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How Strength Coach Luke Richesson Whips the Denver Broncos Into Gridiron-Ready Shape

This coach explains what it's like to get elite athletes ready for Sundays on the gridiron.

What it Takes to Become an NFL Strength Coach
Courtesy of the Denver Broncos

Luke Richesson knew as a high school freshman what he wanted to be when he grew up: a strength coach. And he wasted no time carving out his path to the NFL: a bachelor’s degree in exercise science with an emphasis in coaching from the University of Kansas, working in the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program throughout; staff jobs at the University of Wyoming (one year) and Arizona State University (11⁄2 years); nine years at the renowned Athletes’ Performance facility (now called EXOS) in Tempe, AZ, working under movement and performance guru Mark Verstegen; then, landing his current position as Denver Broncos head strength and conditioning coach in early 2012, at age 37.

And what does he have to show for his professional expediency? Only a Super Bowl ring and one of the most coveted gigs in the training space.

“I think I found my path young,” says Richesson, who was named 2013 NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by Samson Equipment and American Football Monthly magazine. “I didn’t fall into this because Plan A and Plan B didn’t work out. My passion from the jump was strength and conditioning, and now I’m in my 20th year of coaching. I’m living the dream, for sure.”

On the Job

Here’s what you can expect as a strength and conditioning coach for a pro or college sports team.

The Daily Grind

“In season, I get to the facility at around 5:45 or six in the morning, then I’m usually done by 5 p.m., so the days aren’t that long,” says Richesson. (Note: He just called an 11-hour workday not that long.) “Training camp is when you really put in the hours. And there’s not that many days off. Last season, I think I had seven days off the entire season, and that’s counting the bye week.

“As for the off-season, after the Super Bowl, you get some down-time, anywhere from two to four weeks off. Then I come back to work at the beginning of March, and the off-season program usually starts the second or third week of April. That’s really hump time for the strength and conditioning staff, where we’re taking inventory and looking back at the season. What were the highs, what were the lows, what are the things we can improve upon?

“If there’s any new equipment we want to implement, we have to start the ordering process. It’s a lot of methodology during that time, and it’s all geared around a 10-week off-season training program. Because once mid-June hits, we get about five weeks off before the season starts. That’s how the NFL is structured: There’s some downtime leading into the season.”

Required Skills

“No. 1: You need to be able to connect with people," says Richesson. "The reason I got into strength and conditioning is because I like working with people and helping them reach their goals. Relationships are important, and you need to establish trust. You want your athletes to think, ‘This guy doesn’t just coach me, he cares about me.’ I regularly have my players and staff over to my house for dinner. Everyone knows my family. I love my guys. They sense that, and that’s why there’s a connection and a bond.

“You also have to be a worker. You’ve got to be blue collar. You’re going to have to grind through some things, whether it’s in your own training or just in the long hours with not many days off.”

Best Part of the Job

“For me, it’s game day. There’s nothing like helping get your team prepared so that, come game day, mentally they’re ready to get it done and compete at the highest level. Watching our guys compete, that’s what it’s all about. I felt like I had a dream job at Athletes' Performance, but what really started pulling at my heartstrings was missing competition.”

Worst Part of the Job 

“One, seeing guys get hurt. Whether a guy is physically in pain or he’s had a setback, that’s a real jerker. The second thing is, understanding it’s a business. When players get cut, that’s tough. And when a coach’s contract doesn’t get renewed—that’s tough, too. For a lot of people, the NFL is something they watch on Sundays. But for people who are in it, it’s the way we feed our families, so you hate to see that part of it. But we all knew what we signed up for.”

Other Advice

“Lose your ego, be humble, and realize there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. You’re one piece of the puzzle, and the goal is that the machine keeps turning out wins. How do you fit in to make that happen, and how can you help the players perform their best on game day? Understanding your role, knowing what’s expected of you, staying in your lane, and working your tail off—that’s big.”

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