COLUMBIA — At the end of his junior season, Tyler Rodes made a decision to do something about his playing time on the Hickman football team. He didn’t want to watch most of the games from the sidelines. He was determined to find a way to play more and he was going to do whatever it would take to get what he wanted.
He knew he had to get bigger.
Rodes wanted to gain weight in order to have the size to play offensive lineman for the Kewpies. Otherwise, he didn’t think he could make the most of his last year in high school football.
“I didn’t play much last year and that kind of ticked me off, so I really wanted to go out and prove myself to see if I could play up to that level,” Rodes said.
Rodes had the chance to get in the lineup only as a member of the special teams unit on punt blocks and kickoff returns during his junior season.
While he was 6 feet 4 inches tall last season, he weighed only 200 pounds, which he felt was too skinny to play lineman. He decided to condition himself physically and eat differently, in an attempt to gain weight.
Rodes started his conditioning program on Jan. 3 and continued it through the start of the football season. His program consisted of a lot of weight training and “eating as much as he possibly could,” something he picked up from teammate Lukas Duncan.
“(Lukas) got a lot bigger strength-wise and gained a lot of weight,” Rodes said. “I asked him what his trick was and he said, ‘Eat a lot of protein,’ so that’s what I tried to do.”
The conditioning program, which was set up by Hickman coach Jason Wright, is a way to keep the players active year-round so they don’t lose their edge during the offseason.
“We feel that, as a staff, from January to May is where you build your team strength-wise in the weight room and conditioning-wise,” Wright said. “We feel as though it’s that important. That alone has helped a lot of kids, especially Tyler.”
Rodes knew he couldn’t give up. If he took just a week off, he felt he would fail his goal.
“You get sick of it sometimes,” Rodes said. “There were some days where you just didn’t feel like doing it, but you have to. It was tough.”
But Rodes wasn’t alone in his training. About 50 teammates regularly conditioned with him Monday through Thursday every week until the start of the season. The company helped Rodes focus.
“I think it’s paid off a bunch,” Rodes said. “We’re a closely-knit group and it just brought us a little closer together.”
After school on the days Rodes and his teammates trained, they lifted weights for an hour and then went outside to do the rest of their conditioning by running sprints and some long distance runs.
During the summer, the routine was much the same, with the exception that the players started training at 6:30 a.m. They started early so those who had summer jobs could complete their workout before having to leave for work.
Rodes said he could not have done it without the help of his teammates.
“The team always pushes for everybody,” Rodes said. “It was a team effort all the way.”
Rodes had to gain a lot of muscle weight through his weightlifting. When he increased the amounts of weight on his lifts, he said he could tell that his conditioning has improved his body strength considerably.
“We max out once every two months and my (maximum lifting weight) just really kept jumping up,” Rodes said. “What motivated me to keep on trying harder to get stronger is when my max just kept going up.”
By the start of the 2007 season, Rodes had achieved his goal, gaining 35 pounds and making the starting lineup as the Kewpies’ left tackle.
Even though he has practice after school, he is able to do his conditioning routine primarily in his strength training class during school, where he focuses on a different lift each day.
“I make sure to try to maintain my strength right now,” Rodes said. “I don’t want to get smaller, but it’s harder to keep on gaining weight and go to football practice for a couple of hours.”
Wright said that he has noticed improvements outside of Rodes’ training that have impressed him. Wright pointed out that Rodes was a silent hero on the team because he leads by example when he rarely misses his blocking assignments during a game.
“His attention to focus jumps out at me the most,” Wright said. “He’s usually in the right spot at the right time.”
Rodes’ hard work was acknowledged after the Kewpies’ 16-13 win against Hazelwood Central in Florissant on Saturday when Wright named him “Offensive Lineman of the Game” for his performance, an impressive feat for a first-year starter.
Rodes may not be the biggest player on the field, but the important thing to him is that he gets to be on the field. As a starter. At the position he enjoys the most.
“He’s gone above and beyond what I thought he would do,” Wright said.