KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee has fielded a football program for more than 100 years.
Many of those years featured rosters with more than 100 players.
A former Chattanooga high school star has now bench pressed nearly 100 pounds more than any of them.
Former Baylor School star Jacques McClendon has been ordered to cut back after bench-pressing 645 pounds earlier this summer, according to Vols strength and conditioning coach Johnny Long.
“That’s hard to roll,” Long said. “If that’s on the ground, it’s hard to push.”
To the utter astonishment of his coaches and teammates, McClendon easily smashed Albert Toeina’s old record of 575 pounds. Vladimir Richard, UT’s other budding offensive guard star, also cleared 600 on the bench.
“But they won’t hit those numbers again, I can tell you that,” Long said Wednesday afternoon as half the team lifted inside the Neyland Thompson Sports Center. “Obviously, I cut back right before the beginning of the season starts. I don’t need to see them hit 600 again before football season and strain or tear a (pectoral muscle), and then we can’t have them for two-a-days.
“They’ll be hitting up in that 500 range. Jacque could probably hit 500 any day of the week, two or three times, but I don’t need him to hit it right now. I need him to get ready for two-a-days.”
McClendon and his teammates have been put through new techniques this offseason. Summer’s voluntary workouts have featured up to three yoga sessions per week, thanks to Diamond Dallas Page. The former professional wrestling superstar’s YRG (“Yoga for Regular Guys”) video puts a masculine spin on the traditionally spiritual activity.
Long said the Vols have “really enjoyed” the manly yoga. He said they constantly mimic Page’s “Diamond Cutter” hand signals at each other.
“It’s really a fun thing with them, and that’s what it should be,” Long said. “They’re here with me nine or ten months out of the year. I have to bring new things to the table.”
Senior defensive end Robert Ayers called the new yoga routine “interesting.
“But hey, it works,” Ayers added. “I feel more flexible, and at this level, every little bit is a big thing.”
No Vols have exceeded McClendon’s jaw-dropping bench mark — or his 730-pound back squat — but several have surpassed program position records. Senior Demonte Bolden from Tyner Academy set a new defensive line mark with his 565-pound bench press, while sophomore tight end Luke Stocker (565) and walk-on sophomore linebacker Nick Reveiz (640) set new squat marks at their positions.
Sophomore All-American kicker Daniel Lincoln breezed past the program’s records with his 370-pound bench press, 405-pound squat and 275-pound power clean.
“We’ve got the buffest kicker in America, no doubt,” sophomore defensive end Chris Walker said through fits of laughter.
They might have the buffest offensive lineman, too.
“Jacques is just ridiculous,” junior defensive tackle Chase Nelson said. “You look at that number, and you almost don’t believe it. It’s crazy. Jacques is just a big, strong kid.
“The level that he’s at right now in the weightroom is just ridiculous, really.”
Junior linebacker Rico McCoy said he’ll never forget two summers ago, when McClendon benched 550 pounds during his “second or third week” on campus.
“I would say he’s one of the strongest men in the United States,” McCoy said. “He’d have to be. A 645-pound bench? That’s crazy. I’m just happy he’s on my side.”
“He shocks me. Some guys are just born with gifts, man.”
Long praised several Vols for what he called a “great offseason” to this point. He said sophomore All-American safety Eric Berry has added 15 pounds of “lean muscle mass,” now tipping the scales at 210 pounds. He also singled out Ayers, Stocker, Bolden, Richard, junior offensive tackle Chris Scott and senior linebacker Adam Myers-White. He said redshirt freshman defensive tackle Donald Langley was probably the team’s most improved lifter.
“But I could sit here all day and throw out a bunch of names,” Long said. “The guys have worked hard.”
Long pairs offensive players against defenders as much as possible for workouts, hoping to generate a competitive environment. Wide receivers workout with defensive backs, running backs spar with linebackers and linemen push each other.
“Vladimir Richard and Demonte Bolden lift weights at 6 o’clock every morning, and they’re in there competing against each other and trash talking,” Long said. “They’re getting after each other the whole time they’re lifting weights, and that’s what you need.
“I like to push the buttons a little bit, (but) make sure we’re keeping it at a calm pace.”
Some of the Vols will set new max marks next week, followed by a week off before August’s preseason camp. Long said he worked with the team’s medical staff this summer to design programs aimed at preemptively striking common football injuries in the knee and shoulder, and he’s anxious to see the results.
“It’s a physical game,” Long said. “If you take a three-foot pole and bury it in the ground, and a 330-pound offensive lineman comes and hits it, it’s going to bend. That’s the same thing that happens with knees. There’s always going to be some torque going on. People get thrown on the ground, too, and shoulders are going to go.
“Those are things you can’t (always) prevent, but hopefully we can prevent some of them. Or if they do get hurt, maybe we can get them back faster.”