Steven M. Sipple: Frost’s credibility makes tough workout talk sound legitimate
Fellow writers constantly stress the importance of context.
So, here goes: In the context of Nebraska’s 4-8 finish in 2017, Husker football fans probably are OK with players puking their guts out following winter conditioning sessions. Embrace the vomit, or something like that.
“Day One, it was very intense,” Husker defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg said Wednesday. “Obviously, there were a lot of guys throwing up and stuff like that.”
I’m OK with knowing guys were throwing up. But I don’t need to know the “stuff like that” part.
If you’re a Nebraska fan, you applaud all of it. OK, almost all of it. Rhabdo is no joke. We’ve learned that already. But you saw last season what can happen in the Big Ten to a poorly conditioned team. It can get obliterated by Minnesota.
If you’re Scott Frost, you applaud a degree of pain. Yeah, sounds sort of weird. On the other hand, Frost has made several references to the team’s poor conditioning since he took over as head coach in early December. Sloppy bodies won’t pass muster in his fast-paced system.
Everything’s going to move faster. Meetings, practices, speech patterns, legs, the gamut.
Frost said he’s seen buy-in from players. He’s seen excitement. He’s even seen “huge gains.”
This might be where you roll your eyes if you’re a seasoned Nebraska fan. You’ve heard it all before — from four coaching staffs since Tom Osborne’s. I appreciate your cynicism. Lord knows I appreciate it, having felt the strain of covering Bob Diaco.
But when Frost is standing at the podium, it all sounds a bit more believable. I mean, the guy just went 13-0. His credibility is off the charts.
How can you tell there’s buy-in among the troops? Well, consider Stoltenberg said it’s been a “blast” rising from the rack at 4:50 a.m. four days a week for 6 a.m. workouts. That’s when the offensive and defensive linemen go to work. Other position groups begin later.
“You wear it and use it as a badge of honor,” Stoltenberg said. “You want to be the best group out of all the lifting groups. We want to come in and be ready to roll right at 6 o’clock when guys are still sleeping.
“We always say it starts in the trenches. So definitely the O-line and D-line lifting group should be the best and should be the hardest-working.”
Some aspects of new Nebraska strength coach Zach Duval’s methods are the same as Mark Philipp’s, others are different.
Husker junior linebacker Mohamed Barry said Duval’s circuit training pushes players to the limit.
“Moving a lot of weight at high rates, with very minimum rest times,” Barry said. “For squats, we would do three sets of 10 — you have to go parallel or below.”
Barry said jumping is emphasized more than before, with various drills designed to improve explosiveness and speed.
“We’re jumping over hurdles, doing box jumps, sometimes jumping in place holding weights, just anything to create explosive tendencies,” he said. “When we do our cleans, we emphasize the ‘pop.’”
The players seem to like Duval’s dry humor and authentic manner.
“I see the ‘real’ in him,” Barry said. “He’s true to himself, true to his principles and morals. It’s easy to buy into what he’s saying when he actually believes in it so strongly himself. Plus, he’s just a good dude.”
There is something else that players appreciate about Duval: He is demanding but gets to know players on a personal level. How would you know which buttons to push in a player if you knew nothing about him?
What’s more, “I think there’s been a big change as far as accountability,” Stoltenberg said. “Obviously, with what happened last season, you know it didn’t work. Something has to change, or else we’re going to see the same results.”
He said coaches stress that players eat every meal at the training table. Some players needed to drastically change their bodies, so cheap “crap” food is the devil, Stoltenberg said.
He echoed Frost in saying the buy-in’s been great in workouts.
“I think guys are realizing how hard we really do have to work,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s great we have new coaches and all this stuff is changing. But at the end of the day, we still have to work really hard to be successful.
“It doesn’t just happen from showing up. You definitely have to put in the work yourself. I think guys are starting to realize that.”
That sounds like someone who fully understands there are no guarantees in football.
Even with an “N” on your helmet, a season can go south in a hurry.
Even with Frost in the fold, Husker fans can’t necessarily count on nine- and 10-win seasons coming back in a snap.
In the context of the Mike Riley years, when the team’s conditioning went south, we should understand that more than ever.