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Developing the college football student-athlete, Part 2

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Power, movement, psychology- development is one of the three-parts of a successful program.

Miami Hurricanes Beat Nebraska Cornhuskers for National Championship Photo by Jon Soohoo/WireImage

This is part 2 of a 2 part series (read part 1 here) on developing the college football student-athlete. I often use the terms that were started by Bill Connelly to describe the three-pronged process of a college football program: acquisition, development, and deployment. Acquisition would be recruiting (and that damn Transfer Portal). Development would be what we’re going to learn today- it’s power, movement, and psychology as well as sport specific skills. Deployment is the strategy used on game day.

We have established a strength program for the weight room and a psychology program to focus on the whole-athlete. We’re now going to focus on hitting the field and the movement that is required in order to win football games. Power and speed definitely help but football skills win at football games in the end.

Remember, as I said in Part 1 of this series, football is not the military and it’s not cross country. There will be no jogging here, and there won’t be 1,000 burpees, The Murph, a conditioning test, or gassers. We’re going to create an elite unit by demanding excellence and total focus on every single rep. That will be embedded in our culture via all three parts of our Core Values. I will not take a rep off if I have strong positive relationships with my coaches and teammates, if I have a commitment to a cause greater than myself, and if I have discipline in my actions.


Movement

As I stated in Part 1, football is played in the Phosphagen energy system. In other words, the focus of field work aka movement aka conditioning should be one second of work for every seven seconds of rest. That will create typically a five second work to 35 second rest ratio. When you hear Coach Diaz and Coach Feeley brag about mat drills, 300’s and 110’s- they’re basically doing it wrong.

Am I saying never do mat drills? No, I love a “Football Olympics” day 2-3 times a season where family groups compete in different football-related S&C events (think: 10-yard Prowler sled pushes for time, 10-yard sprints for time, or Zercher sandbag carry races) for a steak dinner. But doing them just to do them proves nothing. To quote one of my heroes, the Godfather of Football Speed Dale Baskett, “My granny can blow a whistle until you puke (that’s a paraphrase but you get the point).”

Ladder drills (sorry dads across America) don’t make you faster. Sand sprints (sorry Swasey) don’t make you faster. 300-yard shuttles and 110’s don’t make you faster (sorry guy who says, “But HOSS, that’s how we dun did it back in them there days of glory”). If you want to win football games, it helps if your athletes are powerful and fast. Doing these things will slow them down.

So... how do you get faster?

Speed Camp

I personally deploy Dale Baskett’s speed program (website) in order to not only improve overall speed of the athlete but also efficiency of movement. Less wasted movement is less wasted energy and that means more energy in the 4th quarter and less injuries. His program requires no cones, ladders, hurdles, etc. It can be done on a track or field or the top of a parking garage (me).

Dale’s methods include rest intervals, not screaming about kids running back after a sprint, and calculated programming. If you’re tired, you’re not getting any faster. We will “condition” closer to the start of sprint football, and then again towards the start of the season. But in reality, the only way to get in practice shape is to practice and the only way to get into game shape is to play games.

Using Dale’s methods I’ve seen not only a complete change in speed at three different schools, but also a change in soft tissue injuries and WINS. In all honesty not only does it work but it’s also cheap. You can throw away 99% of the parachutes and other crap (or hopefully not purchase them at all) and save money for a real result in increased speed.

Agility and COD

Change of direction drills are close-ended and not done in a read-and-react model. Think of the 20-yard pro agility shuttle or the L-Drill at the NFL Combine. Agility drills require the athlete to read the coach and react to their cues. I personally use visual cues because that’s how football is played. The most desired outcome is to play fast and use thin-slicing versus having to go through a list of responses. By then, it’s too late.

Thus, our agility program is done to increase focus on visual and cognitive training. In order to sprint forward the coach will clap. When the player should stop the coach puts his hands up. The player will then rotate at the shoulder and keep their feet moving. The coach points again and the player accelerates to a target. In an open-ended drill that target can change per rep, just like every rep in a game is different from the last!

When you coach players with a disciplined approach you can then get disciplined movements. Without a disciplined coaching system and coaching output you will not get a disciplined response from your athlete.

Mental Toughness, rest and recovery

Mental toughness isn’t what most people think it is. It’s not getting MF’ed by your coach. It’s not Year of the Bull coaches dropkicking kids (point proven: Charles didn’t make it at Florida). Mental toughness is having the mental discipline to stay focused on every single rep and not take plays off physically or mentally. Miami did mat drills, 300’s and 110’s from the moment Manny Diaz got the nod, you tell me if Miami looks like a mentally tough program (outside of Jimmy Murphy’s uncanny ability to focus during this absolutely cringe-worthy embarrassing horse shit).

According to the book, The Brain Always Wins, rest and recovery are two of the best ways to gain mental toughness. Tim Kight from Focus 3 has his own methods:

1- Self-Awareness- how well do you know your purpose, and do you love yourself, and know where you fit in?

2 Situational Awareness- Event + Response = Outcome. Do you know what you have, what you need and what you want?

3 Discipline at Defining Moments- Your R or Response when how you feel isn’t aligned with what you need to do. We also call this GRIT (passion + perseverance).

4 Create Mental Energy- This is the Jimmy Murphy level of mental focus. You know what you want and know how to create the mental energy to get the job done.

5 Getting out of a negative state- Having a positive attitude via self-talk and self-story during hard, unpleasant times and bad moods (I need some work re this one).

I don’t see gassers, 300’s, 110’s or mat drills anywhere in the prior five points. That’s because they don’t create mental toughness. If you’re a quitter, they just an “in shape” slappy who still quits. I’ll climb off the soapbox now as long as you promise not to put an athlete I’m training (or any athlete not in CrossFit) through The Murph.


Sport Specific Skill Development

Baseball, wrestling, lacrosse, hockey, swimming, basketball, tennis, soccer... name a sport and I promise you they dedicate and are allowed to dedicate more time to sport specific skills than football. A lot of football players don’t even play until high school and some not until their sophomore or junior seasons. They then arrive at FBS schools because of their potential and it takes a redshirt season to get production between bad high school S&C programs and a lack of skill development due to time restraints.

But football is an interesting game because of the contact associated (although I would argue hockey and lacrosse are equally as violent as football and can practice year round!) our players typically only work on football in anything remotely fitting the description of a game from August through December in college, and November in high school. While the AAU basketball kid is playing year round and honing his skills- the football kid has about 2.5 months on a bad team and 3-3.5 months on a good team to be better at football.

That means S&C coaches and position coaches have to come together to create drills that can be done safely on air in the summer months. Even during COVID players have to find ways to train alone, without equipment. Above, I’ve posted my COVID home alone O-Line Drills.

If I had some money and a teammate (my wife will spar but I doubt she wants to be on the receiving end of blocking) I would buy a soft medicine ball, say 10lbs, and have dad hold that while son works stance, steps, punch, and drive. If you mix that in with working pass protection steps against a teammate holding said med ball and striking them when they’re within reach you’ve got yourself a stew goin’!

I feel like the drills in the video above are year-round, safe, and practical drills to be done for skill development. Buy you that medicine ball and get to work.


So is Miami fast?

The thing we’ve heard since the dawn of football time is how fast Miami is. Sorry dudes, I’ve missed it. I see Miami defensive backs getting smoked, linebackers not getting to quarterbacks on blitzes, and a team that does not break explosive plays at the level of other “fast” teams. The yards per play data says enough. Miami was 97th in the country while Navy was 8th. Miami was also 94th in points per play while Miami of Ohio was 86th.

Players might arrive to the Hurricanes being fast but they don’t continually get faster and I doubt they even maintain speed. Miami plays slow both cognitively and physically and that’s a bad duo to have. Add that in to a poor culture and you’ve got a 6-7 ball club.

Hopefully there’s been some adapting to the strength program to go along with the new offense and transfer portal guys coming in. If there isn’t, things will get better, but not the best.


Central Michigan v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Development Wrap Up

We don’t all look like Gregory Rousseau. I heard someone (maybe Tim Kight) say, “Talent is born and skill is refined.” Le’Charles Bentley always talks about guys with elite DNA, versus guys with good DNA who worked their butts off (him). A huge part of getting the motivation or Drive from someone to become elite is in the psychology of that player. Leadership is partially born, sure, but it’s a learned skill and a choice.

I’m sure Ken Dorsey has great parents and saw great things at home, but Kenny became a great leader by choice. In 2001 with absolutely no head coaching leadership he drove the train with Ed Reed to win a National Championship. That was a winning culture that quickly took short cuts and had no Core Values by the start of the 2002 season. Talent was able to get success but the lack of Best kept it from being a sustained success. By 2004 a coach that was once 24-0 was up against the ropes and looking for work by Christmas of 2006.