Anaheim Servite football team aims to be tough, not posh

It's 6:30 a.m., and the weight room at Anaheim Servite is about to become warm, stuffy and full of sweat.

I've driven 50 miles to learn how the Friars have won consecutive Pac-5 Division championships in football, and the answer can be found in a renovated classroom that has no air conditioning, peeling paint on the outside and hardly fits the model of a modern fitness center that's on the wish list for every top program.

Except this is the ideal environment for Coach Troy Thomas to build a team.

"This is my favorite time of the year, which may be surprising since we're far away from a game," Thomas said. "I like watching our team come together. I think we're getting better right now, maybe not in the game of football, but as a team.

"I see our older players coaching our younger players and pushing them and teaching them the way. That's how you build tradition. A lot of that occurs in this room."

Coaches spend some of the off-season going to clinics or dropping by college programs to see how others do things, and one of the mandatory requirements for aspiring champions should be a stopover in the Servite weight room.

The amount of energy being expended, combined with the focus, concentration and commitment, is something to see. The team lifts four days a week throughout the year. These are not all goliath teenagers with bulging biceps, though some of the seniors sure fit the part.

Standing around and doing nothing is not acceptable.

"Come on, you've got to have some beach muscles this summer," Thomas tells a player.

They follow their coach's instructions, and week by week, the players get stronger.

"This is what we do," Thomas said. "We don't really ever stop. It depends on whenever our season ends. We start the next Monday."

Strength is important if only for safety reasons. But then come the added benefits.

"It makes guys physically more tough and mentally more tough to go through things that are hard," Thomas said. "When you do it together, it makes your team tougher."

Toughness is lifting your chin over a bar when your muscles are aching. Toughness is completing your reps when you're exhausted and sweat is streaming down your face. Toughness is not letting your high school coach outhustle you in the weight room.

"The weight room is how we figure out who's tough and who's not," center Michael Meyer said. "You're not going to come in here, 'Oh, I'm just going to go through this workout.' People who push are the people who play."

What happens in Servite's weight room should provide inspiration for those who feel they are at a disadvantage against schools that have college-like fitness centers.

"We have weights, we have bars, we have dumbbells, benches. Whatever we need, we've got in here," Thomas said. "It doesn't matter what the room looks like."

In about a week, Servite will start spring practice. Footballs will be thrown and there will be demonstrations on tackling and blocking. Fans will drop by and ask how the team looks.

Here's how the team looks in the weight room: Senior-to-be Jonathan Taylor, a defensive back, looks ready for a body-building contest. Junior-to-be defensive back Salesi Etiaki is a physical specimen who is, for now, a secret. But just wait until he hits somebody on the field.

If working hard in the weight room means anything, Servite will be more than ready to challenge for a third consecutive Pac-5 title.

The most surprising scene from the weight room?

The team did jumping jacks.

"We're old school," Thomas said.

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