Brandon Larson says people don't always have the best understanding of what he does.
Growing up, Larson's time in the weight room helped him develop into a star defensive back at Fargo South, where he graduated in 2007 as a two-time All-State selectee and state champion.
"I have always had a passion for being in the weight room," said Larson, who also played basketball and ran track for the Bruins. "I just really loved it in there."
Larson, who also started two years as a defensive back at MSU Moorhead, has turned that passion into a career, as he recently began his third season as the strength and conditioning coach at West Fargo High School.
But with his background, Larson says he sometimes finds himself having to correct people who falsely believe he caters to one particularly physical sport.
"A lot of people kind of assume 'Oh, you (just) work with the football team,'" he said. "And that couldn't be further from the truth. We've got kids from every sport, players on the soccer team, the track team, the dance team. It's fun working with all these body types and kids who play different sports."
Larson says he and his staff have seen a big spike in attendance in the Packer Power summer program in recent years. Currently, over 300 athletes in grades 6-12 are lifting during four scheduled sessions every Monday-Thursday in the school's weight room.
While the athletic department requires in-season athletes to participate in lifting sessions, facility upgrades have also played a role in the increased participation. In the last year, the weight room has added eight new custom squat racks, Olympic lifting platforms, a neon Packer logo that hangs on the wall and custom bars painted with school colors and etched with the school's nickname.
West Fargo senior Caleb Jamieson says the "pimped out" new look has helped "create a great environment" in the weight room.
"We've got those bars that say Packers, our racks say Packers. It brings excitement," Jamieson said. "It makes us excited to get in here and get to work."
It's also helped some Packers find success in a new athletic endeavor.
While weight lifting isn't a sanctioned sport by the NDHSAA, some North Dakota schools have began competing in United States All-Round Weightlifting Association events, with some Packer lifters proving to be the best in the state in their respective classes.
Competing at North Dakota High School Weightlifting State Championship in Kindred on Feb. 23, Jamieson and teammate Nsengiyumva Corode earned wins in their classes. Jamieson took first in the 73 kg class, with Corode winning at 67.
Though hopeful weightlifting can eventually become a sanctioned sport in the state, Larson acknowledges that goal is a long way from being accomplished, as evidenced by the fact that 60 percent of participants listed at February's State Tournament were from Minnesota.
But even if progress is slow, he sees reason for optimism. Eight of 15 classes at state were won by North Dakota lifters, and Larson hopes these successes will encourage more competitors to get involved.
"It's a great opportunity to get kids doing something competitive and enjoy getting stronger," he said. "It would be really great to see that get more momentum."
Larson says selling lifting as a serious team activity will be instrumental in its continued growth at West Fargo.
Using a system heavily influenced by Jim Kramer, the North Dakota State football team's Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Performance, Larson has worked to make Packer Power sessions a true group activity, where athletes and coaches hold each other accountable to ensure all work gets done.
"I remember when I was in high school, it was a lot (of time) on your own," he said. "You'd grab your card and just get to work on whatever you wanted to do. (Now kids) come in and nothing is on their own. We set a clock, and they know there's no time to be chit-chatting or wasting time. They know the second they step foot in there, it's time to get to work.
"It's business time."