Cory Helms has seen the level of athlete it takes to thrive in the NFL, SEC and ACC.
He knows because he has played offensive line in each of those leagues.
He also knows the strength, athleticism and commitment it takes for offensive linemen to excel at those levels.
Or at any level.
“You can be fast and have good hands and be a good receiver. You can have a great arm and good feet and be a good quarterback. For an offensive lineman, you have to have so many different traits. I can name ten,” Helms, the former South Carolina (2015-17) offensive lineman, said during a recent chat with Spurs & Feathers. “Obviously strength and mobility, speed, foot quickness, agility, core stability, balance, change of direction, aggression. You have to be smart. There’s so much.
“And that’s why I love doing Trenchwork, because you never get bored with anything. There’s always something to work on.”
Helms started the aforementioned Trenchwork Performance, an on-field training program tailored solely for offensive linemen, last summer. He also works as the offensive line and strength and conditioning coach at Gray Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Columbia.
He has steadily built his business into one that’s thriving despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
This past season he had six players sign full-ride college scholarships and another two he says could have signed scholarships accept preferred walk-on spots with college programs.
He’s also working with a player in the 2021 class who has a offer from a Power 5 school and has a 2022 class he says is “loaded” with talent and should have several players receive Power 5 conference offers.
Over the course of his career at South Carolina and Wake Forest (2013-15), Helms played both guard (29 starts) and center (17 starts). He was a freshman All-American with the Demon Deacons and started 10 games, all at right guard, as a senior for the Gamecocks in 2017.
That season he also won the team’s Unselfish Teammate Award for offense and was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the nation’s top football scholar-athlete. In 2016 Helms shared South Carolina’s Strength & Conditioning Award with future NFL tight end Hayden Hurst.
Helms went undrafted and had brief stints during training camp with the New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals before taking a graduate assistant position with South Carolina.
Here’s our chat with Helms.
How are you staying busy during quarantine?
“Since we can’t be in the classroom, I send work out to all my students. And then I’m outside with Trenchwork for at least four hours a day, sometimes more. Which is good. It keeps me out of the house and my ‘honey do’ list short.’
Let’s talk about your favorite memories from playing at South Carolina. There’s a video from the Outback Bowl of you pushing over former Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich, who now plays for the New England Patriots. What do you remember about that?
“That’s not my favorite memory because I was in so much pain that game. That’s why I was so aggravated with him.
“Overall, my senior season, all of us seniors, we wanted things to be better. The seniors, we went to coach Muschamp and told him we wanted to stay on campus in May to be together. And we were projected to finish like second to last in the SEC East or SEC. And then we won nine games, including that Outback Bowl. As for my favorite game, the night game against Tennessee in 2018. (South Carolina won 27-24.) It was packed and we wore the black jerseys. It was awesome.”
What was your post-NFL Draft experience like?
“It was wild. I actually signed with New Orleans after the draft and was with them for like nine weeks, rookie minicamp, OTAs and minicamp. And then they literally cut me the day before we were done with another rookie minicamp. I really had no idea what was going on. With my [ankle] injury at Carolina and not playing in any preseason games, I didn’t know if I’d get another call. ... I didn’t get a call for a couple of weeks, so coach [Will] Muschamp actually reached out to me and said that I could work as a graduate assistant for him. It was in the weight room, so it was a very flexible position. So I took it, and sure enough a few weeks later I got a call from the Bengals. I went out there, I was actually doing really well, and then tore my rotator cuff against Dallas in week two of the preseason. I pretty much had the option to go on injured reserve until I was cleared, or to take an injury settlement. My agent told me I was going to get cut as soon as I got cleared anyway, so I took the money and ran and went back to GAing with coach Muschamp.”
What was that experience like rubbing elbows with NFL players and learning at that level?
“Going up against [Bengals’ eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman] Geno Atkins? That was impossible. The biggest thing was, it was just really stressful. Obviously if you’re a high draft pick, you’re probably in a little better shape. But I had PTSD from what happened with New Orleans because they were cutting rookies and people every day. I was actually one of the last undrafted rookies to get cut. So every day you go to bed asking yourself, ‘Well, am I going to get cut in the morning?’ You just don’t know. Cincinnati wasn’t as bad. And, to be honest, I was doing better in Cincinnati. And I was healthier.”
So you worked as a graduate assistant at South Carolina for about a year in the weight room and with offensive line coach Eric Wolford. How did the position at Gray Collegiate Academy come about?
“Coach [Adam] Holmes played at Carolina (1997-2001) — he was a long snapper — and he brought some of his players over to a Carolina practice. He came over to me and said, ‘You know, we have a strength job opening up and an O-line job if you’re ever interested in getting in to the high school ranks.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? Why not?’ I always wanted to start my own business, so that gave me the opportunity. Obviously coaching collegiate sports like I was, you can’t train high schoolers.”
So since you’re coaching at a high school, do you have teach in a classroom as well?
“We have a really good system at Gray. All athletes take a weight-training class. Say I have basketball on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Friday. So their weight training class is my class. We don’t have it before school or after school, it’s throughout the day. I’ve got everything from 80-pound cross country runners to 300-pound lineman.”
You played under strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman, who was a pretty intense, fiery guy, at South Carolina. What are you like as a strength coach?
“In high school, it’s really simple. I don’t have them do anything they can’t do or anything that’s not smart to do. I keep everything simple. If you keep it simple and have them work on technique and get that down early when you start, then we can advance a little more. I have all sports doing the exact same exercises. Just some sports might go heavier than others. Some sports might do more reps than others. An 80-pound cross country girl isn’t going to get under a squat bar very often. Or she can’t even bench press the bar. So she would do more light dumbbell or squats or medicine ball stuff.”
As a guy who has been in SEC and ACC and NFL weight rooms, was it tough going in the first day and seeing that level of athlete?
“It’s a little different. I actually had really good strength coaches in high school, so I went back and thought about what I did with them and what they had athletes in other sports doing. And I’ve combined those with things I’ve studied as well in certification training and online seminars. ... I’m very to the point, but I’m the rah-rah guy. You’re also dealing with high schoolers too. I am intense, because I’m very passionate. I’m more of the get your business done, let’s do it the right way and have the right intensity kind of guy.”
What’s the toughest part of coaching high schoolers?
“Probably half of them hate lifting weights. Over half of them. And then half of them have no interest in playing a sport in college. So you’ve got to find a way to motivate, which, as long as you show them respect, they’re going to respect you back, or at least do what you ask. Sometimes you’ve got to keep it fun. It can’t just be constant training. Sometimes you have to lighten it up. Some of them are 14 years old. Some of them don’t even know what color hair they want that day.”
How rewarding is it to see your student-athletes set goals and achieve them?
“They kind of set their own goals, but the most rewarding thing is seeing the confidence grow. This year, every single person I had set a personal record in everything. Not one didn’t. It’s awesome to see the confidence grow as they get stronger. And sometimes you see the guys go over to the mirrors and start flexing their muscles. It’s cool. It’s a different standard than what I had in college, but it’s rewarding.”
On the field, what are you like as an offensive line coach? Coach Wolford always talks about his linemen needing to be versatile. What are your coaching beliefs?
“Very similar. We’re a small 2A school and don’t have the numbers, so this year I had to teach a defensive lineman who had never put his hand in the ground before, one week before the season, to play offensive guard. ... You do have to teach guys multiple spots. Going into this season, we really only had six true offensive lineman. So if one person goes down that next person is going to have to step in, wherever it is.
“Really, my thing with our O-line is teaching them what to do and how to do it. And then getting them to play hard. If they can do that, they’re going to have a successful life in anything they do.”
So what’s Trenchwork Performance and how did that come about?
“[Former Gamecock quarterback] Perry [Orth] actually helped me get it started. I always wanted to do it, just because it’s so rare. You don’t see anyone doing offensive line specific training really anywhere, much less the Midlands or South Carolina. It started off slow, which was probably a good thing, and that helped me get adapted to it, and it has been growing every week. We teach everything, from the beginning of getting in a stance to run blocking and pass blocking. Everything.”
So how many kids do you train?
“I probably have about 18 who I work with consistently every week. And then I have probably another 10 who I work with once every few weeks or once a month. I’ve had about 40 total who have come at least once. They come from all over. I’ve had kids from Byrnes, York, Berkeley, Chapin, Gray, A.C. Flora, White Knoll ... I had a new kid today from Greenwood.”
Did specific offensive line training exist when you were in middle or high school?
“Not really. There was a little bit in [Alpharetta] Georgia where I’m from, but it was a very populated area and a place where everything revolved around football. But around the Midlands there was really nothing.”