Ken Sheppard Interview Transcript

In case you couldn't sit still for the 41-minute audio interview, here's the transcript.

CN: Now, strength and conditioning are essential to being able to be competitive on the field. At national signing day you gave us a brief glimpse into your philosophy, but what's been going on since that time? What have you been focusing on with the team? Where were they, and where are they now?

SHEPPARD: Well, last time we spoke I was in the process of establishing a foundation for the guys. Now that foundation has been set, they have a good strength and conditioning foundation, the guys have performed very well. I'm very pleased with the results from our testing, and from this point we've moved on into spring ball with a good strength idea of how they're going to do next time we test.

CN: Now, you mentioned testing, give us an idea of what things you start out with, like when you walk in and you're with a young man for the first time, what are the things that you test and what are the things that you're looking for?

SHEPPARD: First of all we test for general strength. We have a core lift that we test for, which is the power clean, the bench press and the squat. We also do a body fat analysis, a flexibility test which is just sit and reach, the standing broad jump and the vertical jump to test explosion.

CN: In terms of where the young men were when you came in, give us an idea of the kind of condition that these young men were in, particularly having had a number of months off.

SHEPPARD: They were in . . . not out of shape, but they wasn't in my type of shape, so what I had to do was to come in with what I had and to test them and to implement my philosophy with them. Now I can say that they're in shape as far as my standards is concerned.

CN: Now, what is your philosophy and what are your standards?

SHEPPARD: My philosophy is speed . . . speed and explosion, okay, and my philosophy is ‘speed kills.' We work on vertical speed, lateral speed, and straight-line speed.

CN: Coach Bolt talked about there's speed and then there's ‘game speed.' Talk about that and talk about how you prepare them to have game speed and game quickness.

SHEPPARD: Well, you can have general quickness . . . quickness and speed is two different things. Quickness is where you can get from point A to point B as fast as you can. Now speed we call linear speed, where you're running a straight line. A lot of people can run fast in a straight line. But their football speed is how fast can you get to point A, point B, change direction and don't lose any speed, or if you slow down can accelerate to your next destination.

CN: So then how do you go about the process, I mean what are some of the specific things that you do to really develop that speed, to take those athletes to the next level, both in terms of the speed and the quickness?

SHEPPARD: Well, what you do . . . you establish a good, like I said before, a good strength foundation here in the weight room. You work on your lower body with squats and power cleans to work on your explosion and then from that point you go outside and then you work with your plyometrics, your jumps, your bounds, your skips, your hops, and things like that, and implement that into your weight training and then that's when the explosion and the speed training starts to take toll.

CN: Now, in basketball they talk about ‘you can't teach height.' And I think a lot of people kind of thought you can't teach speed, but obviously you can. What are some of the other foundation things that you work on?

SHEPPARD: Absolutely you can definitely teach speed. First of all you can teach a guy how to run correctly, and that's the most important thing. Along with that, flexibility, and what we do, we analyze our athletes and see the basic running mechanics, and if they don't have those we implement and correct their running form basically. We're just, like I said before, big strength coaches and track coaches. The same drills and techniques that they use in track and field, I implement them into my speed and explosion program.

CN: Now, on National Signing Day . . . we have a photographer who's also a yoga and pilates instructor, and I know you had mentioned you were thinking about using pilates so it sounds like you take, wherever you can get, good ideas from. What are some of the unique things that you have implemented that may be outside of the box in terms of strength and conditioning?

SHEPPARD: Absolutely. My point of view is, you never stop learning. At the University of Texas, we had a yoga-pilates instructor to come in and take our entire team through pilates and yoga, which paid dividends as far as flexibility, it cut down on injuries, which guys have better range of motion and more flexibility, and those are the things that I've learned from watching and taking courses under our instructor in Texas, and brought those ideas and techniques out here, implementing them into, again, another aspect of my training and our players are buying into it, their flexibility has increased, and it's definitely room for improvement, which we're working on that now.

CN: Now one of the things that I really enjoyed seeing, I'm seeing it now, is neck strength. Now, I boxed and it really isn't your chin, it's your neck. Talk about some of the specific things that you focused on in terms of developing the specific strengths within each of the athletes. Are there strengths you develop for linemen versus linebackers versus D-backs or receivers or quarterbacks? Walk us through some of those specifics.

SHEPPARD: Well, we have a general workout that we take the entire team through, but the closer we get to the season, the more specific the training gets. We have a different workout for the wide receivers, DBs and running backs, and then from that point we'll have another workout for the quarterbacks and then from that point we'll have another workout, a pre-season and in-season workout. Once the in-season gets here, we'll go to more of a maintenance phase to maintain what we've gained during the summer. During the summer, that's when we do the bulk of our training and the majority of our strength is gained. You know, up until that point we're working into phase 2 right now, which is gaining our strength and then phase 3 is the closer it gets to the seaon, which is our explosive power phase. That's when we start moving heavy iron and moving a lot of weight, along with our plyometric and our speed training and our overspeed training, and once we get to the season, or pre-season training, the athletes have a great foundation, everything that I've wanted to accomplish during the summer has been achieved, and from that point it's just a maintenance phase on through the season.

CN: You've mentioned plyometrics a couple of time, not everybody knows what that means. What is plyometrics?

SHEPPARD: Plyometrics are drills that you use to increase your overall athleticism which incorporates, like I said before, your power skips, your broad jumps, your bounding, single-leg and double-leg bounding, all the drills that encompasses . . . explosion.

CN: Now one of the things I noticed yesterday in practice, it looked like some of the linemen were playing patty-cake . . . not exactly, but you know what I'm saying . . . a lot of hand work. How do those kind of things get incorporated into your overall philosophy? What are some of the things that people might not normally expect, I mean I think a lot of it's pushups, situps, jumping jacks, squats, but what are some of the unique type of drills you do to help these guys get conditioned and fit?

SHEPPARD: Well, one reason why we do . . . well, in the trenches or in the line you make contact every play, other positions you may go through a series of plays and not touch anybody, so therefore you have to have great eye and hand coordinaton, so that's why in here we do a lot of dumbbell work to mimic the positions that the linemen will be in on the field. So that's why we do independent arm movement and we do hand-eye coordination, we do the punching bags, we do boxing, to increase hand speed and eye coordination, along with . . . we incorporate that into our weight training which makes for a better athlete.

CN: I noticed a lot of lateral move . . . front-lateral and side-lateral kind of work, and Coach Bolt had mentioned, I think it was tracking the ball or something, where when they blow the whistle they start throwing the uppercuts. Is that why you have that kind of routine in the weight room, so that they develop that . . . ability to break holes in things?

SHEPPARD: Well, that's what we work on during the summer, that's where the speed and explosion. Once you see where the ball is, you have to be able to accelerate quickly, get to the ball, and decelerate. So that's where our training comes in and that's where I'm talking about ‘explode'. You read it, then you have to explode, which is a burst of speed, and get to your point and then once you get to that point, you implement your assignment.

CN: Now, you've mentioned speed a lot. How does the whole nutrition angle come in, and then also is your overall approach . . . obviously to add speed, but is it also to add size or it to create more lean muscle mass. I mean, where do you want to take these guys to physically?

SHEPPARD: To be the most physical team in the Big 12 is my accomplishment, is my aim, and we're on track to do that. As far as gaining size, each individual guy will gain at his own body's potential. I can assist it through nutrition and through weight training, but the body is only going to gain and maintain as much weight as it can hold at any given time. Now what my responsibility is, is to shape and form that as the athlete grows, physically and mentally. You know, there's more to it than just getting them in here and just saying, "Lift this weight." You have to be an implementer of a philosophy, which is mine, speed and explosion. And what we've done is just taken the guesswork out of how to do, and what to do. We have a great athletic training staff, and we're the third phase of . . . the medical staff; it's the doctors and then it's the athletic trainers, and then it's the strength coach. That, within itself, is what keeps these athletes on the field, keeps them in shape, and which makes for a better team.

CN: I heard Deacon Jones one time say that the reason a lot of these guys were getting injuries is because they weren't being trained properly, weren't being conditioned and prepped properly. How do you respond to a legend like that making that kind of comment about the modern game?

SHEPPARD: Well guys these days are bigger and faster. Back in those days, you know, they had the raw, rough athlete; they didn't have the science and technology that we have today to make a guy bigger and stronger, so therefore you may . . . and taking nothing away from them, I mean they are legends and great men in their own right, but now we're dealing with a different type of athlete. Back then it wasn't common to see a guy, you know, 6-7 or 6-8, 350 pounds, with only 18 or 19% body fat, like you see today. You know, that's almost a common thing now to see large guys, you know, without ‘pharmaceutical preparation' as I call it, to come into a program with . . . I call it ‘gifted and talented' that way.

CN: Now when we look at the line, football's won in the trenches, you know . . . I think back to Iowa . . . Kirk Ferentz had been asked a question, would he rather have had that phenomenal line with Matt Roth and them, or those future pro linebackers, because one year he had a great line, the next year great linebackers. The year he had the great line they went 10 and 2, the next year those linebackers got to make a lot of tackles . . . and so, it's won in the trenches. What do you do to prepare the linemen to be as competitive, and is there a different routine for the offensive and defensive linemen?

SHEPPARD: Well, I train both of the positions, offensive line and defensive line, the same. Like I said before, you have to have tenacity, you can't be weak and timid to play football, not play for Iowa State football anyway. So it's more so a philosophy, the philosophy that's implemented and what we teach the guys as far as being the best, working to be the best. You are the best, you've got the best coaches in the country, you'll be treated like you are the best, so therefore you're given all these things, and the only thing that you have to do is act accordingly and give us your best. So therefore it's nothing specific that we do, that some other team is not doing, it's just the way that we implement it as a coaching staff.

CN: Now, yesterday you had a couple men after practice and they were doing work, and I know there was a point where the young man, he questioned how many of the little drills he had left to do, and you had made a comment that basically, and I'm going to paraphrase, "Keep your mouth shut and do what we tell you." Is part of the conditioning process getting these young men used to basically just trusting what you all tell them and doing what you tell them, and it that part of the conditioning process?

SHEPPARD: It is, it's part of it and it's more so mind over matter. No matter what they're doing, get their mind off of it. My thing is, you're at your strongest when you think you're at your weakest. When you think you're weak, that's when you've got to mentally switch over to the inner strength that you have, so no matter how tired you think you are, you always can dig deeper and find that extra amount of mental strength to get you through. So that's what I was implementing yesterday, no matter how tired that you think that you are, you always have another gear, another level of intensity, and mental toughness that you can go to to get you through whatever you're going to go through, but you just gotta find a way to tap into it, and my thing is talking to them, getting their mind off of it, while they're doing work. And it's the same philosophy I apply when they're in here. I make the environment conducive, I make it fun for them, but while we're having fun, we're laughing, we're singing, we're dancing, we're doing all of that, these guys are putting in work, quality work.

CN: Thomas Jefferson said that invention is 90% perspiration; there's a saying that champions do it in the preparation. How do you work with the skill players, how do you get . . . I mean those are the guys who shine, those are the guys who get the press, the ink. It's never the linemen; I think the linemen ought to get the big dollars and the press, but . . . how do you work to prepare these guys to perform day in and day out at the level they need to, while also balancing what it seems might have to be some ego, some cockiness, some of those kind of attitudes that you just need to have when you're playing those kinds of positions?

SHEPPARD: Well, I train, mentally, all of our athletes the same. Like I said before, I tell them they are the best, I treat them like they're the best, and it's just like writing a program. I can write a program on a piece of paper, in black and white; I can hand it out, but it's up to the individual to make that program work. So my thing is, it's not the program itself, but who's implementing the program. Like if go to Barnes and Noble's and get a book on different exercises, and implement those exercises, and it's up to me whether they succeed or fail, it's on how I administer it. So I train, or we, I should say, train the defensive backs or the skill guys, just like we train the linemen, but only get into specific training the closer it gets to the season itself. Truth enough, those guys run faster, jump higher in most cases, and are pretty much better athletes, in a sense, but we train all our athletes the same way and each individual is going to come with a different skill level, so therefore what we do is enhance whatever skill level that they come in with. You know, some may take more work than others, some you come in and you just have to tweak'em just a little bit. And that would be the ideal athlete, on both sides of the ball, whether you're a lineman or a skill guy, is to get athletes like that. But unfortunately this is not a perfect world, so therefore, whatever that we recruit, whatever type athlete that we recruit, first of all he has to have ‘it'. And what we call ‘it' if you've gotta ask what it is, well then you don't have it, you understand? So we look at a athlete, and if they have ‘it' then we offer them to come in and join the Cyclone family, and from that point, it's pretty much we implement our philosophy here on the X's and O's side of the ball, and down in the trenches, what we call down in strength and conditioning.

CN: Now, our founder and publisher, Steve Deace, my business partner, he had made a comment about pro day, a couple years ago, where one of the wide receivers did more reps on pro day than some of the linemen, and he made the comment that there was strength and conditioning but a lot of it was individually-based. How do you get everybody on the same page in terms of . . . are there specific standards set for each position? In interviewing the track coach, he mentioned that the cross-country guys run a hundred miles a week; in talking to the swim coach, they do stairs 45 minutes, you know, before they start their routine or regimentation, so is there specific . . . "Here's where you need to be as a lineman,"? And then also, even in terms of . . . I think of Pat Riley. He set body fat goals for each of his players. Are things you do in terms of setting goals for units, setting goals for positions in terms of like body fat . . . You mentioned you check body fat at the beginning of the process, are those individually set goals or are those expectations that everybody on the offensive line by the end of this process should be able to do this?

SHEPPARD: Well, everyone on the team is tested in our body fat analyzer and we go by the standards that's set by our medical staff, you know, what is obese and what isn't. If a guy is too lean, so therefore we need to find out why he's too lean, and of course if a guy is too heavy we know what that comes from, it's overeating. But what is healthy? What is healthy for an athlete is not healthy, you know, may not be healthy for a normal individual. It's like the height chart, if you're 6'2'' you're supposed to weigh 190 pounds. That's for the normal person. Athletes aren't ‘normal' people, you know it's something different about an individual that plays a sport. That's why they set themself apart from, I guess the ‘norm' if you would, normal person. But we keep check on that, when they come in, and naturally everybody is not going to have the perfect amount of body fat. You know linemen, they need a little protection because they're down in the trenches, banging all the time, but we don't want them to be overweight, more importantly for health reasons. And from that point, we trim them up, get them in shape, and get them to where the doctors say they have a safe amount of body fat. Now on the other end our skill guys we have, and I've been in the business for 13 or 14 years here, and we had some skill guys that got too lean, which caused them to cramp when they started to engage in competition, so therefore we had to get them to change their caloric intake, change their diet, to add more calories which is going to make them gain weight so their body won't go into that catabolic state when they get into competition.

CN: One of the advantages I have, or maybe it's a disadvantage, I own several publications so, I was working on one of them and I thought, "I've got this . . . article on Coach Sheppard that was done, so I'll put it in that paper," and that also helped me to prepare in part for this. You've put a lot of players in the NFL; were these guys who were naturally gifted, or were these guys who bought into the program and just did it with sweat equity?

SHEPPARD: Basically did it by the sweat of their brow. We had some guys that were gifted and talented, but for the most part when I started out, these guys had the will to win, they wanted to be the best. Some wanted to go to the NFL, some wanted to be doctors and lawyers or whatever they turned out to be. But these guys had what it took to accomplish their goals, and even today the guys call back and say, "I remember when I came in as a freshman." And these guys are all pro guys and you know, they call back and say, "Thank you for . . . I remember 13 years ago when you were on me and made me do this and made me do that." But they didn't have to, but they entrusted their lives to me to get them to the point to where they could be pretty much set financially the rest of their lives, and that's not my ultimate goal . . . Everybody wants to go to the NFL, but my thing is to make them be the best person they could be, and the best athlete they can become . . . turning boys into men.

CN: In terms of the JUCOs, Coach Chizik said that he wants these guys to contribute. There are three guys right now that were JUCOs, out of the nine JUCOs that'll be on the roster, that are here. There are six that aren't -- Allen Bell, J.J. Bass, for example. Is there anything that they're doing now to prepare, and if not, when you get them in . . . you know, Coach Bolt said with confidence, "Coach Sheppard's gonna have them ready for the season." So, when you get these guys on campus . . . well, first, when do you get them on campus? And then what are you going to do to make sure that these guys are in shape by your standards so that they can come in and contribute as Coach Chizik is hoping that they'll be able to do?

SHEPPARD: Once a JUCO guy has passed all requirements to enter the Iowa State University, then I can speak with them and guide them and tell them what they need to do, and if needed send them some type of documentation program guiding them into what they need to do to be ready to contribute once they get here.

CN: And when is that?

SHEPPARD: Um, it should be around June, by the end of June, when the JUCOs may get here. Up until that point, everyone that's signed with us and been approved, I can give them a program to follow and pretty much that's what the guys are doing now, you know, whether they're JUCOs, if they're currently in school, in high school, of course they're following . . . if they're involved in a spring sport they're following the program that the coach for that sport has them doing, but if they aren't then they're following a program that I sent them so they can have a foundation in place once they get here. But once again, they don't have me there to make sure they're doing it like it's supposed to be done, so it's good for them to have this information, these workouts. So once they get here, it won't be such a task to adjust to the Cyclone way of life.

CN: So then, how long will it take you, when they get on campus, generally, to get them in Coach Sheppard shape?

SHEPPARD: Generally it would take six to eight weeks to get a athlete in top shape, but nothing is going to get them, and we're talking about football, nothing is going to get them in football shape but actually being on the field involving themselves in football activities. And I can get them in good general condition, they can be ready for all the running, but it takes a toll on the body once they start making contact, you know, and nothing's going to get them in shape but football for that.

CN: How much running do these guys do?

SHEPPARD: Our guys do a lot of running. They have to, based on the type of defense we're running, the offense we're running. Our goals, as to being the best in the Big 12, like I tell the guys, and I preach . . . why they're running. There will not be another team that will be in the type of physical and mental conditioning as the Iowa State Cyclones.

CN: How traumatized were some of these young men once you got your hands on them?

SHEPPARD: They were in shock like a deer in the headlight, you know, they were like, "Wow!" But once they got into it, they started absorbing it, asking for more, coming on the days off, asking can I help them get better, what can they do to get better. And that's the things that you want, as a strength coach, for athletes to run to you like that, and want your attention, even on downtime. And that's exactly what these guys have done. You know, they were taken by storm when I first got here, but now they have adjusted and that's just the first phase of it, once we get to the summer phase of it, they're going through another transformation which will gear them up for the season.

CN: Now, last year I started getting in shape and . . . just a couple more questions . . . and there was a friend of mine who really helped me get through the early part, and you probably know him, most people know him. His name is Ben-Gay. (laughter) And his cousin helped me too; his name's Dash Four . . . that's Ben-Gay minus $4 down at your friendly neighborhood Walgreens. We see the whirlpools and stuff in there, what are some of the things that are here for the athletes, to keep them loose, to keep those muscles warmed up, those type of things? My daughters, who are here, were asking about the machines in there . . . Talk to us about some of those things and also the facilities in general here for strength and conditioning.

SHEPPARD: We have one of the best medical staffs that I've been around. A lot of the larger universities have medical staff, but coming in, we have one of the best training staffs that I've been around and that's knowledge-wise. This facility is second to none, the athletic training room is tremendous, the director of the training room, Mark, is tremendous and all the assistants definitely help these athletes and help me. Those guys are like an extension of my staff, and I'm an extension of their staff. We work hand-in-hand . . . keeping these guys on the field. As far as that, we've got a SwimEx in there, which is a state-of-the-art swim tank where you're running against a current, and if an athlete has an injury where they need to lighten the load on a particular part of the body, of course you know the buoyancy of the water makes you lighter, so therefore they have that in there, they have the whirlpools, just the knowledge base within itself is enough to keep the guys on the field. Like I said before, we have a tremendous, a tremendous . . . I can't say enough about our athletic staff as far as helping these athletes out. And like I said, we work hand-in-hand; Mark comes in here and watches the guys work out, and I go in there and watch the guys go through rehab, so he's not doing anything that I don't know about, and I'm not doing anything that he doesn't know about, and that within itself, that comraderie is a necessity to keep these guys on the field.

CN: When I interviewed Jamie Pollard on Wednesday, he mentioned how Gene Chizik made sure that he was able to free up money in the budget to bring in an extra strength and conditioning coach. How much of an impact is that going to make?

SHEPPARD: Oh, it's like having another arm, you know, you can work well with two, but then that third arm comes in and . . . We brought a guy in from Akron, Ohio, that I had worked with for four . . . or five years at the University of Texas and I knew he had a tremendous knowledge base and I knew bringing him in, that the program would not take a step backwards, but take leaps and bounds forward, just by bringing someone in that knows strength and conditioning, knows how to work with athletes, can come in and get right into the mix without me having to teach, educate and instruct. So that's the reason I brought Jesse Ackerman in.

CN: Part of the problem, historically, for the Cyclone fan base has been low expectations, you know. If we win that Iowa game we're good to go; they lose that Iowa game the season's over. And Coach Chizik has come in here with the attitude of winning right now. What is It going to take to prepare these young men mentally and physically to be prepared to step on the field, beginning with the Kent State game, and to begin winning immediately?

SHEPPARD: Well, it's totally up to them. We told them we can prepare them, I can get them to be the biggest, the fastest, the strongest on the field, but it's totally, ultimately up to them whether they want to win or not. We can get them into the right place, but our thing is . . . how bad do you want to win? And these guys here really want to win. You know, I won it all at the University of Texas and that's one thing that they love to come and talk to me about on their downtime and even during the workout. "What was it like, Coach?" And I say it's an unbelievable feeling to be out there, knowing that you are the best in the country. You're the best college team in the country. And they come all the time asking about it. "What did you do, what type of training?" "What did you do in the in-season, off-season, pre-season?""How did you travel?""What type of training did you do?" And I say, "Everything that you guys are going through, it's the same thing that I did at the University of Texas, and that's how we won." And that within itself makes them want to win, and plus, last year I think the record was 4 and 8. And these guys don't like to lose. I can see that, I can feel that, more importantly. And that's why we talk about it, we're gonna be about it, and we're gonna live it every day.

CN: Last question, I have to ask you about this because last night when I was watching afterwards, I got tickled because my dad was an old Marine and it was interesting . . . the night before he passed away and I found him the next day, he was arguing about the girl football players for Colorado, and you know my father, even in his 70s was the kind of person who would, you know, straighten you up. And you know you were doing the up-and-downs and the young man had stopped and he was looking at you, and you said, "I didn't hear you after 17." They did 22, but you took some away and you said, "Why you looking at me, you want some?" And there was another comment you made and it was . . . your chicken's getting cold. How many nights during this process has your chicken got cold because you put in that extra work and that extra effort with these young men?

SHEPPARD: Pretty much, it's been several nights, many nights. But I can heat it back up, I'll stay extra for these guys and help them out any way that they need assistance, but I said that at that particular time because I knew the guy was down. I knew he was tired, I knew he was exhausted, and if I could say something to get his mind off of those things and to get him to laugh, I've accomplished something. And once I got him to laugh and I told him, "You got this to do . . ." he went ahead and went to that next level mentally and got it done, didn't even think about everything else he had done prior to that. And once he immediately went to that next level mentally, and he did what I asked him to do, then that was an accomplishment for that day, and then I explained to him, "See what happens, see how strong the mind is? You have to be able to tap into that any given time." And that was a big step for that young man, for those young men that I was working with and they were standing there like, "Wow! I didn't even realize I did that." And that's one reason why we do this . . . it's not all for the glory, it's to help these young men transmogrify into whatever they're going to transform into, up into adult life.

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