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Drake football players find creative and unorthodox ways to stay in shape


Tommy Birch   | Des Moines Register
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The questions come up when Cade Gilbert and his teammates are working out in front of his house on 26th Street in Des Moines.

They'll sometimes be stopped by neighbors or people driving by who want to know why they're out in the sun pushing and pulling trucks down the street. Gilbert and his buddies are working so hard they usually only have enough energy to muster up two words: "Drake football."

“That’s our go-to answer,” Gilbert said. “It’s easy and normally we’re huffing and puffing from trying to do something.”

These Bulldogs, like so many athletes across the country, are finding creative and unorthodox ways to stay in shape after the coronavirus pandemic closed college campuses and athletic facilities everywhere.

“These guys are smarter than us,” said Ryan Martin, Drake’s strength and conditioning coach. “They’re coming up with ideas that we wouldn’t think of. It really does make you feel good that these guys are taking that to heart and really working at it.”

Few may be going to the level that these offensive linemen are. Gilbert shares the house with Dustin Anthony and Zack Clark. Chris Evans lives in a house behind them, while sophomore Andrew Grout also lives nearby.

The five don’t have a weight room at their disposal, so they have patched together random pieces for equipment.

They’ve walked around Des Moines picking up old, beat-up tires. They’ve used a shovel as a weight lifting bar. They have a kayak they lift. A friend also provided a long fireman’s rope they used to pull tires up a hill near the Iowa Capitol after it snowed recently. They’ve also used the rope to push and pull trucks they own.

Gilbert, Anthony, Clark and Evans are all fifth-year seniors and know their playing days are limited.

“This is our last hurrah," said Gilbert. "And we’re doing everything that we can in order to get ourselves ready for that August report date in camp. Not knowing what the future might hold for us but we’re trying to do everything that we can and more after that, just kind of trying to come up with crazy things that we’re pushing our bodies and in some cases, more of our mental state beyond what would be a normal workout.”  

The group typically trains in the afternoon or early evening. Some of the workouts outside Gilbert's house near the Drake campus have caused neighbors to cheer them on. Gilbert said some even stopped to watch them compete in tug of war recently.

And then there are the questions. Strangers asking if they are crazy and what's with the bizarre training equipment.

“And we say, ‘Drake football’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, that makes sense,'" said Gilbert. "Sometimes it's inspired conversation of like, ‘Oh, you guys should come out to the game in the fall,’ and stuff like that. It’s definitely been us doing what we need to, for football, but also a community outreach part where we’re getting Drake football in the heads of people who might not have thought of Drake football before this.”

They aren't the only ones thinking outside the box with their workouts.

Defensive back Alex Rogers, who lives in an apartment near Drake, created his own weight set. He made a 60- and 80-pound weight using bags of concrete mix he bought at Home Depot. He covered the bags with duct tape and added handles to perform different types of workouts.

Rodgers uses the makeshift weights to do cleans and squats in his living room. He'll sometimes toss extra weight in a backpack to do squats. 

"They haven't exploded or anything," Rogers said. "The duct tape has kept them really nice. I can even drop them from the hip level and there's no dust flying around them or anything." 

Rogers will sometimes go to a park near his apartment to do speed ladder drills. The setup isn't ideal, but it has become fun and a nice change of pace, he said. 

"Knowing that I have teammates that are working just as hard is one thing that really allows me to even come up with the idea to make weights," Rogers said.

Martin said he's not surprised to see so many of the athletes coming up with their own ideas and inventions. Motivating them has never been an issue. That's why he thinks they come out of the pandemic bigger, faster and stronger. 

"They're really getting after it," he said. 

Tommy Birch covers Iowa State athletics and the Iowa Cubs. Reach him at tbirch@dmreg.com or 515-284-8468.