2009 Legends in the Field

Alvin Roy

Alvin Roy was born April 24, 1920 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and graduated from Istrouma High School in 1938. As a high school athlete, he played football and basketball and was a pole vaulter on the school's track team. From there he went on to Louisiana State University where he played basketball as a walk-on. In 1941 he joined the US Army, serving in Europe during WWII in the 94th Infantry Division. After the invasion of France on June 6, 1944, Roy served under George S. Patton, winning four battle stars, as well as a bronze star. In 1946, among his other duties, many of which involved organizing athletic events and competitions for the troops, he was assigned to be the aide de camp for the US Weightlifting Team in Paris for the first post-war world championships. The now legendary Bob Hoffman was the coach of the US team. This was an extremely important experience for Roy. He saw first hand that contrary to popular belief, lifting heavy weights did not cause a person to become slow and "musclebound." On the contrary, he learned that weight training actually helped the individual to become faster and more flexible. He had always been taught that an athlete could do nothing worse than lift weights!

Upon returning to the US the following year, Roy visited his weightlifting friends, including Bob Hoffman, who owned the York Barbell Company and was the publisher of Strength & Health magazine, wanting to learn more! He opened a health club in Baton Rouge and filled it with equipment from the York Barbell Company. He began promoting weight training not only as the key to good health, but also to success on the athletic playing field. He continued to be involved in national and international weightlifting competitions, including the 15th Olympiad in Helsinki, Finland in1952, for which he was the US Olympic Weightlifting Team Trainer. The USA placed first. His fame and credentials in the field of weightlifting continued to grow and were becoming widely recognized!

Eager to share his newfound knowledge locally, Roy approached his old high school coach and high school principal, Coach James Brown and Principal Ellis Brown, in 1951. The two were twins, known as "Big Fuzzy" and "Little Fuzzy," respectively. Roy offered to help the football team with weight training, but his offer was rejected because the Brown brothers subscribed to the belief that Roy himself had once held that weight training was detrimental to athletic performance!

Three years later in 1954, the Istrouma High School football team suffered a crushing defeat by cross-town archrival, Baton Rouge High. Roy again offered his assistance, supporting his case with stories of a growing number of top athletes who were lifting weights. He even offered to set up and supervise the weight training program at no cost to the school. Roy's persistence and his firm belief in the value of weight training finally persuaded the Brown twins to give him a try. They both knew that they were quite possibly putting their jobs on the line if the weight training program did not pay off as Roy promised!

The school bought the necessary weights, and the program was centered around barbells, using power cleans, bench presses, rowing motions, deadlifts, dumbbell presses, and squats with low repetitions and many sets the way competitive weight lifters trained. As a result of Roy's training program, the athletes made great gains in both strength and lean body weight. Along with these gains in power and size came increased confidence. Billy Cannon, a member of the football team who also played basketball and ran track, was exempt from lifting during the spring because he had always been taught to believe that weight training would slow his speed. He also knew that his best chance of receiving a major college scholarship would be dependent upon his speed. But as time went on, he was intrigued by the changes he witnessed in his teammates and decided to join in during the summer training that Roy offered to the players at his gym. This added further pressure on Roy because the weightlifting program would be finished if Cannon's speed decreased in the least over the summer months.

By fall, only one of the 40 boys who had trained during spring and/or summer had not gained at least nine pounds of lean body weight, and some gained as much as 30. But most importantly, the Istrouma football team won all 13 games of the season. Four players made All-State, and Cannon achieved a state record of 229 points and averaged 10 yards per carry. In addition, he was the most highly rated high school back in the United States. That spring he ran a 9.7 100-yard dash, winning the state meet in the 100, 220, and the shot put. In addition to beating handily every team they played that season, the team had fewer injuries than in any of the previous 20 seasons. Needless to say, the Brown twins were ecstatic! They had taken a chance on Roy and his weight training program, and their gamble had definitely paid big dividends! They were now believers! Over the summer Billy Cannon continued to train under Roy because there was no organized strength training program at LSU where he would be playing football under Coach Paul Dietzel. Cannon had a great freshman year, but the team had a disappointing five and five record when he was a sophomore. So once again Roy paid a visit to a coach in this case Coach Dietzel--who held the same negative view of weight training that the Browns had held. As he had done before, Roy was able to convince Dietzel to give him and his weightlifting program a chance, and despite predictions that LSU would finish ninth in the SEC, LSU went undefeated the 1958 season, winning LSU its first national championship and making Paul Dietzel the Coach of the Year. Cannon went on to win the Heisman Trophy, as well as the 100, 200, and shot put in Track competitions that spring.

Coach Dietzel had many opportunities to speak after this unbelievable season, and he was always quick to give credit to Alvin Roy and his weightlifting program! Almost overnight, football coaches around the country began to question the notion that weightlifting led to "muscle bound" athletes, and over the next decade the myth of musclebinding was on the way out. Later, Roy lectured and conducted clinics on strength and conditioning free of charge, for the University of Alabama, Georgia Tech, the University of Florida, Ole Miss, West Point Military Academy, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Kentucky just to name a few. He also lectured and demonstrated to numerous high school coaches and other groups regarding the importance of strength and conditioning for athletes.

In 1963 he was hired to be the NFL's first strength coach--for the San Diego Chargers, where he coached for five years. This was followed by stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the 1970 Super Bowl; the Dallas Cowboys, who played in the 1976 Super Bowl; as well as with the New Orleans Saints and the Oakland Raiders. The idea that weightlifting was detrimental to athletic performance was further eroded and finally destroyed by the many other strength training pioneers who followed Legend in the Field, Alvin Roy--considered be "the first modern strength coach!"