Fresno State has finalized plans to add a training table for football and all other student-athletes who wish to participate and has targeted Nov. 3 as the start for the long-awaited program, which will cost the athletic department $300,000 to $350,000 through the end of the academic year.
"I'm really pleased and thankful for (interim athletic director) Steve Robertello and our administration really pushing this effort," said football coach Tim DeRuyter, who has had the nutrition-boosting initiative at the top of his wish list since he was hired in December 2011 and sees it as a building block for the program. "There are a lot of hurdles here and hoops to run through and Steve has navigated that."
Fresno State and Air Force are the only football programs in the Mountain West Conference that do not have a training table in some fashion — although at the academy all cadets take three meals a day in the Cadet Dining Hall. In less than two weeks, the Bulldogs will be able to partake in one enhanced, nutritionally balanced meal per day, as allowed by the NCAA.
"You'd love to have it right now, but if it's two weeks from now, just having those extra calories and the good kind of lean proteins and vegetables, our guys need that," DeRuyter said.
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"The wear and tear on your body starts adding up and with the cumulative effects of the work and the training, you need nutrients to replenish your body. Being able to have that training table meal is going to help sustain us as we go through the final stretch drive."
The training table will be available to all student-athletes who sign up for the program and will be served at set hours on campus at either the Residence Dining Hall or a building adjacent to the North Gym.
"How many will participate we're still not sure, but every student-athlete has the same access to it — scholarship, walk-on, men's sport or women's sport, they all have access and all have the ability to say, 'This is something I want, it works for me,' " Robertello said. "For some student-athletes, it will work great. Your freshmen, those who are living in the dorm or in close-by housing that already have a meal plan, this is potentially better. This will work in their favor better.
"I think it's huge. We had great support from campus. (Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, vice president for administration) did a great job working with her team on campus and (associate vice president of auxiliary operations) Debbie Astone in helping us find a place on campus where we could have it and partner with us on the university catering side and making this something that we think can be very beneficial. Anytime you can add something that helps continue to move our program forward, that's a positive thing when you're making steps."
The Bulldogs last season had a portion of their scholarship checks deducted to pay for meals through a meal plan at the Residence Dining Hall. But many of those meals were not taken.
During the 2013-14 academic year, 40% of the meals purchased for student-athletes were not used and the football team, in season during the fall semester, passed on 67% of their meals it had purchased — opting to prepare their own food or partake in other options on or around campus.
With a training table in place, DeRuyter and coaches of other teams taking part in the program can make sure they are getting at least one solid meal.
The plan is to operate Nov. 3 through the end of the fall semester, then evaluate the program and how it is meeting the needs of student-athletes and making tweaks as needed.
That will have an impact in practice and in games.
"It will be something that we'll see dividends from in the very near future, because it's something that's very important," said men's basketball coach Rodney Terry, whose team opens Nov. 9.
It also will be a recruiting tool, closing a gap against football programs in the Mountain West and moving Fresno State ahead in other participating sports.
"It's really important to parents, to be honest," women's basketball coach Jaime White said. "To be able to say, 'Hey, we're taking care of them, we're going to make sure they're eating the right thing, they're not just eating. They're eating the right thing. They're eating at the right times. Those are the things I think parents are most interested in and kids are, too, but they don't know it until they get here."
Terry agrees it goes beyond the benefits to the football team, or his own basketball players.
"It's a huge thing for our athletic department," Terry said. "Not just for us, for everybody. Obviously, it is for football. Football, those guys, they're in a major contact sport. It's a major deal.
"For us to be able to have that and for them to be able to have that, we need them to be successful, we need them to win and win at a high level. This is a major deal for them and for all of us."