The man hardly any of the Green Sea Floyds players knew much about stood in front of his team and told them they better be prepared to work.
It was April of 2017, and a few weeks before his start date, Donnie Kiefer spoke to his returning players. He said practices were going to be different. Film study was about to become much more involved. And, boy oh boy, these kids were going to learn how to use the weight room properly and then approach it as such.
All the time.
Offseason. In season. Game days. Didn’t matter.
It was on.
“The first time we ever talked to him, the first day he got there to start, we hit the ground running,” senior lineman Tanner Cox said, alluding to the team’s second-period weights class. “A lot of times before, we’d lift for 30 minutes and then go shoot ball in the gym. It wasn’t hard [to adjust] because that’s what we wanted — somebody to make us work so we could get better. We didn’t complain about it because we wanted somebody to make us better.”
Increased strength soon followed. Players’ max days in the bench, squat and cleans started to improve. Speed work did the same. And the following fall, the Trojans built upon their previous season despite heavy suspensions and dismissals following a fight in a game against Creek Bridge.
By the end of 2018, Green Sea Floyds was the Class A state champion after peaking late in the season and frequently late in games. And this year, the Trojans have romped through all of their like-sized opponents and will have a chance to defend their title tonight against Ridge Spring-Monetta at Benedict College in Columbia.
To think, it all started with a 5-foot-4 man standing in front of a wall of would-be players who looked down on their new coach while he tried to convince them how he was going to help the unexpected come true.
Never a hobby
When then-Green Sea Floyds Athletics Director Jason Cox announced he was hiring Kiefer away from Central Cabarrus outside Charlotte, he made it a point to laud the longtime coach’s strength and conditioning background.
He could have just said he was bringing in one of the 10 winningest coaches in North Carolina state history and people would have agreed with the hire. But ignoring what Kiefer had done in the weight room at his first nine schools — mostly rebuild jobs — would have been passively false, not to mention a slight on something Kiefer fell in love with long before he ever became a coach.
At 12 years old, his parents bought him a bench press and incline set and a squat rack from Sears. It was only the beginning.
“I had a pretty extensive set-up in my grandmother’s garage,” he said of his old rig back in Concord, where he also attended Central Cabarrus. “I would go pick up six to eight of my teammates. I guess I started being a strength coach when I was about 15 years old.”
Around the same time, he became a training junkie. He knew which days of the week various bodybuilding and power-lifting magazines were released, so the storeowners knew he’d be there on a schedule.
Kiefer wrote to colleges asking about their conditioning programs. LSU and the University of North Carolina, among others, graciously responded with detailed notes.
He played high school football and went on to Lenoir-Rhyne, where he got his degree in physical education in 1981. The following year, he entered his first power-lifting competition, the Augusta Open in Georgia, and won his 148-pound weight class. It triggered his fire, and by the time he was inaugurated into the North Carolina Power Lifting and Strength Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, he had piled up 26 state championships in three different weight classes, set, broke or re-broke some 50-plus records and had been ranked No. 1 in the country in various power-lifting stations five different times, all while promoting drug-testing and competing in stringently anti-doping organizations that eventually helped change the landscape in the Tar Heel State, according to the aforementioned hall of fame.
While many of his records were topped over the years as lifting started to have more education attached to it, he still holds 25 top spots in the North Carolina record books.
Needless to say, he learned how to pay it forward.
In addition to the 10 different high schools he’s worked at, he’s also served on the strength and conditioning staffs at Davidson and East Carolina. By the time he got to Green Sea, joining football and the weight room was only natural.
“We were in there working on percentages and specifics of reps. As a sophomore in high school, you don’t know what that really means. But you see results,” senior tight end Ethan Damron said this week. “The reputation of Green Sea Floyds football was [well known], kind of knowing what the high school was doing. We’re here now, so I think that answers that.”
Technique with a plan
Ask any of the nine Horry County head coaches what their strength-and-conditioning programs look like, and you’ll get nine different answers.
For instance, Myrtle Beach — which is playing for the Class 4A state title on Saturday — hits the weights hard Monday through Wednesday during the season but elects for band exercises, yoga and deep stretching on Thursdays and Fridays.
At Green Sea Floyds, the curve balls are spaced out throughout the week this time of year. Speed drills are mixed in with weights, often rotating days to keep everyone fresh. And on those days when lifting is part of the equation, it’s rarely about the max.
“It’s not high-volume, and it’s not high-intensity. But it is explosive,” Kiefer said. “We’re trying to prepare the mind and body for the explosiveness on Friday.”
That means a whole bunch of execution of terminology that players can now spout off without thinking twice: Ground-based plyometrics, box jumps, broad jumps, pro shuttles, long shuttles. All weight-free exercises that produce some of the same results.
As for the lifts, it’s all about bar speed.
In Kiefer’s world, experience tells him that if you’re able to throw weight away from the ground with more velocity, you’re going to know how to apply not just strength but also leverage to another human being trying to knock you on your butt.
That may be where Kiefer’s methods have truly changed the perception of Green Sea Floyds football. The Trojans have been ranked among the top spots in the state’s media poll throughout this fall after last year’s championship. The only loss in 2019 came against Region VI-3A champion Aynor, and they’ve beaten their eight opponents since by double digits, winning by an average margin of six touchdowns.
Green See Floyds is seen as a bully, consistently breaking down opponents who were in the state’s Top 10 and making them look overmatched.
Here’s funny part.
Of the 33 players who started the year on the varsity roster who are still around, only 13 are at or above 6-feet tall, and just nine of them tip the scales north of 200 pounds.
“Appearance doesn’t matter,” Tanner Cox said. “It’s how you play and how you work.”
Showing versus telling
Every now and again, the former competitive lifter and body building hops on a rack. A couple weeks ago, Kiefer lifted up 315 pounds five times on a bench press. Not long before that, he did 275 pounds 10 times.
This was a dude in his early 60s sporting a reconstructed shoulder pushing some considerable weight.
“I’m sure for a young kid, that’s impressive,” Kiefer said. “I’m not doing it to show off. I just won’t ask them to do something I won’t do.”
Players respond to the display of strength, further proof that they don’t have to necessarily look the part to play the part. It’s why Green Sea Floyds won the Class A state power lifting title last year, when Kiefer was honored as the division’s coach of the year by the South Carolina High School Strength Coaches Association and then earned the overall nod from the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association.
It backed up what Damron already knew. Gains were happening.
The Trojans have won as many games in the last two seasons as they had in any other five-year stretch in school history. They won the 2018 state title after never previously advancing past the third round of the playoffs. And they’re a Friday victory away from becoming just the ninth team to win back-to-back Class A state titles since 1968, when the South Carolina High School League expanded to create the state’s modern era.
For Damron, the talented tight end who puts on a sport coat every weekend at his job at a men’s clothier, he already knows this method has worked.
“I went up three sizes in my chest and shoulders in a suit jacket. I’ve seen the progress,” he said. “It is a lot easier to understand when you’re seeing weight gain, and now you’re seeing possible back-to-back state championships. It’s hard to argue with that product."
CLASS 1A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Ridge Spring-Monetta (10-4) and Green Sea Floyds (11-1)
Time | 8 p.m., Friday
Place | Charlie C. Johnson Stadium, Benedict College
Coverage | MyHorryNews.com will have live and continuing coverage.
About the game | First-year Ridge Spring-Monetta head coach Brian Smith was rattling off the names of all his underclassmen when he was asked if his team was maybe a year ahead of schedule for this type of success. “It may be two years ahead of schedule,” he said. And while the team’s two best players — defensive lineman Tre Dean and running back/linebacker Collier Sullivan — are seniors, the bulk of the supporting cast is not. That includes sophomore quarterback Rem Leaphart (1,619 yards, 21 touchdowns passing and 516 yards and six scores on the ground) and linebacker Nemo Brooks, a freshman who has already topped 100 total tackles this year to go along with a couple forced turnovers. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what Green Sea Floyds looked like a year ago heading into the championship game against Lamar. Then, Lamar was the favorite and expected to cruise. This time, it’s Kiefer’s squad. He’s using that exact reasoning to motivate his squad in advance of the title game showdown.