Arkansas assistant coach Charlie Partridge talked at media day on Sunday about buy-in with players when he joined Bret Bielema's new coaching staff in the Broyles Center last January.
Would the players accept them? What about trust? Did they know their stuff?
"I knew it was going to be a process," Partridge said. "The first thing we saw when we got here, there were no players in the hallways. That just hadn't been done before. There was a distinct line. I was taken back by how few kids were in the hallways.
"So that's one of the first things we had to change, get them in and around us. We had to earn their trust, make them believe we'd be there for them. Then, we had to prove that we knew what we were doing."
There were no worries from Zach Hocker. The Arkansas kicker/punter knew that Bielema and Partridge, the UA specialist coach, had history with his personal coach, kicker guru Jamie Kohl.
Partridge is more noted as the defensive line coach who produced J.J. Watt, the NFL's defensive player of the year. But he's been good at coaching kickers, too. He understands the technical side of kicking and has been close to Kohl since their days together in the late 90s at Iowa State.
The Kohl Kicking Academy, located in Wisconsin, is the elite destination for star specialists, including punters, kickers and deep snappers. Hocker is on the Kohl website as one of the school's star players. It takes awhile to scroll through the whole list of current NFL and college standouts.
Partridge was Director of Football Operations at Iowa State during Kohl's playing days and has utilized his help in understanding the kicking game for years. It was nice to have that relationship after he became special teams coordinator at Pitt in 2006.
Jamie's dad John, who lives in Waukesha, Wis., leads the year round focus program for the academy and is a big part of why the Kohl camps are tops in the industry. And the ties to the Wisconsin program are huge, through Bielema and Partridge.
"Really, I've relied on Jamie for the last 10 or 12 years," Partridge said. "I know that helped me and Coach Bielema with Zach when we first got here because Jamie and Zach were working together."
Absolutely, Hocker said. It was through those relationships that Bielema understands how to handle Hocker and the workload that could come from assuming all three specialists jobs – punting, field goals and kickoffs.
Bielema and Partridge promised Sunday at media day that Hocker would have two days off each week because of the extra work load with three jobs.
"That's one cool thing about Coach Bielema, he understands the kicking game really well," Hocker said. "He knows you can't go out there and kick 500 balls every single day. So he's really good at kind of managing our legs.
"There are days in the week that he lets us rest so that when we are in there with the team, we can perform at our peak."
Partridge said he learned the hard way about over working a kicker.
"I always thought you could grind in camp," Partridge said. "It as several years back and we got to October and the legs were weary. We paid the price. There was nothing you could do about it, either. It's like when a pitcher gets a dead arm, you don't come out of that for awhile."
Hocker wowed everyone at the Saturday scrimmage. It's hard to say which was more impressive, a 68-yard punt or a 57-yard field goal.
"My man Zach Hocker has a live leg, doesn't he," Bielema said. "No one is more plugged in with what we are doing right now than Zach."
What was the highlight with Hocker, the big punt, or the field goal?
"Both of them were encouraging," Hocker said. "But, for sure, it was the punt. I've been working hard this offseason on the punting because I had to fill this role.
"To see the work pay off and to do it in front of a crowd to bring that momentum into the fall. That was a highlight.
"Then on the 57 (field goal), that was a big confidence boost. If we have to punch in any deep kicks, I know in my mind that I've done it in front of the team and hope I can do it in a game."
Hocker said the transition with the new staff couldn't be any smoother.
"Coach Partridge is really, really good with the specialists," he said. "My kicking coach is actually located in Wisconsin. Coach Partridge and Coach Bielema were actually close to him. It was really cool when Coach Bielema and his staff came in and had that relationship. They had worked with (Kohl) for the last seven years. It was nice to know that my position coach does know what he's talking about.
"They have a great feel. The kicking game is kind of technical and a lot of coaches don't know much about it. But this staff is very experienced in the specialist positions. It's encouraging to me."
Is there something Partridge has done to improve Hocker's kicking?
"He's kept me really mellowed out throughout the training process," Hocker said. "I'm talking about the mental aspect of it. When you are down, let it roll off your back and get the next one.
"Competition brings out the best out of you. John Henson, one of our backups, has had a great offseason. Coach Partridge has made that known and has pushed both of us to perform at our peak.
"To have a coach that knows the mental aspect of the game and at the same time all of the technical aspects, all of that together has really benefitted our group."
Partridge said it's more than that. He said while the work load might not be as heavy during the fall, there were some tough assignments in the off-season.
"We set the expectations early for work," Partridge said. "It might have been more than he'd done in the past. He embraced it.
"I will say Saturday was a great day for Zach. I would have loved to see him kickoff once, too. Where would that have gone?"
No telling. The stadium might not have held it.
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