CONCORD, N.C.—Professional athletes continuously learn and grow from those who train them. Their success is built by the coaching of others and their ability to perform.
Pit athletes train daily to quicken their performance on pit road. And one of the influential people behind the scenes of the Hendrick Motorsports pit crews is Mark Morrison, the organization’s strength and conditioning coach.
Morrison began training athletes while attending the University of Nebraska’s master’s program before interning with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During the memorable opportunity, Morrison was able to work with numerous elite athletes including Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott and Hardy Nickerson. It was during that time Morrison was able to confirm he was on the right career path.
With only two days before his internship with the Buccaneers ended, the young strength and conditioning coach reached out to Dave Van Halanger at Florida State University. After prior contact with Coach Van Halanger while attending the master’s program in Nebraska, Morrison received an invite to tour the Seminoles’ athletic facilitates.
“Right then, I rented a car in Tampa—it was actually a white minivan—and I left Tampa at like four in the morning. I drove all of the way to Tallahassee just to meet Coach Van and check out the facilities.”
Recent changes in the athletic program turned Morrison’s visit from a facilities tour to an on-site interview. The visit then ended with him accepting a position on Florida State’s strength and conditioning team working with all of the skill athletes on the Seminoles football team—quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and cornerbacks.
“Game day was very electric. You’ve got Chief Osceola and Renegade coming out of the stadium there and then of course the spear going into the ground. There is nothing like that in collegiate sports,” Morrison recalled. “I know everybody has their pregame, but there is nothing—I’m telling you—there is nothing like that.”
Four years later, Morrison made his way into the racing industry becoming the strength and conditioning coach as well as pit coach for Bill Elliott Racing.
“When you think of it, it really boils down to—you’re working with athletes,” Morrison said as he shared his transition from pigskin to pit road. “The protocols are essentially the same, but the progressions might be a little bit different throughout the year. The actual lifts, however, are about the same.”
He then added, “Whether it’s football or pit crew—we train, we want to win and we want to be champions.”
Still keeping in touch with the Florida State team, Morrison is confident in the Seminoles’—so far—undefeated season.
“More than likely they are going to be here playing in Charlotte for the ACC championship,” he smiled.
And as he looks to this weekend’s game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the former Seminoles strength and conditioning coach shared his thoughts.
“Georgia Tech has always had great teams and the offense that they run is challenging to defend. But if you work hard, if you study and if you have a great game, you can shut it down,” he said. “No doubt Georgia Tech is going to step up and play the ‘Noles great, but I look for the Seminoles to actually take that game.”
The game kicks off Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET.