The Man Behind the Muscle
Troy University hired their first football strength and conditioning coach back in 1996. Since then the Trojans have made the leap to Division-1A (2001), won 5 Sunbelt Conference Championships, played in 5 bowl games (2-3 record), and produced 90+ professional athletes. The man behind Troy’s muscle is Coach Richard Shaughnessy.
For the past 20 years, Coach Shaughnessy has dedicated himself to building a stronger athlete for Troy and beyond. His office is littered with photos of former Trojan athletes that have come through his gym. Two of those athletes happen to be NFL first round draft picks, DeMarcus Ware (2005) and Leodis McKelvin (2008). They account for 2 of 9 active Troy Trojans in the NFL today.
For obvious reasons, D-Ware has a couple more photos in Coach Shaughnessy’s office after Super Bowl 50. However, had the Broncos lost to the Panthers last February, it would be reasonable to assume a photo of Mario Addison, who plays for Carolina, holding up the Lombardi Trophy would have looked just as good. Two players from a smaller school like Troy University playing on the NFL’s biggest stage is pretty impressive. But this wasn’t the first time there has been Troy Trojans on this stage.
“When the Giants won the Super Bowl we had three (players) on that team. We had Jerrel (Jernigan), Lawrence Tynes and Osi (Umenyiora). Three guys from Troy on a Super Bowl team, that’s unheard of.”
The New York Giants saw the talent that was coming out of Troy, Alabama and capitalized on it. Auburn University, on the other hand, did not have the same foresight. The Tigers’ coaching staff was unable to see what they had in their own backyard. They passed up on Auburn High School (AL) football prospects like DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora. Both players signed with Troy University, were trained by Richard Shaughnessy, selected in the NFL draft and became Super Bowl Champions.
We can’t throw too much disrespect Auburn’s way, they are actually a huge reason this story is being told. It was at Auburn that Coach Larry Blakeney received his first opportunity to play and coach college football. His experience aided him in becoming Troy University’s Head Coach in 1990. Six years later, Coach Blakeney reached out to Richard Shaughnessy, who he first met during his time as an undergrad at Auburn, looking for leadership in the weight room.
Richard knew coming to Troy would be a great opportunity. He also knew it was going to be very taxing.
“I left a job making real good money to come to Troy and make next to nothing”
Prior to becoming the Trojans first strength coach, Shaughnessy was working with world champion power-lifter, Bill Kazmaier. Richard helped Kazmaier open up a couple of gyms and even started coaching high school football. He left his life’s work behind to go to a small school in Troy, Alabama which was equipped with less than desirable facilities.
“We were in Sartain Hall. It was a little dungeon with no air and no heat.”
Coach Shaughnessy pushed through and built a solid foundation for the football program. In 1999 he saw some of his hard work pay off.
“The ’99 team was really gifted. There were 11 guys there that had an opportunity to go play beyond Troy. We were still 1-AA at the time. That season catapulted us to go division-1.”
A freshman on that 1999 squad was two time Super Bowl Champ, Osi Umenyiora. Two years later his Auburn High School teammate DeMarcus Ware enrolled at Troy. So how did Auburn University let two future NFL superstars slip through the cracks? Shockingly D-Ware, Osi and even Leodis McKelvin lacked size and speed coming out of high school. But they certainly fit the mold at Troy.
For years we got a kid that was either an inch too short or a second too slow. And nobody wanted them. The weight room made a lot of these guys. Nobody wanted Demarcus. We were the only ones who offered him. Nobody wanted Leodis. We were the only ones who offered him.”
Coach Shaughnessy relished in the opportunity. His strength and conditioning program helped turn the unwanted into the elite athletes you see on Sundays.
“DeMarcus came in here weighing 196 pounds and left here at 251 pounds. When I first timed him in the 40 he ran a 4.75. The last time I timed him he ran a 4.46. That was probably one of the biggest changes and that was all work ethic.”
The Buffalo Bills 2008 first round draft pick went through a similar situation.
“Leodis came in weighing a buck-forty and left here weighing a buck-eighty-five while runnin’ a 4.31. He was always a 4.5 guy but worked at it and got faster.”
When you’re a small school in southeast Alabama you struggle to recruit top talent, even in your home state. For this reason, Troy often found themselves taking on projects. They relied on the strength program to maximize each prospects’ potential.
“Steve McClendon came in here as a Prop. 48 kid who didn’t have the grades. He played the 3-technique for us and was mostly a third down guy. He leaves here, becomes a free agent and signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Several years later and he’s still in the NFL. That’s all from training and sticking with it.”
The list goes on with Troy athletes that dedicated themselves to Coach Shaughnessy and the weight room. Levi Brown, Brannon Condren and Bear Woods came in as walk-ons. When they left they were professional athletes.
As the saying goes, good work never goes unrecognized. The National Strength and Conditioning Association named Richard Shaughnessy as one of the 18 Elite Strength Coaches in the world. He is the first Strength and Conditioning Coach to be inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame. Shaughnessy was also inducted as a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach (MSCC) by the College of Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.
In 2015 Troy University promoted Coach Shaughnessy to Director of Strength and Conditioning. Instead of one sport, he now oversees the strength and conditioning of every single athletic program at Troy. Shaughnessy is still the Trojans Pro Liaison working with scouts, agents and financial advisors for Troy athletes.
As he looks back on his journey, Shaughnessy is humbled and proud of what Troy University has become.
“The strength and conditioning program has grown tremendously here. I really feel blessed to be on the ground floor and help mold it to where it’s at today.”
Troy has upgraded their facilities a couple times since they started out in that “dungeon” 20 years ago. In fact, Coach Shaughnessy has been the architect for every move the strength program has made since its inception.
“It’s been a good ride like I said. When Coach Blakeney was here he really gave me the freedom to handle it the way I wanted. He never interfered. Just put a lot of trust in what I was doing.”
Larry Blakeney retired as Head Football Coach after the 2014 seasons. He finished his 24 year career with a record of 178-113-1, all at Troy. Neal Brown took over in 2015 and is entering his second season with the Trojans. Shaughnessy has faith in Brown and thinks he’s doing the right things to make Troy an exciting program again.
“He’s done a good job with recruiting. It’s all about recruiting these days and recruiting has definitely changed since I first got here. A lot of teams in our area have gone division 1. Places we used to recruit like Florida have become very saturated. It’s huge that he’s targeting in-state guys. I think Coach Brown just got 19 kids from the state of Alabama. That’s going to up things here and put people in the stands.”
Since Coach Brown stepped on campus the Trojans have lived by the motto “Rebuild the Wall.” The goal is to get the program back to where it used to be. Before they can build up, they will have to build within. You can bet that Coach Shaughnessy will be there to make sure that the foundation is stronger than ever.
The Trojans kickoff the 2016 season on September 3rd vs Austin Peay. They head to Death Valley to play the Clemson Tigers in week 2.