Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/HUSKER POWER & PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
Excerpted from Chapter 104, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/HUSKER POWER & PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
THE HUSKER POWER PROGRAM/PLAYER DEVELOPMENT
It appears that peer leadership played its most primary role not on the field of play, but instead in the preparation for those practices and games even more so.
The phrase “Champions are made when nobody’s watching” holds true in this instance, as the leadership elements during offseason workouts evidenced considerable physical maturation by leaps and bounds. Husker Power –the name for Boyd Epley’s strength & conditioning program- set the college football world on its ear, brushing aside ages-old fitness routines and focusing instead on purely game-applicable power, acceleration and the directional changes inherent to the sport of American football.
In short, the Huskers’ legs and hips became explosive, agile and more adequately adapted to the physiological demands of the game than that of their rivals. Serving as a template for the future of sport science, it was the dawning of a new era for America’s favorite pastime.
How did Boyd & Co. do it? Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
First things first: assemble a staff of thinkers, motivators and communicators…
Even though I like Boyd, he was in his own little universe. And that’s another thing how many little dynamics were there in that whole strength staff. You had you, Mike Arthur, Randy Gobel, John Archer, Kevin Coleman… So many different dynamics, but there was still a common work ethic for a common cause.
– Aaron Taylor
It was almost like a drug of wanting to improve and get better. And that was the one place to do it, because you could see the progression of getting stronger and getting faster, you just keep wanting more and more of it. It also helped that we had a great strength staff. That’s another thing, they knew how to get the best out of us, and we were just performing at that level. The crew that was there, Randy Gobel, Bryan Bailey, Mike Arthur and, of course, Boyd, those guys really stuck out to me. To me, Boyd knew what we needed to do. He just had that personality of, “I’m gonna get the best guys in there to make us the best program.” And he wasn’t out there really coaching us, but he knew how to get the best guys… – Cory Schlesinger
And of course, the strength guys, Bryan (Bailey) and Randy (Gobel) and you, great people, great technicians. We were taught the right technique, we didn’t know we were pushed …Even though there were broad strokes to the program, it was individualized, too. I didn’t have the same workout as Jason Peter. It was unique.
– Chad Stanley
A lot of the tweaks happened by Mike Arthur. Mike was really the guy behind the program. Boyd was the motivator and pushed strength coaches to come up with new things… we put together radical things where we didn’t need to run so much and we looked at the energy systems football players used and became more sport-specific… And to Coach Osborne’s credit, it was a big change to him and his coaches. And they were open to it and they listened and they gave it a chance. And it really made a big difference. You could tell within a couple of years that our team was just a different team in the way they trained and the way they finished games. Part of that was the kids and how hard they worked, and the kind of training we did was much better… – Randy Gobel
Mike and Bryan Bailey would develop the program. Same with you. …But Boyd, he always liked being out front and the center of attention. Mike, he was a little bit more laid back in his office, Randy was more little bit of the mix in between. You, you were a very outgoing personality. Then we had Kevin Coleman, John Archer… – Curt Thompson
Plan the work; Work the plan
They scoured the world for tidbits of applicable training insight, and then added a few of their own…
Bryan Bailey and Randy Gobel. They came up with drills that fit us on the field. Those drills were so new, nobody else was doing them and they were coming up with these drills to perfect our craft. And no one had a clue. I mean, the stuff we were doing? People are doing them now like they invented it, and Bryan and them were in there saying, ”Let’s do this. This is what you do when you’re making a cut. This is what you do when you get hit and start to stumble. This is the position you’re gonna be in, so you have to be strong in this area.” Just crazy stuff, but yet, they showed video replays with us actually in those positions. It was so crazy. And I don’t think they got enough credit. They were the nuts and bolts to that strength and conditioning staff.
– Barron Miles
Boyd Epley and Mike Arthur
…and Boyd Epley, the stuff you guys were doing and training athletes? Wow …you were way ahead of it…everybody does it now, but we were the only ones doing it back then.
– Bryan Carpenter
We gave the kids what they needed during the offseason, not just some generic running (regimen) to make you feel like you were in shape, but we did stuff that actually helped you as a football player. All those things where defensive linemen need to react on sight to the ball as opposed to an offensive lineman that was listening to a snap count. A defensive back does a lot of backpedaling and turning around, where an offensive back is running forward and changing directions laterally, so we became really specific with our workout routines. I think that made a big difference… And we used scientific principles; we looked at physiology and what happened in the different energy systems based on the amount of work-to-rest ratios that an athlete did, and we made it real specific to what we were doing. It was stuff published in textbooks and scientific journals and we brought it into real-life training and made it come together with what we were doing.
– Randy Gobel
That was super important to our program, we were ahead of the rest of the country in the development of players for a very, very long time. That was critical to the development of Nebraska football, without a doubt.
– Jack Nickolite
Then you develop strength and power in the legs and hips via Olympic weightlifting exercises…
…the way we were training there with Boyd Epley and you guys and the hang cleans, the snatches, the squats? We were invincible. We were pieces of iron and couldn’t be broken, and we would just go as hard as we could. And that’s probably one of the reasons I ended up there. Remember I said I saw that one game when I was a junior in high school and they said, “There’s the best strength program in the world.” And you just pounded away every year; you got bigger and bigger, faster and faster, stronger and stronger, and we were invincible. That kind of strength program, you put that in an athlete and then you put that on the field and you have a recipe for success. It was the right combination.
– Lance Gray
Pipeline ’94 The Dominators: Zach Wiegert, Brenden Stai, Aaron Graham, Joel Wilks & Rob Zatechka
When it’s over I was laying down -and I’ll never forget- from that walkway from the gym to the lockerroom, I was laying down on the side there. And everybody’s passing by just laughing at you and they were like, “Don’t worry brother, we’ve all been there.” (laughs) …that was the most incredible shape I’ve been in in my entire life! …it was tremendous. Those are the types of things you can look at and say, ‘This is the difference between an incredible program that takes every single aspect seriously, as opposed to one that just kind of goes with natural talent…’
– John Livingston
It was the weight room… that’s where it starts. To physically become stronger and dominate people physically, the weight room was the place where you went to improve, it’s where boys came to become men… That was the reality of it: we could hit you longer and harder and faster than the average team because we paid the price in that weight room. – Aaron Davis
Courtesy Nebr. Sports Info
You then take that power and create an efficiency of ground-based movements…
…one thing I recall, a major change there, was the focus on training how to run properly, the bag work and running technique, becoming more efficient with your running style… it all goes back to Coach Osborne and the staff saying, “We need to get faster and increase our team speed”, and they really dived in with that. I don’t know who developed that -whether it was Randy Gobel and all that stuff that spring- we did a lot of Olympic weight training and stuff. And I remember Boyd came up with that circuit… look at the way we did weight training and you really get to understand the metabolic threshold …they made little changes all the way through.
– Bruce Moore
The old West Stadium Strength Complex, circa 1995
Finally, you condition the body to repeat those explosive movements over and over without a reduction in force application, to recover from the effort without the typical 4th quarter fatigue. And then? Then you’ve become a juggernaut…
…the coaches started to say, ”Look, we’ve thrown every rep at ‘em in practice that we’ve ever thrown and more, and the kids are standing there looking at us like, ‘What next?’” Those were the kinds of feedback I was getting from Milt Tenopir or whomever. They were throwing everything they’ve got at these kids in practice and these kids are taking it and looking for more, not even on their knees. – Dave Ellis
…it was not just one person, but the guys in the strength program, the Bryan Baileys and the guys that really got their hands dirty with the players. Those guys stood out to me as far as behind the scenes. That part was really unique, too, the way we trained, the way we conditioned. As a matter of fact, when I was with Coach Darlington one time there was another scout there talking about how hard it was to get guys conditioned, and we looked at each other and I said, ‘Look, at Nebraska we hit the weights, we ran, we worked out at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the afternoon on the turf when it was 120 degrees, and we ran all day.’ …just the level of training and conditioning, I would definitely give a lot of credit to you guys in that area… I went to Nebraska and I was about 175 lbs. as a freshman and I walked out of there weighing 198 and was literally 3% bodyfat and running a 4.5 forty all day. That’s not just something that happens. The resources were there and I’d give credit to those guys.
– Eric Stokes
Combine Running, Stretching & Lifting – If You Dare to Be Great
…we just had a serious work ethic. With our weightlifting program and with our offseason program that really put us in the position to be the juggernaut we became. Football is an “in your face, hard hitting, just grind for 4 quarters”-type of a game, and I don’t think there were too many teams in the nation who could compete with us because we were so well conditioned. The reason we were able to beat that Miami team was because we were so well conditioned. They had Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis, defensive MVP’s, so it wasn’t like we had greater talent than them. But we were more physically fit, we were a stronger team… – Tony Veland
Boyd in his West Stadium Office ’95
Mix those scientific training principles with an entire team of young men and their unrelenting focus, and then you’ve got something very special. Even to the point of having to hold them back on occasion…
…the way you guys trained us, and literally the goals that we had in mind, no one really trained harder than we did. I mean, half of our team was back in a health club somewhere at 9 or 10 at night working out again, because we were just that passionate about doing well… Do you remember Bryan Bailey would drive around looking for us at like Gold’s Gym and stuff, trying to get us in trouble? “Get out of the weightroom! Get out of there, you guys can’t be doing extra shit. You guys aren’t bodybuilding..” (laughs) …’We know we’re overtraining, but we want to have big biceps for the TV!’ (laughs) – Brian Nunns
Husker Power’s Bryan Bailey and the author: Road trip hijinks
…(other teams) weren’t able to duplicate it when they went back home because the Nebraska athletes had this tremendous work ethic… (Osborne said,) “You are physically prepared to dominate this game, you are gonna go out there and control this, make those tackles. You’re gonna make them feel every tackle, they’re gonna know you’re out there on every play, and after the first quarter we’re gonna have a lead and we’re gonna keep the lead..,” and just kept telling them what was going to happen and how physical they were going to be. – Boyd Epley
The Pipeline pushing Iron: Aaron Graham, Joel Wilks, Brenden Stai, Zach Wiegert & Rob Zatechka w/ Aaron Penland
More muscle mass meant more strength, more strength meant more power, more power meant faster starts & higher jumps & harder hits, and more conditioned bodies meant physical domination over the course of a contest.
Previous to this era of strength & conditioning enlightenment, the Nebraska weightroom was transformed from benches and barbells to platforms and bumper plates. It was a rarity to see an athlete raise or lower a weight without their feet planted firmly on the floor, much like the game consisted of blocking, tackling and running with the feet pushing forcefully against the turf.
Everything was centered around the active flexibility and the contractive power of the hip/leg musculature. It wasn’t so much about training to build the body beautiful, but the body efficacious. (For more, see the hard copy books’ Appendix for some of the training regimens and principles behind player development, from exercises to exercise intensities, from days of the week to times of the year, to charting player progression and even feeding for those changes.)
The Husker Power offseason development allowed for not only injury prevention, but also increased performance capabilities and better practice sessions in preparation for the challenge of game day. They wholeheartedly ‘embraced the suck’.
Let’s look into how the young men applied those offseason gains, coming tomorrow....
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.
Summary Chapter to be continued…..