I moved from Greenville, South Carolina, to Columbia, South Carolina, to go to school at the University of South Carolina almost three years ago. I considered myself a hardcore powerlifter, and at the seasoned age of 19-years-old, I thought I knew what I was doing. When I came to Spud’s gym, the most I had done in a meet was 650 lbs on the squat, 385 lbs on the bench, and 605 lbs in the deadlift.

I did my research to find the right gym for me and was excited to learn about Spud’s gym with what seemed like an army of strong training partners. The first time I walked in the door of his gym, I was excited and nervous. I met Spud at the front desk and introduced myself but didn’t really talk to him because I was in awe of his greatness (he was the first top powerlifter that I had ever met).

I started training a few days here and there, getting acquainted with the gym and trying to figure out just where I would be in the pecking order. Everybody does this when they go to a new gym but won’t admit it. At the time, there were two crews who worked out on separate monolifts. I called the crew that I was in the kiddy pool. The strong crew consisted of Spud, Karl Tillman, and Barry Sturdivant. These guys were amazing to me because I had never been around big weights like the ones they lifted.

Of course, I acted like it was no big deal because everyone else did, but I was scared shitless when someone asked me to spot Spud squatting a grand. It was just another warm up for him, but that night was the first night I really got to talk to Spud about his training. I tried like hell to get into his good graces so that I could learn from him. This is around the time I started earning nicknames. Spud kept calling me the Spy because he said that I was a spy sent from another gym to learn all his secrets. Karl either called me the New Guy or Dellbert. (For almost the first year that I was there, he thought my name was Dell.) Now, my nickname with the crew is “the Protégé” because I’m a little spud in training.

I quickly found out that whatever Spud said was golden and any advice that he gave I followed to the letter. It was amazing how quickly I got stronger training with the always competitive kiddy pool training crew and learning from Spud and the rest of the guys. It didn’t take long before everyone started pushing me to do a meet. I think they wanted to see what I was made of when it came meet time. Anyone can train great and hit big numbers in the gym but then freak out when it comes meet day and bomb. This was not the case with my first meet after training with my new training partners.

I competed in a local meet in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where I squatted 804 lbs, benched 506 lbs, and pulled in the middle 600 lbs. For me, that was the day I got accepted into Spud’s strong group. After the meet, I went from top dog in the kiddy pool to the weakest guy in my new crew.

One major thing that throws people off when they come to train with us is the intensity level of Spud and the rest of the guys. It all depends on what night it is, but most nights, it’s a fun time with Spud cracking jokes on everyone. People try to come back on him, but the man has a smartass answer for any joke. He has his moments of angry intensity before a big lift, but overall, it’s a relaxed training atmosphere.

When Spud was 300 lbs, it was funny to watch him nod off to sleep in between sets. He would finish squatting 1000 lbs, take three or four steps to his chair (which might collapse at any moment), sit down, and nod off to sleep for a minute. He carried his “fat chair” around the gym with him so that he could sit down when he trained his clients. I can’t say that I was much better during my last training cycle when I was up to 320 lbs. I never went to sleep during a workout, but I did use the fat chair. The newly slim Spud looked at me and said, “I remember those days,” as he watched me eat my patented cookie, brownie, peanut butter sandwich containing over 1,000 calories.

The funny part about training with Spud is that I haven’t seen him lift in a meet yet. He has been to several meets since I’ve been training with him, but normally, I’m running the gym while he goes to meets. (I work for Spud at South Carolina Barbell.) It’s really odd that the only competition that I’ve seen him in was during his short-lived (thank God) bodybuilding career after his squat accident.

Spud lost over 100 lbs after he tore his quad and exploded his shoulder nerve. He wanted to speed up his rehabilitation process and improve his health. In one year, he went from 305 lbs of “can’t tie my shoelaces without passing out” to 195 lbs of spray tan and posing briefs. Those were fun times working with a carbohydrate-starved, shriveling fat guy doing 2–3 hours of cardio per day. He wasn’t too hard to deal with until the last 2–3 months before his bodybuilding show. Then, he was like most bodybuilders who have been dieting and doing endless cardio for months on end—an angry two-year-old. That phase quickly passed after he had his first doughnut after the bodybuilding show. Doughnuts and pizza can fix anything after a year of dieting!

Throughout the whole ordeal, Spud still trained with the crew but made a few bodybuilder-friendly modifications. The funny thing is now that he’s back solely to powerlifting, he can pretty much out lift everyone in the gym, even though he’s 75 lbs lighter than he was.

It is fun chasing Spud’s numbers, even though it will take a while for me to get there. That still doesn’t prevent everyone from pitting me against him on training days. Keith Ferrara (the “Angry Troll,” as we call him) constantly says that Spud will throw me out of the gym when I beat his numbers. I think I’m safe for a while, considering that Spud’s total is in the 2500-lb range and mine is in the low 2100-lb range. Nonetheless, it’s fun to see what lengths the Troll will go to get a reaction from one of us. Spud takes the Troll’s antagonistic banter in stride in true Yoda form and says that he wouldn’t be a good coach if his protégé didn’t surpass him. Teaching is one thing Spud does that has been great for everyone in our group and their success.

It has been great to learn from one of the best powerlifters in the sport. Spud has taught me a lot, things that would’ve taken me years to learn on my own. He says that I get the benefit of learning from all of his mistakes so that I don’t have to make them on my own. He stresses that one of his biggest mistakes was overtraining just for the sake of doing more work. He told me that it’s important to understand why you’re doing an exercise and to keep the focus on achieving that purpose. Spud is always learning new training methods and different ways to incorporate exercises in training cycles. That’s the benefit of training with a smart powerlifter.

Spud has a relaxed, mellow approach to teaching and correcting form problems. He can sit back and watch us lift. Every once in a while, he interjects what someone did wrong and how to fix the problem. He hardly ever gets animated when he’s correcting someone’s form. One time, a cop who trains with us kept making the same mistake while squatting. He asked Spud to watch his form on a close to max squat. The cop got under the bar, and it was ugly from the get go. Before the cop even got halfway up, Spud said, “I’m going to punch you in the *&$%*#@ face!” I knew that Spud was half serious but mainly frustrated. It’s always funny to see him get riled up. He knows who needs a smack in the head and who needs to put the brakes on the intensity. Everyone is different in their approach, but Spud always seems to know how to motivate us.

I’ve also learned from Spud how to self-motivate, but that doesn’t stop him from adding a little extra motivation. Spud knows how and loves to push people’s buttons. He loves to make little remarks like “just get what you can” or “you can go to a lighter weight if you need to” after he finishes a hard set of whatever we may be doing. Those remarks are more motivating than someone yelling at me and smacking me because mentally it forces me to rise to the challenge of training with someone stronger than me. Spud gets great pleasure in making sly little digs at me because he gets to be a smart ass and motivate me at the same time. It’s the same with everyone in our crew. Everyone is a smart ass on their favorite night to train. For instance, the people with big benches talk smack on bench night and keep quiet on squat night. I just keep quiet. I’m amused watching it all play out, with Spud always getting the last word.

The past few months of training have been sort of half ass with Spud just coming off the bodybuilding show and me just doing as little as possible during my hellish school semester. Now, our attention has turned to preparing for a meet. Spud hasn’t let the cat out of the bag yet on what meet he wants to do, but I’m planning on competing at the Junior Nationals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I finally made the commitment to compete at a higher level. I’ve done plenty of small, local meets with good success but nothing on a national level.

I’m excited to start our training because I developed the squat and dead cycle. I added a few new things and made the cycle percentage based, which is something that I’ve never really used in the past. I got the Spud stamp of approval on the program, and he’s going to do the cycle, too. We may need to change a few of the weights though, as I was pretty optimistic in picking my weights for each workout. However, I’d rather overachieve than fall short of my goals.

My goals for the Junior Nationals are a 950-lb squat, a 675-lb bench, and a 705-lb deadlift for a total of 2330 lbs. Hopefully, if things go as planned, these will be my third attempts, but we will see how the cycle progresses. I haven’t ever been on the exact same training cycle with Spud so it should be fun because we are both competitive with each other.

Training with Spud has done wonders for my development as a powerlifter and my internal drive to accomplish. Not only is Spud a renowned powerlifter, but he also owns and operates three businesses. He owns South Carolina Barbell, where we train with all the normal people; the Spud Inc. Strap Line; and a newly acquired Nutrition Warehouse. Spud’s drive to be successful in business is comparable to his competitiveness on the powerlifting platform, and this has shown me what it takes to achieve your goals.

Spud always talks about willpower. He says that you can accomplish anything you want if you commit your will to do what it takes to get there. I have no magic total that I’m striving for because I’m still finding my potential. I feel that long-term goals can limit you if you underestimate your potential. Instead, I plan to keep learning and growing by listening to people who have been where I want to be, and I’m lucky to have a training partner in Spud that is just that.