Top-notch strength and conditioning has returned to Notre Dame football.
Brian Kelly brought ‘third coordinator’ and strength guru Paul Longo to ND for their seventh season together. Longo’s intensity and ingenuity connect him to Rev. Bernard H.B. Lange, C.S.C., a former de facto Irish football strength coach from Rockne to Parseghian. Their similarities—uncommon exercises, ultra intensity, extreme demonstrations of mental and physical strength—surpass differences in training methods that have naturally accrued over time.
East Prussian-born Lange, the strongman-priest, operated a Brownson Hall weight room for all ND students during the mid-twentieth century. Although Lange lacked the sort of title that Longo carries, weightlifting expert John Wood said Lange became Notre Dame’s “secret weapon” after beginning work with the football team in 1922. Mike Burgener, class of 1968 and a member of the ’66 title team, said “the biggest reason for me choosing to go to Notre Dame was because of Father Lange.”
While Longo has probably not been a deciding factor on a specific ND recruit to this point, new running backs coach Tim Hinton says if a prospect “has X amount of talent, I guarantee you coach Longo will make that an X-plus.” With Longo, Kelly is 42-1 when entering the fourth quarter with the lead.
Lange pioneered unusual exercises, a trait that lives on in Longo. The “ingenious leg press device designed and built by Father Lange” was a staple of his workouts. Longo is likewise inventive with his physical constructions such as the 80-yard training sand pit called Longo Beach and counterpart uphill pitch nicknamed Mt. Longo. According to ESPN’s Brian Bennett, “Longo has been known to ask his guys to lift unusual items like tires and perform what's called a Farmer's Walk, where you walk while carrying a heavy object in each hand.”
Longo is a modern match for Lange’s intensity. Former ND baseball player Kent Durso said “Father Lange ran the gym the way Bismarck ran Europe.” Ed Fitzpatrick, class of ‘69, recalled another exchange: “…in 1927 he was considered the 4th strongest man in the world and held the world record for the bench press at 407 pounds for 7 reps. I asked him why 7 reps. He said he was trying for 10 but started to laugh for some reason and had to stop.” Spring 2010 workouts induced more than one ND player to lose his lunch. Longo’s reaction? “I don’t even blink.”
Today, the Rockne Memorial weight room is named for Lange. Longo doesn’t work with non-varsity athletes, but he is now part of ND’s strength and conditioning tradition that Lange built. Although today’s methods seem tame compared to the most legendary weightlifting priest of all time, Longo has the same intensity and ingenuity to do Lange—and Notre Dame—proud.