By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - The son of a California high school coach with a commitment to conditioning, Ryan Russell watched his dad's baseball players get bigger, faster and stronger.
"I saw the difference it made in his athletes and the passion he had about it," says Russell, Auburn football's director of strength and conditioning.
In his final semester of high school, his core classes completed, Ryan could have coasted to Commencement. Instead, he took anatomy and physiology.
"I knew what I wanted to do at a very young age," he says.
After running track and playing college football at Division II West Liberty in West Virginia, Russell bounced around the Arena Football League, landing in Louisville, which allowed him to intern in the University of Louisville's weight room.
I knew I was going to play arena football to pay the bills for a little bit, and as soon as I could find a graduate assistant job, I was going to do that," he says. "That led me down here."
Russell served as a graduate assistant at Auburn in 2005-06, landed his first job at Boise State from 2007-2009, then came back to Auburn as an assistant in 2010-11.
In 2012, Gus Malzahn hired Russell to run Arkansas State's weight room.
"I got there in January and left in December, came back here and the rest is history," he says. "I'm here for my third stint. I feel like God wants me here for a reason. I'm supposed to be here to impact these kids in a positive way. It's been really cool to see Auburn grow. I love how important ball is to these guys, and how important their development is."
To enhance that development, Russell and his assistants take a long-term approach.
"It's constant development throughout their whole career," he says. "We want those guys running their fastest, moving the most efficient they have ever moved going into their senior year with us."
'It comes back to training hard'
To achieve maximum performance, Russell relies on a combination of new-school technology and old-school intensity.
"I don't think it is necessarily fair to call us just strength and conditioning coaches anymore. I prefer athletic performance coach," says Russell, using terms like "load, explode, drive variable" to describe a student-athlete's ability to create, express and use force.
"That is really the No. 1 goal for us, to build resiliency in our athletes and `bulletproof' them," he says. "We don't want our guys to have hamstring issues and things like that.
"Technology, people are still trying to figure out how it fits in. But at the end of the day, it comes back to training hard and work ethic. I was talking to someone the other day and I said, `We are doing something really cutting edge. We are training really, really hard.'
"Our mission statement is relentless pursuit of player development to help develop our guys to be built for life when they leave here."
Unlike assistant coaches, whose offseason time with players is limited by NCAA regulations, Auburn's strength coaches work with the team year-round.
"We have to make sure they stay locked in and interested," Russell says. "I think the technology helps with that. We always talk about educate, motivate and cultivate. We have to educate these guys, motivate them on a daily basis and cultivate a great training environment.
"It's important to be consistent. That's what we preach, especially with those young guys. Emotional consistency day in and day out. We can't develop you if you're up and down like a roller coaster."
Malzahn checks in with Russell to monitor the team's progress.
"I believe Ryan Russell is on the cutting edge with training, the way he goes about it," Malzahn says. "The energy he brings. The perfection part that he brings. Our players really respond to it. Every year, I've seen our guys grow physically with everything that he does."
A California kid who found a home on the Plains, Ryan Russell says Auburn's football players make his job easy.
"It's a blast to come in here every day to train them," he says. "Definitely have a gratitude about being at Auburn. I know how special it is, and I don't take it lightly. I think good things are on the way."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer