Aaron Hillmann has been impressed with his Illinois football players in his first three months on the job.
"I think all the players are making a lot of progress. But I'm not a weightlifting coach, so I can't tell you that, because a kid lifts a lot of weight, that he's a hard worker. I want all our kids to be hard workers. Everyone is improving. I've been very impressed with the whole group."
That is especially true for the upperclassmen.
"I am impressed with the senior class. When you come in as a new staff, you just really never know how they're going to take you. So kids like Michael Buchanan, Terry Hawthorne, Supo Sanni, Graham Pocic. I'm not going to try to name them all because I don't want to miss anyone.
"Other upperclassmen like Akeem Spence. Holy cow, what a great group of guys. Ryan Lankford, Nathan Scheelhaase, these guys have embraced us. They've embraced what we've asked them to do. God bless them, I appreciate how they come in to work every day."
The previous strength and conditioning coach provided detail on what players did best in the various lifts used in weight training. Hillmann has a great reason for not divulging that information; he prefers winning to bragging. Success is measured on the field of play, not in the weight room.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm not going to tell you. I think it's meaningless information. A lot of that crap is from coaches beating their chests, 'I've got guys doing this, I've got this many guys doing that.' Listen, what we do is already measured. The results are already posted in the sports section on Sunday. That's the only thing that matters.
"Do I want big, strong guys? Yeah, I sure do. I want big, strong and fast guys, but not at the expense of anything else. What I do is a holistic type approach to training. I get silly over basic, simple things.
"I do know this. Weight training coaches and strength and conditioning coaches have for years put up the guy that could lift the most weight in front of everybody. Everybody is very proud of that kid.
"I'm just as proud of the kid that comes in, he might be a genetic trash bag, but he works his bag off every single day. That's what's expected. If your genetic potential allows you to bench press 400 pounds or squat whatever or run whatever in the 40, that's terrific. We're trying to get to your genetic potential, not arbitrary numbers.
"I've been around some coaches who believe those arbitrary, objective measures of weight training. Because we have so many guys that can lift this amount, we'll be better. Everybody spends the whole year lifting weights, so we'd better be stronger. What do you think we do down there? You lift weights, and one of the side effects of lifting weights is getting stronger, unless you're totally screwing it up."
That's a refreshing approach, and Hillmann gains encouragement from examples set by the National Football League.
"One of my earliest experiences as a strength and conditioning coach helped with clarity. If you ever worked in the NFL, you realize these arbitrary numbers are all a bunch of BS. Because the NFL is concerned with one thing and one thing only: that's performance on the football field. They could give a (darn) about how much you lift.
"Yeah, they do the whole NFL combine and all that other stuff. But if you do a little research on that too, you'll find the guys with the highest bench press numbers in the NFL combine, that's the least best indicator of any type of performance. I've seen a study where higher numbers in the 225 pound bench press in Indianapolis was actually a greater predictor of people who don't make the teams.
"If weightlifting numbers were so freaking important, why don't you go and recruit the best weightlifters? If you're such a good coach, go out and get the best weightlifters to be your linemen, the best sprinters to be you or runners. And then coach their ass off.
"We won't do that. If you want big numbers, you show a big misunderstanding of the weight training process."
Hillmann has a broad understanding of his role with the Fighting Illini football team. His success will be measured on Saturdays this fall. He is secure enough in his own skin to be satisfied with that.