On a recent summer morning, Brother Rice Strength and Conditioning Coach Michael Cano (Class of ’03) could be witnessed explaining a proper lifting technique to a gathered crowd of captivated student-athletes in the newly renovated weight room at Brother Rice High School. Twenty years ago, Cano patrolled the gridiron as a captain of the Brother Rice Crusader football team; nowadays, besides running his own business and helping parent his three young children, Cano oversees a year-round training regimen for student-athletes, no doubt enhanced by the improved accommodations.
“This weight room now gives each student-athlete the opportunity to maximize his athletic potential,” Cano boasts. “The equipment, technology, and training environment are the best! This renovation gives our kids access to all the tools necessary to ensure they are ready for the next level.”
In addition to the obvious upgrade to the aesthetics, other significant improvements are immediately noticeable in a variety of areas, as Coach Cano explains: “The ability to implement an exercise for ten or more players at once is crucial for training large teams. We’ve increased the number of racks from six to ten, while also increasing floor space with inlaid platforms. We’re also bringing in 18 iPads, as well as the TeamBuildr sports performance tracking platform, to guarantee that our programs are tailored to each individual. We also have ten cable pulleys that enable us to train in a number of ways for a variety of strength and explosive rotational movements. In the state of Illinois, no school has ten pulley stacks. Simply put, the days of four or five kids standing around simply bench pressing and squatting are over!”
The improvements to the weight room aside, the x-factor is Coach Michael Cano. Earning his CSCCa certification, Cano worked his way up the ladder at the college level for nearly a decade, from intern to graduate assistant to full-time assistant to Head Strength and Conditioning Coach. Student-athletes at Mississippi State, SMU, Southeastern Louisiana, and Texas A&M have all benefited from Cano’s mentorship and guidance. Currently, besides heading up the sports performance training programs for Brother Rice’s football and baseball teams, Coach Cano owns an online sports performance company–ONEighty Athletics–providing programs to coaches, sports parents, and athletes across the world.
“We provide safe, year-round training to ensure that they reach their full athletic potential. But, most importantly, we build a high-energy environment in which our kids can work hard to chase their dreams, goals, and visions. Whether you’re a superstar like [’22 Brother Rice graduate and Northwestern football recruit] Jack Lausch, or a kid who just wants to be a part of a team, the sports performance culture is focused on encouraging and supporting kids who give it their all.”
Coach Cano’s role has grown immensely since he took the position six years ago. What started as an off-season initiative for just football players has expanded to a year-round, year-to-year development program that now includes student-athletes on other teams as well.
“We track everything: vertical jumps, broad jumps, shuttle times, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash, front squat, deadlifts, bench press, hang clean. It’s not guesswork. Based on their year-by-year progress, these kids see the value of training. These boys can see how our preparation not only translates to game day, but also how prepared they are for the next level, thanks to showcases and camps.”
Cano says he’s been fortunate to work with some of the best coaches in the country, and they’ve all had a special ability to connect with student-athletes. “They lead not by their words, but by their actions, which is what I strive to do. Getting bigger, stronger, and more powerful is easy. Winning the kids’ hearts and giving them your best each day is the separator.”
The passion that exudes from Cano is contagious, as anyone who knows him or has worked with him will attest. “He’s a different breed,” says rising junior football player Dominic Pettenon (’24). “No matter what time of the morning it is, Coach Cano is always pumped up and motivating us to work harder, to work as a team. He’s as intense as you get. And we see the results.”
Brother Rice President Mark Donahue, a former NFL player and frequent inhabitant of the weight room, agrees. “Brother Rice is lucky to have Mike Cano as our Strength and Conditioning coach. I believe he is amongst the best anywhere in the country when it comes to coaching and mentoring young men to improve athletically and prepare for success. The kids love him. And as a parent you can rest assured he has your son’s health and welfare first on his priorities.”
Cano sums up his philosophy: “I am very clear with my vision for them. I tell them a few times a year what will happen one day here at Brother Rice. The ultimate goal is, when the final whistle is blown, that they sprint onto the field in victory. I take a step back, and they are hugging, crying, celebrating: That moment, that vision brings chills down my back. But the key is the work, the 5 a.m. investment in each other. Without that, the vision–the moment–isn’t earned.”
As for the new state-of-the-art weight room, Cano is very proud of the finished result, but realistic about the unfinished challenges: “All the fancy equipment, tools, and signage are amazing, but the difference, the edge, is found in the work: making daily, selfless choices to serve the BRotherhood!”