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Former CFL player Cornell helping train football's next generation

Michael Cornell is content with his pro football career, but wishes he'd known then what he knows now about training and peak conditioning.

Michael Cornell is content with his pro football career, but wishes he'd known then what he knows now about training and peak conditioning.

The 35-year-old Hamilton native played linebacker with Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg from 2010-14 following his university career at Ottawa. Cornell and his wife, Raquel, own and operate Cornell Performance Academy, a training facility in Hamilton.

"I have no regrets, I really don't," Cornell said in a recent telephone interview. "But if I could go back in time and get the type of training that I now know is the right way of doing it, I wonder if things might've been different, but who knows, really?

"But I want to create something with my personal business that shows athletes how to do that and is there to develop them and teach them the right things moving forward."

Cornell is proof athletes can improve individual performance through training. He said he shaved two-tenths of a second off his 40-yard dash time upon reporting to Calgary as a rookie.

"I was naturally a 4.78-second guy and when I made the Calgary Stampeders I ran a 4.58 on grass at 230 pounds," he said. "I didn't really hit my peak until I was 21 or 22 after my first year of pro."

Cornell said many Canadian athletes wait too long to start serious training.

"Canada is a little bit behind as far as physical training for speed and strength are concerned compared to the U.S.," he said. "I learned that firsthand when I played professionally and spoke with my American teammates, guys who came from the NFL, and learned how they'd trained.

"Many (Canadian) guys don't start until they get to first or second-year university with anything structured. I'm starting to see kids in Grade 12 who're being recruited hiring trainers or getting with groups of players with coaches to do training in preparation for their first year (of university) so they can stand out. But these kids have to start this in Grade 9."

And there's more to it than just heading to a gym and lifting weights.

"Athletic training is very much about periodization, which means training certain things at certain times and peaking towards the season," Cornell said. "Now, speed itself is built in the gym and on the track.

"One part of speed training is developing force and power through your muscles, which is how much weight you can move and how fast you can move it. That's where gym work comes into play."

Many football players, especially defensive backs and receivers, have also competed as track sprinters. Last week, Stuart McMillan, the former coach of Canadian Olympic champion sprinter Andre De Grasse, commented that many players running the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine had received solid sprint coaching.

"When you must prepare for a combine and want to develop your speed, who're the best people in the world at speedwork," Cornell said. "Well, the fastest runners are track athletes and so how are these guys training?

"A lot of it is mechanical work like technique, how to position your joints, posture, core balance, spinal strength. We look at the track for insight as to how to get our football athletes to become faster."

But Cornell also said athletes must be naturally fast to begin with.

"You can't take someone who runs a 5.4-second 40 and turn them into someone who runs a 4.2-second 40," Cornell said. "But you can drop four to five-tenths (of a second) by training on a 40 time, which is a huge speed gain overall."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press