SANTA ANA, Calif. — When one listens to Scot Prohaska talk about nutrition, his knowledge and passion on the subject come across as clear as crystal.
His passion certainly rubbed off on Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson.
Asked if his speech on nutrition was the selling point in him being hired by Rollinson and Mater Dei football as strength coach, Prohaska replied:
“Yeah, he’s obsessed with nutrition,” Prohaska said of Rollinson with a big grin. “He loves it.”
After Mater Dei endured a 4-6 season in 2011, Rollinson, as he puts it, stripped the entire program completely, unhappy with the results.
One of the first calls he made was to Prohaska, whose methods helped Servite end a 20-year winless drought against Rollinson’s Monarchs, win consecutive CIF Southern Section championships, including their first in 26 years, and a state title.
When Prohaska talked, Rollinson listened … intently.
“I have to be comfortable with somebody with that much influence on the program,” said the longtime Mater Dei head coach. “It has to be the right guy.
“I got that comfort level thus Scot and I negotiated a deal that he would take over Mater Dei football.”
The result of the conversation provided an example of how the game of high school football is changing. The expertise and hiring of a strength coach was already a big issue at the NFL and college level. That importance was beginning to be felt at the high school level.
There were cases in which a head coach’s first hire was the strength guy.
“Really, the guy that spends the most time with (the team) is the strength coach,” Rollinson said.
Added Prohaska: “There’s articles … where guys like (Ohio State head coach) Urban Meyer and (Alabama head coach) Nick Saban talking about their first hire, their most important guy, is the strength conditioning guy. No. 1, because how much time they spend with their athletes and No. 2, because it makes such a difference if it’s done the right way and they find that an edge.”
Enter Prohaska who made “wholesale” changes once taking over before the 2012 season, from the way the team lifted, to how much they lifted, to the way they conditioned, to their Saturday morning regimen following games, and, of course, nutrition.
Fat, it was determined, was not good. Mater Dei was known for having big offensive linemen but they were also big and out of shape.
“Scot showed me a picture of a few years ago where I’m standing in front of the team and it just happens to be that there’s eight guys surrounding me and they are eight overweight young men,” Rollinson recalled. “And Scot says ‘Is that what you want standing behind you, because none of those guys can perform at their size.’ So, we had to attack that.”
Players began policing each other on the diet and making sure they were eating what they were supposed to. Trips to the local pizza shop before and after practice ended. Fast food was cutout. An emphasis was put on protein and any carb intake had to be earned and could only be had at certain times of the day.
“(We set) some real good boundaries to focus on so in the morning, post workout, that’s when we load their carbs,” Prhaska said. “That’s when they get more of the starchy carbs and things they like to eat and then they sacrifice the rest of the day for good reason and it ends up their focus is good. Their blood sugar is good and it gets them to develop some good habits by just focusing on a few key times during the day.”
The results were immediate.
In Prhaska’s first season, Mater Dei advanced to their first CIF sectional final in a decade, a year removed from a 4-6 season and missing the playoffs.
“It’s helped me tremendously with speed and agility (and) keeping off some of the weight,” offensive lineman Alex McCutcheon said. “I feel so much stronger on the field. Fatigue in the fourth quarter is practically non-existent with Scot’s workout.”
There’s a thought that there’s magic in Prohaska’s teachings which were revealed during his time at Servite and now at Mater Dei.
“Do I think that he created magic?” Rollinson questioned. “Yeah, definitely.”
A humble Prohaska doesn’buy into the fact that he’s somehow bottled a magic formula that equals winning but is glad to be in the spot he’s in.
“I’ve worked with Troy Thomas and Bruce Rollinson, are you kidding me?” Prohaska questioned. “Two of the biggest leaders in high school football and leaders young men that there is in the world.
“It’s a good fit so I think that’s one of the reasons it was successful. I think the boys believe in me. They trust me and they believe they got something special when I come in.”