By Randy York, The N-Sider (1st of a 2-part series)
Jack Ransone, Ph.D., worked 30 years as head athletic trainer for college football programs in the Pac 10 and Big 12 Conferences before becoming the medical systems coordinator for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
A self-described Army brat, Ransone is now the director of the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory (NAPL) in East Memorial Stadium. He directs a lab that enables advanced research on everything from the biomechanics of elite athletes to nutrition supplements and biomarkers that measure saliva and recovery time.
Ransone has been at the forefront of applied physiology research, performance technologies and innovative solutions that benefit athletic safety and performance. This weekend, he leaves Lincoln to serve as the head athletic trainer for the U.S.A. IAAF Junior World Cross Country Championships in Uganda, South Africa after serving the same capacity in world competition in Guiyang, China, Amman Jordan and Mombasa, Kenya.
“I love this kind of opportunity,” Ransone said. “World cross country meets are an open course typically over a golf course with built-in hazards and hills. Unlike normal track events, there are obstacles and challenges like water and natural bearers, such as fallen trees.”
'We’re Easily Recognized as the Top Performance Lab in the United States'
Ransone has worked with USA Track and Field for more than 20 years. “We volunteer our time to go with a national team,” he said. “It’s a true honor to be asked and what I do is very similar to what Mark Manning (pictured above far right) does with USA wrestling.”
Having served as a football athletic trainer for Oklahoma State, Stanford and Texas State University, Ransone said he “sort of stumbled on” to the NAPL job in a fashion similar to landing with the Spurs in San Antonio.
“We’re easily recognized as the top performance lab in the United States,” he said. “We have professional teams, fellow universities and researchers visit our facility, and we’re making progress in the resources needed to bring the greatest athletes here to evaluate them and develop a template for what our athletes ultimately want to achieve.”
Steve Waterfield, Nebraska executive associate A.D. for Performance and Strategic Research, said Ransone’s experience with elite athletes in track and field and cross country on the Olympic level and his stellar work with the Spurs’ NBA franchise opened the door for the NAPL relationship.
The NAPL Has Been a Valuable Resource for Strength and Conditioning
“When you have that kind of experience, you create networks and gain an appreciation of being on the cutting edge of performance,” Waterfield said. “We’re working with high-level athletes and want to bring them resources that are similar to what they can find outside of the NAPL. We have that ability. We also have experience working with coaches, working with student-athletes and working with administrators – important things for moving forward."
Ransone "is very thoughtful and diligent in looking at ways to give potential solutions to coaches and student-athletes," Waterfield said. “We’re not only looking for ways to leverage the NAPL, but ways to collaborate with campus.
“Jack has done impactful projects with specific coaches and programs, including basketball and football to cross country, gymnastics and soccer," Waterfield said. "The NAPL has been a resource for strength and conditioning, nutrition, and athletic medicine. The lab is also working closely with CB3 with a particular focus on the bio salivary areas for UNL’s Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior."
Demba Ba, One of World’s Highest Paid Soccer Players, Visited the NAPL
“We’re creating that blueprint which can become a broad-based and holistic view to cover all of our athletic teams and the demands of individual sports,” Waterfield said. “We may focus on a smaller subset of one team or we may focus on a holistic view in another sport. The goal is to look at what we can do to best serve all of our teams.”
Ransone deserves a lot of credit. “Without his connection and the respect that he has internationally, Demba Ba (one of the world’s highest paid soccer stars pictured above) isn’t coming to Lincoln,” Waterfield said. “The Houston Texans aren’t visiting. The Boston Celtics, the Utah Jazz, the San Diego Chargers, the Chicago Cubs…all these groups that come to visit the NAPL aren’t going to be here without Jack being the director and them trusting Jack in what he’s done and how he operates.
"Sports franchises see the value of what we're doing and see the lab as a unique resource that can help them,” Waterfield said.
Ransone simplifies his vision. “We are here with one mission to advance Nebraska athletes better in a safe and healthy manner,” he said. “That’s our sole mission. I view this as a fingerprint. Everybody moves in a very similar, general way but in an individual way as well. We are all unique in the length of our limbs and the strength and physical capacities of our bodies. We need to capture demands of every athletic event and understand all contributing variables before you can build and design exercise programs and strategies to make student-athletes stronger, more flexible or analyze how their joints are working."
Major Colleges Are Following Suit; Multiple Universities Will Try to Mimic Lab
“This is an awesome job, and I’m pretty jazzed about this place,” said Ransone (pictured above right). “Nebraska was the pioneer in strength and conditioning and one of the first to focus on sports nutrition. Now all major colleges are following suit, and I do not doubt that multiple universities will try to mimic our lab.
“The Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory was part of Tom Osborne’s vision for our athletic department, and we’re going to build this as a team,” Ransone said. “I don’t mean to brag about NAPL, but this is a very cool place and special from the capacity of technology and performance system the NAPL can provide for our student-athletes.
“Right now, we are working with the student-athletes and the coaches trying to establish relationships,” Ransone said. “We’re developing a foundation and building movements and protocols they want to study. Coaches are always very inquisitive and they are always willing to do something a little bit better.
“NAPL is a way to bring them in and actually validate or justify some of the techniques and movements that they are trying to perfect,” Ransone said. “With the technology we have here, we can capture that, and we are equipped to do that. The sky is the limit.”
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