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Feb. 13, 2017

Winter conditioning

Hakuna Matata, Husker Nation! Welcome to the Carriker Chronicles and we’ve reached that point in the offseason where recruiting – recruiting never stops, but it’s not as highly publicized right now as it was a couple weeks ago. And we’re not quite ready to talk about spring ball and the spring game just yet so what in the world is going on in Husker Football?! Well lemme explain something to you: as a Husker Football player, there may be an offseason, but the workload never stops.

The Husker Football team is right now currently engrossed in their offseason winter conditioning program. Their strength and conditioning program. And, it’s interesting cuz Boyd Epley was the head of the strength & conditioning program when I was there and he has recently been brought back in the past couple years as the head once again and one of the things he has brought back with him is the performance index. Now what this is, it is the compilation of scores of three different athletic tests. The vertical jump, the ten yard dash (you can also do the 40 yard dash to give you roughly the same results. Boyd prefers the 10 yard dash), and the pro agility drill. Now what is that? That is basically known as the 20 yard dash or the 5-10-5. So what you do is you line up right on the line, you spring 5 yards to the right, change direction, sprint 10 yards to the left, change direction, and sprint out 5 yards. 20 yards. It tests your agility and change of direction quickness. Now a good starting point for a division one athlete at the University of Nebraska under Boyd Epley is around 1500 points or averaging 500 points based on how you test for each of the three different athletic tests. Now how do these points work or how does this system work? Basically, so if I’m 200 pounds and run a 4.6 40-yard dash – they used to use the 40, they don’t anymore but for example, they run a 4.6 40-yard dash at 200 pounds. Another guy comes up and weighs 215 and runs a 4.6, the guy who weighs more is going to be allotted more points. It’s based on how fast you do the drills and how much you weigh when you do them.

Now a good starting point for a walk-on at the University of Nebraska is right around 900 points. Now, before you think I’m bashing walk-ons, let me drop this PHENOMENAL stat about walk-ons right on ya. Nebraska has had more walk-ons taken in the NFL draft since 1970 – 25 in total, than 606 universities have managed throughout the entire course of NFL history! Not too shabby in my opinion. In fact, some of the best athletes I’ve ever been around were walk-ons and it’s interesting – one of the guys I played with in Nebraska – phenomenal athlete – always blew up the performance index. (He) ended up getting into the U.S. Bobsled team. Won several titles including gold medals at recent Olympic games! That’s how much of a fast powerful athlete he was.

Now, pro caliber athletes typically start out right around the 1800 point range and then you improve from there. But with the D-1 program that Nebraska has you should want to start out with as many athletes as you can beginning right around that 1500 point range and then each offseason you would ideally like them to improve right around 200 points every offseason.

So by the time they’re done, the 2, 3, 4 years that they’re there, hopefully 3 or 4, that they’re there they’ve improved right around 600 points during their time your strength & conditioning program. One other thing I’d like to talk about is something they got rid of! Cuz when I first got there – in fact, my first day I was there – I walked in the weight room. Didn’t really know what I was doing. Kinda watching, seeing what’s going on, and I sit down! Three guys come and yell at me and just verbally assassinate me and tell me to stand my skinny butt up! So I do, and they tell me to look down and it’s the performance platform. Now what that was, was maybe 20, 30 names at the most in Husker football history. And what this is, is the guys who had tested the BEST! The best of the best on this performance index. And I forget what the total points had to be. 2500? 3000? There were more test back then. They included the 40 yard dash at the time so it was a little bit different than it is now. But it was the guys – you’re only allowed to stand on it or sit on it if you’re name is on it. It was the best of the best in history and it still aggravates me to this day, because I was so close to getting on it when they got rid of it! It’s something I wish they would bring back but like I said, we used to do testing in the vertical, the pro agility, the 10, the 40 yard dash, and the 300 yard shuttle. And if you’ve heard this story I’m not going to tell it again. But if you want to hear the whole full story – cuz me and the 300 yard shuttle did not get off to a very good start. My first ever organized team activity at the University of Nebraska: at the end of all my testing I had to do the conditioning test, which is a 300 yard shuttle. Let’s just say I ended up NOT leaving the field under my own power. But if you want to hear the whole story, go back to the September 8th edition of the Carriker Chronicles. It’s the Wyoming game preview, it’s about a 5 minute long show. Fast forward to around the 3 minute mark and you can hear the entire story and my very humble beginnings at the University of Nebraska.

But when I first got to Nebraska, winter conditioning was Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and you would get up – you had to be there at 6 a.m. You did your running, you did your lifting. And then you were done for the rest of the day. And that’s how they wanted to do it. It was bright and early in the morning, everyone at the same time.

Now, when Bill Callahan first took over the team. NFL coach, he’s used to 53 guys on an active roster, he’s used to 8 guys on a practice squad, so 61 total guys on a team. He gets there, and Nebraska – we have 180 guys! And so he wanted to have a more manageable number. That’s how he looked at it. So he put us through what we all called the “Two weeks of Hell.” It’s the worst two weeks in my entire life I’ve ever had when it comes to running and lifting. His goal was to get guys to quit. To narrow the team down to a more manageable number as he looked at it. So basically what this was – these workouts started at 4:30 a.m. And you had to be taped beforehand. Now for a normal practice, you come in and get taped in between class, or lunch or whenever you’re free, and you’re ready for practice. Well, everyone’s getting taped at the same time – 180 guys, you have to be on the field at 4:30 or these drills get MUCH MUCH worse if you’re late! So I’m getting up at like 3, maybe 3:30 if I’m cutting it close every morning. And these are the toughest running drills I’ve ever done in my life! Sled pulls, sled pushes, sprints, short sprints, long sprints, change of direction, sprints with chutes. All sorts of drills for 45, 50 minutes. Then at the end we’d do conditioning! Now typical conditioning test when I first got there was four “gassers.” We would do ALL these drills, then we’d do anywhere from four to eight gassers at the end of it. It was the worst man, I’m telling ya. At the end of it, I asked out coaches “Are we ever going to do this again? Is this a yearly thing?” And they said “NO.” Now what happened, was they ended up getting a third of the team to quit. About 60 guys quit the team. And these are hard-working, Nebraska boys and this was their lifelong dream. That’s how hard this was. We ended up with 120 guys, so he reached his goal. I just share this story because it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, I thought you might find it interesting. And everybody has their own philosophy. In fact, when Coach Kennedy, Dave Kennedy, became our strength coach, instead of getting there at 6 a.m. and doing everything as a unit for the entire winder conditioning – not just the two weeks of hell – his philosophy was: come in and lift. Ya know, if you want to do it in the morning, between classes – whenever it works for you. And then every Monday and Thursday we’re going to do our running. Our sprints, our speedwork, our agility work, acceleration, quickness change of direction, all that good stuff. And it was just a different way of looking at it. You could say 6 a.m is better because it’s harder. It’s earlier. You know, maybe it brings more out of you, but you could say Coach K’s way was better because maybe you’re fresher and you can get more out of the workouts. To me it was kinda to each their own, it was just a little bit different. Halfway through my career at Nebraska, I don’t know that one way is better than the other. I’ve always preferred getting up, and working out earlier in the morning and getting it over with. I have so much more energy the rest of the day than when I have to sit there and think about it the whole day cuz it’s going to be later in the day. So that’s me personally.

Now as far as what the team is doing now, I like some of the things that I’ve heard. Now before Mark Phillip became the head strength coach at Nebraska a couple seasons ago, the previous strength coach believed heavily in lifting with machines and things of that nature. And I have no problem with that. Like if you can’t squat and you need to do the leg press, that’s cool with me! If you’re coming back from an injury, a machine can actually protect that body part so you don’t have a setback. But if you’re healthy, I’ve always believed that bar bell lifts, the dumbbell lifts, the Olympic lifts, the free weight motion, the power cleans, squats are the best ways to optimize getting bigger, faster, and stronger going forward. And what Mark Phillip has done, he’s doubled the squat racks in the Nebraska weight room from 20 to 40! In fact, if I could pick one lift and tell you to do one lift to improve your football game over all else, I would say do squats. Now you need to work the hamstrings so you don’t get imbalanced – quad dominant too much – but squats is the number one most important lift so I love hearing that and I love hearing these free weight motion type lifts. The Huskers have had quite a few injuries in the past couple seasons – as least it seems like to me. And it’s kinda hard to prevent an ankle from twisting, you know, a knee ... but, these things persist and continue to go forward as they have been, then we might have to tweak a little bit what we’re doing. Do a little bit more pre-hab and things of that nature. But I like what I hear as far as the types of lifts they’re doing and how they’re approaching those lifts.

Now, they did their pre-winter conditioning performance index testing. They will do their post-winter conditioning performance index testing when winter conditioning officially ends. I don’t know if they’re going to post those for everyone to see publicly. If they do, I’ll be all over them. But whatever they do post and updates they do give, I will be all over it, as always, for you folks at home, keeping you updated here on the Carriker Chronicles.

But I wanted to give you a quick history lesson, because I thought this was pretty cool. August 15th, 1969. Bob Devaney hires the first full-time strength and conditioning coach in college football history in Boyd Epley and implements it at the University of Nebraska. Later that year, they open their first weight room. A gigantic facility, just over 1300 square feet! It was basically an old classroom, they knocked out the wall, made it their first weight room. In 1974 they handed out their first lifter of the year trophy. And to me, Nebraska is the birthplace of strength & conditioning in college football. And it began then, it continued through me, and it continues now, and I’ve always thought that was very very cool and just something I wanted to share with you guys.

Now, I will keep you updated as I promised, as I always do. Follow me on facebook and twitter. And as ALWAYS, you can find the Carriker Chronicles every Monday, Wednesday, and FAAASSSTTT Friday. Tune in this Wednesday, I got a nice little interview for ya. But until Wednesday, Go Big Red and always remember to THROW THE BONES!

P.S. As a little update to the history of Husker weightlifting, the VERY first weightlifting room – before the old classroom was remodeled into a weight room – was a 416 square foot room! That’s smaller than most two car garages! My how times have changed!