How to Walk-On Your College Football Team

TAGS: walk on, team, quick flip, college, football, Mark Watts

Drawing from his own experience in training, competing, and coaching, Mark Watts offers insight on the elitefts™ Q&A. In this exchange, Watts answers questions from a college student hoping to join the university football team. The information covers strength training, avoiding injuries, and programming sprints.

Question 1


I am an exercise science major and am thinking of walking on my Division II college football team. I played all through high school and tore my ACL my senior year but am all healed.

I weigh 155 pounds. Need to put weight on and increase my explosiveness. I lift heavy now using 5/3/1.

My major questions are:

  1. How I should should focus on training through winter,spring, and fall?
  2. What are the best exercises to keep my ACL strong?

Coach Watts:

Here are a couple things to think about:


  1. Make sure you contact the coach and let him know your intentions. Send via e-mail since they are in the middle of the season.
  2. Make sure you are medically cleared by the athletic training staff.
  3. It is DII so you will have to make sure you are cleared to play according to NCAA rules (clearinghouse). You should have a compliance person.
  4. As soon as the season is over, contact the coach again. Make sure to provide him with game tape from high school if you have any.
  5. Do everything you can to start training with the team during the winter work-outs. As soon as the season is over, try and start in the weight room with the team. Don’t wait until spring ball.


I realize you are looking for a training program for all year but if you are not playing now, concentrate on the fall.

I really think it is imperative to walk-on as soon as possible. If they allow you to walk-on this year (they may not allow you to), you are going to have to do whatever training plan the team is doing. Hopefully your university has a comprehensive program and a quality coach.

When setting up your training program, you will need to find out a few things. If you can talk to the strength coach or one of the players, find out the major components of the program. I know your mindset is what is the best program to gain weight and be explosive, but knowing what is going to be expected of you when training with the team is also important. Here are a couple questions to ask about the program:

  1. What are the major lifts? Are they Olympic based? What are the core movements?
  2. What will you be tested on? What’s up on the record board? Is there a conditioning test?

The Program

It sounds like you have a pretty solid plan with the 5-3-1. I also like the philosophy of training speed and explosiveness in conjunction with the strength training. This will especially be important to continue to jump and sprint while you are attempting to gain weight. As far as the ACL, continue to work the posterior chain hard. Hamstring to quad ratio and neurological control when landing and cutting are vital.

Not sure what your schedule is, so I can’t give you a specific training plan. I would make sure you stick with what you are comfortable with and make sure to include these components:

  1. Triple Extension–It doesn’t matter if it’s through Olympic lifts, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, etc. but do something explosive.
  2. Jumps–Box Jumps, Depth Jumps, etc.
  3. Sprints–Depending on your position, 10-40 yards with a 200-yard cap. Make sure you are fully recovered between reps. If you are not running full speed you are not developing speed.
  4. Change of Direction Drills–Don’t over-complicate this. 5-10-5 pro agility, and 3 cone drills at full speed with full recovery will do.
  5. Squat
  6. Bench
  7. Deadlift–Whatever you are comfortable with. Conventional, sumo, trap bar, RDL, etc.
  8. Overhead Press
  9. Chin-Ups
  10. Rows
  11. Glute-ham Raises
  12. Single leg squat, lunge or prowler pushes

I know this is vague, so please feel free to follow up if you think I can help you in any other way.

As a former DII walk-on, I understand the challenge you have in front of you. Use elitefts™ as a resource and let me know if you need anything.


Question 2


I had a question in regards to training. As I move toward that goal, I am trying to become more explosive and fast while gaining weight this winter till next summer. I am starting Joe DeFranco's WS4SB. During the winter would it be good to sprint on DE days, push the prowler on ME days, and do a strong man type finish on ME upper body days?

Just confused on how to work in sprinting and prowler work.

Coach Watts:

It seems you have a good basic plan and you are correct in stating that the the biggest challenge is finding when to sprint.

First, think of the classification of sprinting and where it falls on each continuum. It is a highly intensive CNS demanding lower body drill. This would be in the same classification of dynamic effort lower body.

If you are staying with DeFranco's WS4SB model, I would make some adjustments. Some may disagree, but here are my thoughts:

  1. Ditch the Speed Squats. Squat on ME lower body day and instead of DE squats, perform your box jumps, medicine ball throws, sprints, and Olympic lifts (if you are comfortable with them and have the facility & equipment.)
  2. Allot one day for linear speed and one for lateral speed development. Both days will be CNS intensive and you may need one day just to run.
  3. Have an intensive and an extensive conditioning day. Prowlers on one of those days and some tempo-type runs on another. Some coaches like the tempo runs on off days, but I think logistically it may be more feasible to just allot four days of training.

Setting up the Program

Again, there are lots of option. Below is my optimal set-up but it never really works in a team setting. This option only has back to back sessions once.

Modified DeFranco Split

Monday–Linear/Lateral speed, Max Effort Bench Press

Wednesday–Jumps, Max Effort Squat

Thursday–Max Effort Overhead Press, Extensive Conditioning

Saturday–Max Effort Deadlift, Intensive Conditioning

The D1 Split

Monday–Lateral Speed, DE Lower Body

Tuesday–ME Upper Body, Extensive Conditioning (Tempo Runs)

Thursday–Linear Speed, ME Lower Body

Friday–RE Upper Body, Strongman, Intensive Conditioning (Prowlers)

A Football Player's Guidelines to Sprinting

Again, this is just my opinion.

  1. If you are not running full speed, you are not developing speed. There are two reasons why athletes don't run full speed during sprints. A) They're a turd or B) they are fatigued. If fatigue is the issue that is usually due to not enough rest between reps or too much volume. If you are running 40s with 30 seconds rest, that is conditioning. If you are running twenty 40s, then do you really think you are as fast on rep #15 as you were on #5? This leads me too....
  2. Make sure that sprints are not conditioning. Stay away from running at speeds that are either too slow to get faster or too demanding on the CNS to recover from.
  3. Keep the total volume around 200 yards.
    Example: (2) 10s, (2) 20s, (3) 30s, & (2) 40s
  4. Ensure your work to rest ratios are conducive to improvement. Charlie Francis' model would prescribe one minute rest for every second of work.
    Example: If a 40-yard sprint took about 5 seconds, then you would rest 5 minutes. That didn't really work in a team setting, especially with coaches that demanded their players be gasping for air and not waiting for the next rep. That being said, I think 1:30 (even 1:20) is plenty. So rest 45-60 seconds after a 10yd and so on.
  5. Auto-Regulate your sprints. This will make your volume more flexible, but if you can get your sprints timed, then do it. This is not to see your progress or really to break records, but to adjust volume. I heard Martin Rooney speak about this at the CSCC conference in 2006 and he would time his athletes' sprints. As soon as an athlete would have a slower time (after a minimum), that would either be his last sprint or he would get one more. A realistic example would be prescribe (3) 4os (based on the 200 rule) and it may look like this:
    1. 4.86
    2. 4.81
    3. 4.79
    4. 4.77
    5. 4.81 (one more or last one)
    6. 4.83

As you can see this can increase the volume but the notion is the athlete in this case had the CNS capability to perform more that was prescribed.

Question 3


I really appreciate your answer. It helped a lot. I wasn’t expecting that much I really appreciate the time. Right now my routine is:

Monday–Max Effort Upper Body

Tuesday–Dynamic Effort Lower Body (box jumps, no squats on this day), (8) 50-yard sprints

Wednesday–Recovery work and foam rolling

Thursday–Repetition Upper Body, finish with a barbell complex

Friday–Max Effort Lower Body (I am just not sure if I should rotate main lifts such as squat and deadlift every week. I work up to a 5 rep max in one than usually do 3 sets of 10 in the other. Then finish with prowler sprints)

I know you laid out a plan but wanted to see how to change this around and where to put stuff.

Coach Watts:

The best plan you can do is the one you are doing. Seriously, there is a reason why you came up with that system, and it is sound. People always say that you shouldn’t coach yourself because you will avoid things that you need. I disagree, because know one knows me like me.

Very solid, just some things to think about.

Monday: You chose to bench press on national bench press day. Good luck fighting off the other NARPs. Seriously, alternate pushes and pulls through-out and address upper back. Pushes to pulls 2:3 ratio.

Tuesday: Add in some Glute Ham Raises AFTER sprints to get some more strength and volume.

Wednesday: Solid. Repeat this on Saturday

Thursday: I would try to do an overhead press on this day. Even a max overhead press or push press and continue with repetition stuff. Make sure the barbell complex doesn’t overly tax you for Friday.

Friday: This is up to you. I don’t think you need to deadlift every week but you could.

Week 1: ME Sqaut, RDL
Week 2: Submax/Dyanmic Box Squat, ME Deadlift
…and so on. Get the reps in the 2-6 range and get your volume through GHRs, SL RDLs, lunges, split squat, etc.

Hope this helps and keep me updated on who you are doing, my man.

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...