BRADENTON -- Bradenton Christian's strength and conditioning program has roots in the 1990s at Virginia Tech.
The Panthers, with just two rising seniors, are a group of young players still maturing and developing. So BCS won't play a spring game this season, opting instead for a mix of practice days and lifting days to train for what lies ahead.
"Remember back in the 90s, Virginia Tech was a decent program," Panthers head coach Allan Gerber said. "They were an also-ran. Then they made that big push. They brought a strength coach in. They developed kids who were an inch too small, an inch too short and maybe 20 pounds too light. But they plugged in pieces and then developed those pieces. ... That's what I've implemented here and then modified it to the fact these kids are teenagers, young teenagers."
The school's new weight room is helping the players build the muscle needed for the stamina and strength to endure two-way players throughout the fall season.
"You see people get engaged in the weight room," rising senior running back Zack Cooper said. "The smaller guys, they're actually getting strong so that's really good. ... It doesn't get too crowded for 40 people, and we're getting more equipment in there."
Assistant coach Chris Pennington, a longtime weightlifting coach, is a key contributor, too.
"Chris is a stud," Gerber said. "He brings the experience that he gathered as a coach at Manatee, playing over there, having some experience playing up at UCF. The energy that he brings to the thing is phenomenal. But more importantly than anything else, he's a guy that can relate to kids. ... If they don't trust you, they aren't going to play for you."
Another aspect of the increased strength is to build an offensive line that will open holes for Cooper, who amassed more than 1,200 rushing yards during his junior season last fall.
"We've got a good nucleus," Gerber said. "It's a matter of plugging in and finding some linemen, developing some linemen and going from there."
Part of that nucleus is Brett Gerber, a rising sophomore who now stands 6-foot-3 and is 195 pounds. Last season, he tallied 96 tackles, 41 more than the next best total, to lead the Panthers.
Gerber, the coach's son, aslo is penciled in at the quarterback position this spring, but Allan Gerber said that position has not been decided for the fall.
Whoever takes snaps in the fall, though, will get a pair of top targets in rising senior Burke Hill (6-1) and 6-foot-3 Kevin Etiene. The two add size in the receiving game Gerber said the Panthers haven't had in the recent past.