Connors Breaks Down Winter Workouts
During the spring and the fall, sixth-year coach Ruffin McNeill calls all of the shots for the East Carolina football program, managing his players and staff. However, in the winter and summer, it is strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors who takes command of the driver seat. Connors just completed the fifth winter of his second tour of duty at ECU — He served as the strength coach on both Bill Lewis and Steve Logan’s staffs for 10 years before spending the next 10 years at North Carolina — or as McNeill calls it, “Phase One,” of his six-phase process that he divides the football season into. In “Phase One,” which began in January and consisted of about 30 training sessions over a, roughly, seven-week period, Connors was permitted just eight hours per week, in accordance with rules mandated by the NCAA, to work with the players. The team was split into two separate positional groups — linemen and skill position — that had different training schedules. The linemen lifted for 6 ½ of the allotted eight hours, while doing position specific and movement drills for the remaining time. The skill position group split lifting and skill-specific drills evenly, spending four hours per week on each area. According to Connors, 33 players clocked sub-4.6-second times in the 40-yard dash, which is a new high for the program during his tenure. Junior outside linebacker Montese Overton and sophomore running back each timed in at a team-best 4.31 seconds. “I don’t think there is any question that this is the fastest football team in relationship to the times that we’ve recorded under the same conditions,” said Connors. “So we can say, based on that consistency, that this is definitely the fastest team we’ve had thus far.” Junior receiver Isaiah Jones described a training session with Connors as "insane” and went on to label him as a “freak of nature that knows what he’s doing.” Jones, who finished second on the team to the FBS’s all-time receptions leader Justin Hardy in catches in each of his first two seasons at ECU, enjoyed one of the largest jumps in speed on the team. Previously clocking in at 4.54 last year, Jones bumped his 40 time up to 4.37 this winter and attributed a lot of the credit for doing so to Connors. “Everything he does has a reason. He never just tells us to do something and there’s no explanation behind it,” Jones said. “It’s all about getting stronger. When you get stronger, you create more power and if you have more power, you get faster.” In the linemen group, there were ten players who squatted in excess of 600 pounds. Junior defensive lineman K’Hadree Hooker topped the group by lifting 720 pounds with his fellow lineman, sophomore Demage Bailey, not far from behind at 675. Something that Connors has recently set his sights on improving is team chemistry, which he describes as something intangible-based that is difficult to measure from year to year. “Ruffin (McNeill) always asks me ‘How’s the team chemistry? Is it better this year?” said Connors, who added that his fascination with the topic inspired him to write a second book on coaching what he calls “the human dimension.” In an attempt to measure team chemistry, Connors has created four components that make up what he has dubbed “perfect team chemistry” — consisting of fanatical work ethic, innate rage to complete tasks, realization toward individual weaknesses and fierce competitive spirit — that are graded by and subjective to Connors. Other camp notes: Monday was ECU’s first practice in pads as players were outfitted shoulder pads beneath the jerseys, helmets and shorts at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex. The Pirates will have Tuesday off before returning to practice Wednesday afternoon.
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