a doctorate in physical therapy. He taught classes there and helped the school develop a pro bono physical therapy program. Clawson is in the dissertation phase of earning his Ph.D. in physical therapy.

BYU approached Clawson about a position with its football staff this spring.

“They were looking for somebody to bridge the gap between athletic training, physical therapy, the weight room, nutrition and the trainers,” Clawson said. “Everything I’ve done up to this point led me to sports science. I think I fit that position well. They knew me, and they knew I had experience as a player.”

What, exactly, does a sports scientist do?

“The whole sports science position is new, but a lot of universities and sports clubs are doing it,” Clawson said. “There is all kinds of tech we use like GPS trackers, force places and things like that. Our role is to help collect data on players and monitor load management. We put the GPS trackers in the pads and measure each player in real time to see how much mileage they are putting in on the field. We measure the volume, the intensity and when they are hitting certain speeds. The research helps determine what thresholds they can handle before we start seeing injuries and fatigue.”

With this data, coaches can make real-time decisions on how much load a player can handle. Clawson said the football program is purchasing more equipment to help them in their role.

“The main thing we’ve done in camp so far is we’ve tried to be a liaison between the trainers, physical therapy, the doctors, the strength coaches, the nutrition people and the sports psychologists,” Clawson said. “Instead of functioning independently, we try to work together and make it more of a team function.”

Clawson said his work includes tracking injury trends to identify if they are related to something the team is doing or if there is something they can change.

“We use the force plates, the GPS, motion capture and velocity trackers,” Clawson said. “The machines track the players and our goal is to come up with key performance indicators and track them through their careers. It takes a bit of the guesswork out of it and we can be more objective. We always say some objectivity is much better than guessing. There is some art to this process.”

As a former player, Clawson recognizes the physical challenges college football presents.

“With my PT background, I see things from a different perspective,” he said. “Sometimes we make decisions as players that are not best for us long term. We want to protect these kids and maximize their performance to extend their careers.”

So far, Clawson said the BYU coaches and players have been receptive to the input of the sports scientists.

“The coaches have wanted this for a long time,” he said. “To their credit, they are amazing to work with. They are very forward thinking and we’ve had buy-in from all of them. The players have felt better. We just have more hands on deck. The program did so much with so little for the longest time. The coaches and trainers were spread pretty thin. The people working behind the scenes couldn’t make some things happen because there wasn’t enough manpower.

“Everyone has been great. We’re not always in agreement but that’s OK. I want to be challenged. We need to challenge each other with different opinions. The players are also responded well.”

The Cougars made it through fall camp without losing anyone for the season to injury.

“Some of that is probably luck,” Clawson said. “I’d love to point to us on that. Even before we got here the coaches had in mind to change practices and do different things to keep guys healthy. We have implemented some changes slowly as we’ve gone along. I think a lot of the credit has to go to the coaches.”

BYU is on a cross country trip to the Sunshine State to open the 2022 season against South Florida. Besides the rigors of traveling 2,300 miles, the Cougars will face stifling heat and humidity. Rain showers are also in the forecast for Tampa Saturday afternoon.

Clawson and his fellow staff members have more in mind for the players than just drinking pickle juice, though he’s keeping those plans private.

“We’ve met as a performance team and a plan is in place,” Clawson said. “Going down there, we’re all on the same page. We’re preparing guys physically and mentally to face the facts. It’s going to be hot and humid but we’re prepared. We’re going to execute the plan and the players have bought in. They’re serious about it.”