The University of Maryland didn’t just provide Dwight Galt with the opportunity to make a living for the past 27 years. It was his home.
His four children were raised around the College Park campus — the same school where he earned two degrees. Maryland also gave him a start. What began as an internship in 1984 grew into a full-time assistant position five years later. He reached the mountaintop in 1993, when he was named the school’s director of strength and conditioning.
“I loved Maryland,” he said.
Yet Galt left it behind in December to come to Vanderbilt as the football team’s director of performance enhancement.
“James Franklin,” he said of Vanderbilt’s first-year head coach, who worked with Galt at Maryland for eight seasons.
The decision came just before Ralph Friedgen, who’d been Maryland’s head coach for 10 years, was fired.
“At the time Coach Franklin and I shook hands on the job, I was still employed [at Maryland]. Coach Friedgen was still employed there,” he said. “I really kind of wanted the opportunity to get this going. When [Franklin] came to me, he said that Vanderbilt is this unbelievable opportunity, and they really wanted to make this thing go. He felt really comfortable with the administration here and the university and everything.
So Galt, at 54 the oldest member of Franklin’s staff, arrived at Vanderbilt just five days after the 39-year-old Franklin was announced as the head coach.
He brought with him a reputation of molding and crafting college athletes into NFL prospects. In all, 46 players who trained under him have been drafted. He left his imprint on the likes of linebackers Shawne Merriman (Buffalo Bills) and E.J. Henderson (Minnesota Vikings), along with former Tennessee Titans tight end Frank Wycheck. He also trained Kevin Plank, a former fullback at Maryland who is the founder of Under Armour Performance Apparel.
In addition, Galt has an impressive “coaching tree”; three of his former assistants are the head strength coaches for the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Redskins.
“I think he is the best in the business,” Franklin said. “He is kind of like my Zen master. He is my Yoda. He’s a really good resource for me. He’s a great guy for me to bring in and bounce ideas off.”
In Vanderbilt, a program that has been pushed around in recent years and has gone 2-10 each of the past two seasons, Galt faces possibly his biggest challenge.
“When I got here, we had some guys who had some sloppiness to them,” Franklin said. “I think next year we’ll be able to put more mass back on, but this year I think it was important for us to get as lean and strong and fast as we possibly can, and then put the weight back on the right way.”
Already, Galt has been encouraged. Only 26 players showed up on the first day of summer workouts on May 9, but by June 1 there were more than 90 — and that number didn’t dip over the next two months.
“I guess he thought it might have been kind of hard to come in and turn around, but we all want it,” defensive tackle Vince Taylor said. “I guess we’re making his job easier.”
So far, they’ve exceeded Galt’s expectations. In March, 19 players were able to power clean (lifting a weight from the floor to the chest) more than 300 pounds. By the end of July, that number had increased to 41. Plus, the team average for a vertical jump rose from 27.84 inches to 30.2.
“The Maryland kids were great. They really worked hard. But these kids are unbelievable — one of the hardest-working teams in the country,” he said.
The summer workouts brought a new intensity and didn’t just occur in the weight room. Galt focused on “football-specific” drills that also keyed in on enhancing speed and agility. For linemen, that might’ve meant perfecting blocking via board drills, while receivers fine-tuned their route running. He also concentrated on flexibility and balance drills, along with influencing players’ nutritional decisions.
“What I try to do is touch every area that can affect the game in the strength and conditioning department. ... I want it all. I’m the greediest son of a gun in history,” Galt said. “I tell the players that. The program is designed for that. It is a very, very aggressive program. In order to get all the things in that I want to get in and we need to get in, we have to be so efficient and functional.”
Redshirt-freshman Andrew Bridges already sees the benefits. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound offensive lineman increased both his power clean and bench press marks by more than 20 pounds. He now clears more than 300 pounds in both.
“This summer has been the hardest I’ve worked in my life,” Bridges said. “He has had a great influence. He gets everybody motivated. … The way he runs around, he might as well be 30.”
Of course, Galt knows that the work in the offseason only means so much. It must carry over into the regular season, which begins with the season opener Sept. 3 against Elon. But the ultimate test is whether the Commodores hold up and can keep up with the competition when the regular-season finale against Wake Forest rolls around on Nov. 26.
“The program is designed to really peak in November, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Galt said. “The in-season is very aggressive. It’s designed to get stronger, get more powerful during the season. We don’t ever maintain here.”