New St. Al coach brings no-nonsense attitude to team|[2/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

For the last eight months, Clint Wilkerson admits he has been brainwashing the St. Aloysius baseball team.

The first-year coach has conditioned his players to feel no pain as they push their bodies beyond anything they’ve ever done. To make no excuses about why they can’t finish their grueling workouts. To fear, respect and appreciate him as he turns the Flashes into a finely tuned baseball machine.

So far, the mission of Camp Clint is a rousing success.

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“After the first workout, I didn’t think any of us would make it. Now I think any workout, we can make it through,” senior pitcher Andy Wiles said. “I think we’ve worked harder than any team in the state.”

Lots of teams make the same sort of claim as Wiles around this time of year. The Flashes could probably smile at any challengers, though, and then laugh as they try to make it through just one of Wilkerson’s intense workouts.

On one day during the offseason, he might have his players run 100 sprints of various lengths as a warm-up. Follow that up with 45 minutes of lunges while toting a 45-pound iron plate, and then some extra ab work.

Any shirkers can run a 50-yard sprint and do a dozen bear crawls up the short, steep hill across the street from the school.

“They were puking, cramping, dying. It was very, very rough,” Wilkerson said, smiling as he recalled a workout shortly after he took over the St. Al program last summer. “It took them about a month and a half before their bodies became adjusted and they were ready to work.”

That was right about the time Wilkerson introduced the Flashes to three words they would come to dread: The core program.

The twice-a-week workout regimen was designed by John Tillery, the head trainer at Mississippi College when Wilkerson played there. It involves several exercises where the player lays on his back and performs various movements with a medicine ball for 35 minutes, most while keeping the ball outstretched and their legs in the air. Then, the player rolls over and does another 35 minutes of medicine ball exercises that resemble push ups.

If any player does one of the exercises wrong, the whole team starts over from the beginning.

“With (former St. Al coach Joe) Graves we had done sit-ups and stuff. We had never done anything like the core,” senior infielder Curtis Robertson said. “Compared to years past, we had never worked before.”

Senior catcher Rob Jones didn’t encounter ‘the core’ until after football season. His first experience with the program was a rough one.

“My body just went dead,” Jones said. “My first workout after football, my legs collapsed. He put me on the ground.”

Wilkerson practices what he preaches.

A former baseball player at Mississippi College, the 26-year-old Wilkerson also played independent minor league ball and picked up exercise routines at each stop. He has worked those into his personal regimen – including the core program, which he does on his own time – and his coaching philosophy.

He laughs as he hints that the workouts the Flashes have seen are some of the more basic ones in his repertoire.

“I’ve just been doing different things my whole life. I could write a book,” he said with a laugh. “My mind is kind of twisted when it comes to that.”

While Wilkerson is quick to share a joke and a smile, his players have learned not to cross him on the practice field. The coach’s intense nature and chiseled physique leave no doubt who’s in charge, Jones said.

“When he gets mad, he scares all of us to death. The first couple of days out, we were scared to talk or do anything. He doesn’t take any crap,” Jones said. “He’s going to have it his way or you’re not going to play for him.”

Unlike some coaches who rule through fear, however, Wilkerson is putting his players through a nightmare to live a dream.

Even if it doesn’t translate into wins this season, he believes the hard work has allowed the Flashes to find an edge and a confidence that was lacking before.

“Honestly, I put them through training that would push them to the absolute edge, where they would find it or quit,” Wilkerson said. “By ‘it’, I mean that thing you need to have to be successful. You don’t know what ‘it’ is, but you know you have to have it to be great.

“The majority of them have found ‘it.'”

The Flashes are quick to back that up.

While the signs on the field – a division that includes defending state champion Cathedral, a thin pitching staff and a young team that includes only three seniors – indicate a tough year ahead, they’re confident they can at least challenge for a playoff spot.

“Just knowing how hard we’ve worked has made us more confident. He tells us we work harder than any team in the state, and I believe it,” Robertson said. “Just about everybody has toughed it out and gotten through it.”