While an undergraduate at Hope College, Aaron Mehl realized he was a better lifter than he was a football player, but he didn’t realize the correlation between conditioning and performance until obtaining his master’s in sports leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I didn’t realize the importance of the weight room,” he said, reflecting on his time at Hope. “I didn’t realize how it can affect you athletically in a positive way until after I was done playing.”
So, Mehl became a strength coach. He worked with the Detroit Tigers, the Southwest Sports Institute and the U.S. Army. Last year, as head strength coach for Virginia State University’s football team, he helped the Trojans sweep the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference and finish the regular season with a 9-0 record.
Now, Mehl is Albion’s newly appointed strength and conditioning coach, the college’s first.
Despite having an alma mater of a rival college, Mehl said the transition to Albion has been easy.
“It’s been a great first month,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people, there’s a lot of good athletes here, both from an athletic standpoint and a personal standpoint.”
Mehl said it feels great to be back in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association because of the student-athletes and coaches. He’s walked that path and knows what it feels like. While playing for a Division III program may not be as prestigious as playing for scholarship at a Division I program, he finds that the passion and joy of each sport shines more.
He will work with all athletic teams from the newly renovated Dow weight room. Even teams like cross-country and golf that aren’t typically thought of as weight room users can benefit from strength and conditioning, he said.
“The number one job, really, of any strength coach is injury prevention,” said Mehl. “Trying to bulletproof your body, trying to bulletproof your joints from being hurt due to a sport.”
Strength and conditioning is not just hand-cleans, power-cleans and squats — meathead stuff, as they are stereotypically known. The repetition of a golf swing or a run every day can lead to an overuse injury. Mehl wants to prevent these injuries by focusing on joint and muscle-strengthening. For golfers, that could be forearm and back workouts; for runners, back and lateral routines.
While the performance of a sport will determine success, Mehl believes in the importance of the work behind the performance. It’s his goal at Albion to complement every sport’s success at the conference, championship and national level.
Mehl is cognizant that he is Albion’s first-ever strength and conditioning coach. Part of the draw to Albion was just that.
“One of the things I always wanted to do in my career, man, was start a program,” he said.
Mehl has worked for new programs in the past, but always as an assistant. Here, he can start from scratch. He said he has the state-of-the-art facility, and he can see a culture of competitive student-athletes challenging themselves to grow. No matter where he’s at a few decades from now, he can say he was the one that got the strength and conditioning program going.
Even the position itself is trailblazing. Division I schools have the budget to finance and a strength and conditioning coach position and department. At the high school, Division III and even Division II level, that budget does not always exist.
Mehl is contracted through the Henry Ford Allegiance. During the summer, he will run camps for Jackson-area student-athletes. During the school year, Henry Ford sends him to Albion.
Non-Division I institutions could use the Henry Ford-Albion College model as a means to build their own strength and conditioning programs. By building a program for student-athletes and teams from the ground up, Mehl hopes the model will become a gold standard for other athletic departments.
Photo by Beau Brockett Jr.