The strength and conditioning coaches have a huge influence on the daily workings of the program. At Auburn that means strength and conditioning coordinator Kevin Yoxall and his staff are the ones who spend countless hours with the players throughout the year. During the summer months they put together the workout plans they think will help the individual players reach their full potential on the field.
What is happening this summer is important and it is particularly so this season because the Tigers open with a tough game against Southern Cal in Los Angeles and will play four games in rapid succession.
Roderick Hood works out as teammate Jay Ratliff spots the senior cornerback.
Being a former UCLA coach, the Southern Cal game vs. UCLA's cross-town rival is particularly attention-getting for Yoxall. Having that game to look forward to has made the workouts a little more energetic this summer. While he's sure the players are not having fun, Yoxall says he can tell there's a difference this summer than in his previous summers at Auburn.
"I don't know if they're enjoying it too much, but there is something going on," Yoxall tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "I think you know me by now. I don't get into the big hype and all that stuff, but there has been something different going on. I've noticed just from the standpoint of the kids being accountable, not missing workouts, being here when they are supposed to be here.
"Then, when they're doing their work, they've done a great job. I think a lot of it stems from we're still pretty young. But the kids that have been here like Travaris Robinson, he's a fourth-year senior who came here before his freshman year. There's a guy that has been here four summers in a row. We've got a few other guys like that, Jeris McIntyre and Marcel Willis and a few other guys. Then you've got Reggie Torbor and Dontarrious Thomas and Dexter Murphy. We've got more of a chunk of kids now that know what to expect in the workout.
"On the flip side of that you've got a bunch of fifth-year guys that have bought into what we've been doing, too. Mark Brown, (Damon) Duval, that group of fifth-year guys that were here before we were probably had a lot more adjustment than the young kids when they came here. Now everybody just knows what to expect. I think that's part of it. I think the new weight room is part of it. I think the kids were very dissatisfied, like the coaching staff is, with how we ended last year. We feel like we've got a lot to prove. We talk about that constantly. The main thing we talk about is having a great two-a-days and going to Los Angeles and showing what we've got. That's the main focus of what we've been talking about.
"Every time the kids work out we constantly remind each other of how we ended last year and how we need to go to Los Angeles and prove ourselves. I think when you pile all that stuff up that I just went through, that it has made a difference this summer."
Kevin Yoxall is trying to get the Tigers ready for two-a-days that start August 11th. The first practice is August 5th for the incoming freshmen.
Having that veteran leadership in and around the weight room becomes even more important in a situation like Auburn faces this year with a tough opener on the road. That leadership is something that Yoxall says has been important. Not having to convince guys to get their workouts in or stay on them about doing what is expected has been a pleasant change for the veteran strength coach.
"In my workouts after two, three or four summers, guys know what to expect," Yoxall notes. "There have been some days when in my early morning group we've had 70-plus kids show up. In the afternoon we wound up having 20 or 30 kids in the afternoon, that's it. A lot of them want to beat the heat, which is fine with me. But a lot of them want to come in and get their work done and use the rest of their day for academics or working or whatever the case may be. Yeah, there's something going on, but I can't really just sit there and put my finger on it.
"This has been one of those summers where as a head strength coach I don't feel as drained every day. I'm not having to convince kids and cajole kids and get them going. They have been getting themselves going. That's been a nice change, too."
Sophomore Silas Daniels works on strengthening his neck.
The weight room isn't the only place where the players have gotten work in this summer. Although the coaches can't officially work with the players on the field until freshmen practices start, it hasn't stopped the players from getting together on their own to conduct drills and run plays in preparation for the season. With everyone from the quarterbacks to the defensive line participating in drills on their own and executing plays, the Tigers look like they are ready to try to get the bad taste of the 2001 season out of their mouths.
"I've noticed when the kids have gotten together by position on their own--coaches can't be there, of course--they are doing it right outside the weight room," Yoxall notes while pointing to the nearby practice fields outside the lower level of the weight room. "When we finish our work and are cleaning up the weight room we see them working. There has been a lot better attitude about getting done what they need to get done out there in the throwing sessions and when the defense has been out there. There is a lot less talking back and forth and b-s-ing and a lot more just good solid work. I think you've got two quarterbacks that have been out there on the field playing a lot and they know how to direct all that. Then you've got defensive backs that have been out there playing and you have Mark Brown playing linebacker, Reggie Torbor has been playing a lot and Demarco McNeil. You have a lot more kids that have some experience and they know how important those individual sessions are."
Offensive lineman Jonathan Palmer is one of a large group of true freshmen who have been on campus working out this summer.
While the USC game has been a major focus for the team in its workouts this summer, perhaps the most important reason the Tigers need to be in top shape when they report for preseason practices is an unusual stretch of four games in 18 days to open the season. Punctuated by a trip to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs on a Thursday night, the stretch could make or break Auburn's season. That has seemed to help the players develop a sense of urgency about preparing for the season.
"I don't know that the kids have thought about it from that standpoint, but I certainly have and the football coaching staff certainly has," Yoxall says. "I don't know if the kids have thought about it like that though. I know they are thinking about how important that bunch of games is in such a short period of time.
"We've been in several meetings as a staff the last couple of days just talking about two-a-days and talking about that stretch of games and how we need to be smart about how we do things. We're working on it. That's been something that I've hit the kids up with every day about how we've got a lot of different factors working against us. I do know they know they've got a heck of a stretch right off the bat. Plus, we've talked about on that Monday night if anyone is watching football they're only watching one game that night. That has a lot of our kids very excited. We have to be smart about what we do."
Editor's Note: This is part five of a six-part series.