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'The weight room is my ministry' ... Nick Dowdy finds calling with FSU strength program

On3 imageby:Ira Schoffel07/06/24

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Editor’s Note: Over the next week, Warchant is profiling all five members of Florida State football’s strength and conditioning staff individually and then examining the impact of the entire group as a whole.

Nick Dowdy’s big break into college coaching should have come three or four years before it actually did. And the Florida State assistant strength and conditioning coach now calls that delay, which was frustrating at the time, one of the greatest “blessings” of his life.

When Dowdy was closing in on graduation from Mississippi State in 2013, he interviewed for an internship with Bulldogs strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, and he actually got the gig. But when Balis left for another school just one week later, Dowdy was suddenly out of luck.

“I knew I wanted to coach in college, I just didn’t have any connections there,” Dowdy said.

Instead of cold-calling several more universities, Dowdy instead took a job — well, three jobs — at Lake Cormorant High in northern Mississippi. He was defensive backs coach, strength and conditioning coach, and he also led the boys’ power lifting team.

Because Lake Cormorant was a fairly new school, it hadn’t enjoyed much athletic success in any arena. So Dowdy got to experience the thrill of helping lead a program to new heights, while also getting the hands-on leadership experience that never would have been possible in a college internship.

“I got to learn it the hard way,” Dowdy said. “Instead of becoming a carbon copy of a mentor, I got to figure a lot of things out. I had a good understanding of who I was as a coach, and who I wanted to be as a leader.”

After a successful run at the high school level — Dowdy led Lake Cormorant’s power lifters to multiple state championships and national recognition, while also getting promoted to defensive coordinator in football — he met then-Memphis head coach Mike Norvell and strength coach Josh Storms in May of 2017.

Following a few conversations, Norvell and Storms offered Dowdy an opportunity to join the Tigers’ program.

“It was the exact same position I missed out on at Mississippi State,” Dowdy remembers with a smile. “But for me, it was the biggest blessing of my life. I was able to get all that experience, and also the relationships that I got to build, and the change I got to see in that community.

“And then when I got the opportunity to intern with Coach Storms, I was beyond ready.”

Indeed, it wouldn’t be long before Dowdy moved into a graduate assistant position at Memphis and then a full-time role in 2019.

Just a few years earlier, when he was finding his way at Lake Cormorant, Dowdy wasn’t entirely sure what his future might hold. He loved coaching defensive backs as much as he enjoyed strength and conditioning, and he applied for jobs in each area.

But once he got to spend time with Storms and really immerse himself into a college strength program, Dowdy knew he had found his home.

“The weight room is my ministry,” Dowdy told Warchant. “It’s my means to help these guys, to impact their lives. At the end of the day for me, it’s about helping to mentor these guys and molding them into good young men and turning them into good young fathers and positive members of the community.”

Dowdy also knew first-hand how much the weight room could help players take their game to the next level.

As a child, he was first exposed to weight training when he was 7 or 8 years old and would tag along with his father to the gym. Then when he became a high school football player, he quickly realized it could be his ticket to success against players who were naturally bigger or faster.

“I was never the biggest, strongest or fastest, but I knew that could give me an edge in my training,” Dowdy said. “So I eventually became one of the strongest and fastest, through hard work.”

That hard work has paid off professionally as well. After impressing Norvell and Storms during his first few years at Memphis, Dowdy was invited to come join their staff at Florida State following the 2019 season.

Considering he had been coaching on the high school level just a few years earlier, moving to FSU was the opportunity of a lifetime. But it also would present incredible challenges.

Not only did the new staff inherit a Florida State locker room that was fractured following the departures of two head coaches in less than three years, but they also saw their first spring drills cut short after just a few days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic was probably the biggest hurdle of it all,” Dowdy said. “Because we had the guys for those eight weeks of [winter] training, and I felt like we made a lot of strides. They were getting familiar with the standard, and we were starting to see buy-in. Then they were away from us for 11 weeks. They were away from us longer than they were with us. When they came back after the summer, we had to almost start over.”

That three-month interruption created a number of issues for Norvell and his staff. It prevented the players from being in good shape for preseason camp, the coaches weren’t comfortable pushing players as hard as they normally would out of concerns for player safety, and the team didn’t have time to develop chemistry and camaraderie through the shared adversity of offseason workouts.

As a result, the Seminoles would go 3-6 during that COVID-shortened 2020 season. It wasn’t until a few games into the 2021 campaign that Dowdy could see things turning for the better.

Florida State senior assistant strength coach Nick Dowdy has been with Mike Norvrll's and Josh Storms' staff since they were at Memphis. (FSU Athletics Public Relations/Mike Erdelyi)
Florida State senior assistant strength coach Nick Dowdy has been with Mike Norvrll’s and Josh Storms’ staff since they were at Memphis. (FSU Athletics Public Relations/Mike Erdelyi)

“The biggest thing that stuck out to me that season was we were 0-3, and we had just gotten beat by Wake [Forest],” Dowdy said. “A lot of people would have cashed it in. Because we were challenging those guys so hard and demanding so much of them. But I could still see the buy-in. Then we played Louisville the next week and came up short, and everybody outside thinks the sky is falling. But those guys never changed. They were still pushing.”

The payoff for that effort and determination would come one week later, when Florida State knocked off Syracuse, 33-30, to record the Seminoles’ first win of the year.

“That was a pivotal moment,” Dowdy said. “Those guys were investing so much. For them, it was the hardest they had ever worked, hardest they had ever been pushed, and they still came up short. And then they came back the next week and still put in the same effort. The same focus, the same passion, and then it paid off for us the next week.

“That was when I felt like, ‘OK, now we’ve got a foothold. Now we’re off to the races.'”

As FSU was turning that corner, Dowdy might have had the best view of anyone when it came to the changes in players’ attitudes and work ethic. Along with working directly with the quarterbacks, the Seminoles’ Senior Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach also coordinates the team’s “Blitz” program — that’s when players volunteer to come to the weight room for more individualized training.

As the participation in that program grew, so would the Seminoles’ success on the field. After that 0-4 start in 2021, Florida State went on to win five of its final eight games before posting a 10-3 mark in 2022 and going 13-0 to start 2023.

“What was so special about it was how many of those guys grew and changed from the time we got here,” Dowdy said. “You look at a guy like Jordan [Travis] and how much he grew as a person and a leader and a player. And just go down the line — Kalen DeLoach, Fabien Lovett, Jarrian Jones — all those guys that stuck it out, who kept their nose to the grindstone, when we were 0-4.

“Seeing these guys mature physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s really cool seeing some of the guys who are now ‘old heads’ in this program and thinking back to where they started. You’re like, ‘Wow, this guy has grown so much. Not just in what he squats and benches and runs in a 40, but also how does he carry himself as a man? How does he treat his teammates? How does he treat people in the building who aren’t even associated with football?’ It’s cool being able to see that process, and it’s really rewarding for me. It’s one of the main reasons I’m doing this.”

Strength coaches Nick Dowdy (right) and Josh Storms talk before a Florida State game. (FSU Athletics Public Relations/Bella De Souza)
Strength coaches Nick Dowdy (right) and Josh Storms talk before a Florida State game. (FSU Athletics Public Relations/Bella De Souza)

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Next in our series: Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Darrion Jones

Previously: From trenches to training, Tom Farniok helps FSU football strength staff stay on cutting edge

Talk about this story with other die-hard Florida State football fans on the Tribal Council.

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