Strom Says Trojans Stronger This Year : College football: Strength and conditioning coach cites a greater emphasis on off-season weight training.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Of all the plays in USC's 1993 season, one stands out in John Robinson's memory of his first year back at USC.

It was the kind of play he does not want to see repeated in 1994.

It was the second play of the game at Notre Dame last Oct. 23.

At Notre Dame's 30-yard line, a split second after the Irish center snapped the ball, most Trojan defensive linemen were knocked on their backs. Another was sent airborne.

Viewing film of the play later, Trojan coaches saw Notre Dame tailback Lee Becton step through the jumble of fallen Trojans and sprint 70 yards down the sideline--right past Robinson, in fact--for a touchdown.

Notre Dame's more powerful offensive line continued to overpower USC's defensive line in the first half and the Irish went on to win, 31-13.

It became clear to everyone that day that while USC had one of the country's best passing games, one thing it could not do well was stand up to bigger, more powerful offensive lines.

It happened in two other games: a 21-20 loss at Penn State and a 27-21 loss to UCLA.

At Notre Dame, Robinson made a mental note: Talk to Jim Strom after the season.

Strom, the Trojans' strength and conditioning coach, got a call the first Monday after the season ended.

"We talked for about an hour," Strom said Saturday, watching what he says is a stronger team on USC's first full day of football practice.

"He said to me: 'Look, we've got to get stronger than this. We can't compete this way.'

"The big change here now is that there's a great emphasis on the weight training program, and the head coach is backing me up. My job is to make the players want to come to the weight room, to make it fun. Coach made it plain to me that day that if the players don't get stronger, then I have a big problem."

Robinson and Strom decided that the Iron Horse competition, the culmination of the off-season weight training program, would become a major event.

And so it was last Thursday night, when all the trophies were moved out of the Heritage Hall lobby, two benches were brought in, and the players conducted their "World Series" of Trojan football weight lifting.

Six-foot-7, 305-pound offensive tackle Norberto Garrido bench-pressed 445 pounds to win the competition. Tony Boselli, 6-7 1/2 and 320, was second at 435 pounds. The pound-for-pound winner was defensive back Micah Phillips, who is listed at 185 pounds and lifted 370.

"We now have nine guys bench pressing over 400 pounds," said Strom, who worked for Robinson in his Ram years. "Last year, it was four."

On Saturday, the first day of full-team workouts, Robinson and his staff sent the Trojans through steamy morning and afternoon practices.

With frequent one-minute water breaks, offensive, defensive and kicking drills were held on Howard Jones Field and on the outfield of Dedeaux Field next door.

The last to arrive was Mt. San Antonio College transfer Leonard Green, who finished up his classwork at Mt. SAC on Thursday.

A running back whom Robinson wants to catch passes coming out of the backfield, Green looked slightly quicker and more polished Saturday than freshmen backs Delon Washington and Rodney Sermons.

Player and coach enthusiasm seemed high on a long Saturday.

Everything considered, Robinson seemed happy with the first day, but reserved further comment until Wednesday, when the Trojans lace up their pads for the first time.

Athletic Director Mike Garrett said of the Trojans' highly regarded freshman class: "Before, we'd play our opponents and hope to catch them on a bad day. Where we want to be talent-wise is having an attitude that we don't care if the other team plays well or not--we're going to beat them anyway."

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