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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017 1:00 am

After 4-8 year, Irish intensified conditioning

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Brian Kelly may have taken up yoga in the offseason, but Notre Dame's coach is not about to flex his muscles in any workouts designed by Matt Balis, the school's new director of football performance.

“Heck no,” Kelly said. “Heck no.”

Instead, Kelly merely meandered the weight room, eyeing the changes Balis brought the Irish in strength and conditioning. As they enter their second week of training camp, players' bodies and stamina appear noticeably improved after a full summer with Balis.

“The best way that I would put it is they feel like they want to show everyone their preparation,” Kelly said. “On more than one occasion, I've heard some of our guys say, 'Welcome to my preparation,' in the sense that they feel really good about the work they've put in.

“It's been hard. It's been really difficult, but anything that's really good is difficult, and it's been worthwhile for them because they can feel it when they're running. They know they're in great shape. They know that they're physically stronger. They see it.”

After Notre Dame went 4-8 in 2016, Kelly conducted exit interviews with nearly every player.

Among the feedback?

A desire to be pushed beyond their limits in workouts.

The net result was that Paul Longo, Notre Dame's head strength coach, was officially put on a leave of absence after seven seasons. Of all the suggestions and complaints players made, this one hit home most, because Longo and Kelly enjoyed such a close relationship.

“The changes of personnel that I made were probably the most difficult,” Kelly said.

Enter Balis, whose raspy voice permeates the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, imparting wisdom gained over 11 years as a head of strength and conditioning at major programs. From Utah to Virginia to Mississippi State and Connecticut, Balis made such a difference that his former players coined the phrase, “body by Balis,” or “built by Balis,” either of which pops up on social media.

Irish linebacker Greer Martini knows what they mean. He admits Balis has dramatically transformed their training.

“Totally different,” Martini said. “Much more intense. Our first workout at the beginning of the year was harder than any workout we went through in my first three years here, so that just sets the tone.”

Cornerback Julian Love insists Balis connects in a unique way.

“Coach Balis, in the weight room, really helped me push past my breaking point, which I was very surprised of,” Love said. “We hit the ground running when we got to the field because of him. He's secretly training us to be men as well as big and strong.

“Our conditioning is great, so we can go longer. We're in a good spot now.”

A native of Chicago who dreamed of working for Notre Dame, Balis believes in effort above all else.

“It's not what you do,” Balis said. “It's how you do it. If you don't come in excited, jacked and ready to go, you're not going to get the day back. That's part of what we do is really stress that in our preparation with the guys.”

cgoff@jg.net