CN Transcript: Ken Sheppard

For those of you that don't have access to the audio during the day, please enjoy this transcript of our recent interview.

CN: First of all, Coach Sheppard, thank you for joining us today.

KS: You're quite welcome.

CN: The first question I ask really needs to just be about what's happened between now and the end of spring ball last April?

KS: A tremendous transformation has taken place with this Cyclone football team. I've noticed a tremendous change in their attitudes, their physical conditioning and their mental conditioning.

CN: What's been the focus of the summer conditioning . . . late spring/summer conditioning program? And then explain what some of those changes have been.

KS: Well, the focus has been to get these athletes in their best condition possible, in preparation for the pre-season and the up-and-coming season. And that mainly deals with turning their weaknesses into their strengths, whatever they are, on an individual basis. But that's building overall conditioning, strength, and most of all the confidence level.

CN: Now, in terms of the players that were there last year, what have been the changes . . . specifically some of the changes from when you first got a hold of them last winter to now?

KS: When we first got here we took body shots so I can do an analysis of before and after, and guys have seen their body change. And along with strength, confidence is built also; guys that were here have stepped up and taken leadership roles and it's a buzz of winning amongst the football players. That's something that they talk about all the time. They've been . . . pretty much at the bottom of this side of the Big 12 and not making it to a bowl game and that type thing, and they do not want a repeat of last year. So the buzz is talking about winning all the time.

CN: So then in other words, it's not just that they've been going through some major physical transformations, but they've been going through some major attitudinal transformations?

KS: Absolutely.

CN: Does the fact that most spring season and current publication predictions have ISU at the bottom of the list, has that been something that's also motivated these players?

KS: I told those guys, "Don't pay attention to things like that . . . that negativity, because that's what sells paper, and people love negativity." And I said, "Only you know how hard you guys have worked, from the spring up to this point of the summer. No one can measure or gauge your desire to win, so let's just let the record show whenever the season starts."

CN: Now, you've mentioned in general some of the things . . . walk us through what a day in the summer conditioning regimen might look like for some of these guys.

KS: Well, the guys are coming in for the summer on a totally voluntary basis, and what they've done . . . they have held each other accountable for showing up, for working hard and getting better every day and training hard. They talk about championship workouts; that's another slogan that they use while they're working out . . . championship workouts. They know that I came from Texas, where we won the championship, and they want to know what is is going to take, what type of work did I do at Texas and put the players through at Texas, in order for them to build the confidence and the toughness that we had there. And they say that's exactly what they want . So, they have embraced that type of hard training and they have adapted and they have grown from it, both physically and mentally. And a day, they will come in . . . they will go to class, and they will come in and get their workout, and after they get their workout, and then those who can can come to a conditioning session and then go to class, and the other ones will go to class and then come back later for a conditioning session. So there's a full day of activity starting from early morning, from about six, all the way til about six. We just let the guys come in when they want to, whenever they can, and they set their own running times and they run their own groups. And it's been fun to watch them organize themselves, without me having to do . . . pretty much anything but just answer questions and make sure they don't get hurt.

CN: So, do these sessions consist mainly of lifting, of running, of . . . ? What are the individual things that they're doing in these sessions?

KS: Oh yeah . . . in the weight room they're lifting and running; they have workouts that they take themselves through. And on the conditioning . . . the athletic trainers are out there taking them through the conditioning and we're monitoring everything and on Mondays and Wednesdays, the guys organize themselves and take themselves through a practice, you know, whether it's pass skels or working on defense, and they have their own cards that they've made up with the defense and offense on it, and they're coaching themselves, which is fun to sit back and watch.

CN: Now, you mentioned leadership has emerged and it really sounds like that. I know my last interview with ‘Ace' Bowen he made a commitment to have these guys put in the time and the effort. Who are some of the guys that have emerged as leaders since the end of spring ball to date?

KS: It would be . . . you mentioned one, Ace . . . but it would be unfair for me just to single out just a few out of the atheletes. Every single guy that has showed up this summer, to me is a commitment and leader. Because they didn't have to come, it's not mandatory, and that in itself lets me know that they are leaders, for themselves and their team. You know guys, like I said before, hold their teammates accountable, and when they get ready to train and they don't see a guy that's normally there, they go and call the guy themselves and see where he is and make sure that he's okay and tell him it's time to train.

CN: So of the guys who were on the roster for spring ball, what percentage of them have been showing up for these workouts . . . 80% . . . 90%?

KS: About 95% . . . 95%! It's almost 100%, which is really not shocking, but pleasing, to me. That shows their dedication and their desire to win.

CN: Now in terms of the . . . .you mentioned the changes . . . at the end of the spring game I had a chance to talk to a couple of folks and they mentioned that looking at guys like Blythe and some of the others, they could just see the physical changes. One of your goals was to be the most physical team in the Big 12. You can see the physical changes, but how do you think that those changes are going to translate to physicality on the field?

KS: Well, when I train the guys I tell them, like I mentioned before, there will not be another team that will be in better shape, mentally and physically, than the Iowa State Cyclones. And then they train that way; they take that same philosophy in everything they do . . . for a position, at an individual position when they train, when they're doing their assignment, when they're studying their assignments on the field, and most importantly, I told them if they're not eligible . . . they've got to handle their work in the classroom . . . if they're not eligible, they won't be a part of it. So the dedication to come here for the summer, and to make sure that they're eligible, and to get a foot up on the fall, shows a certain amount of dedication, just heading into the season.

CN: Now, one of the comments made during spring game by a long-time observer of the program was that the free weights have replaced the machines . . .

KS: Yes.

CN: And he was saying how he really was pleased with that because it forces guys who are lifting to compensate for some of their weaknesses in terms of imbalance and stuff. Explain why you made that move and what that represents in terms of developing strength of athletes.

KS: Well, my philosophy is explosive power, and a progressive overload type training. And that is forcing the body to work under heavy loads, and you can't do that on a machine, because a machine keeps you pretty much in a line that it's designed to keep you in. And you're not in a straight line, per se, or in a fixed position on the football field. So we don't train in that manner here in the weight room. In explosive power we move the weight as fast as possible. We do have machines here, but they're mainly used for . . . maybe a rehab purpose or an isolation, but when we get ready to do our core work, machines are pretty much obsolete as far as that is concerned.

CN: Now, is that part of the science of conditioning that you think will make a huge difference with these players? I was speaking to a former player in the previous administration, and this guy loved the coaches, but he made the comment that one of the top priorities was, every week that they just . . . they wanted to see the weight. And there are just a lot of scientific changes. You've talked about, I think the term you used at one point was plyometrics?

KS: Yes.

CN: And just a lot of scientific innovations that you've introduced, and is that one of those kind of concepts that you think is going to really translate into winning football.

KS: Absolutely, because you build strength, and then along with strength you work on speed. And you can't be a fast, weak athlete. There is no such thing, so you've got to be a fast, strong athlete.

CN: Those are called sprinters in track. (Laughing)

KS: (Laughing) Well, those guys are strong in their own right. They have put their time in in the weight room also to get that fast . . .

CN: Sure.

KS: Every once in a while you're going to have a gifted athlete that doesn't have to train with the weights, but 99% of those guys train with weights. And I've been there and I've worked with the fastest people in the world . . . Marion Jones and some of the other sprinters out in California, and I've been at their training sessions . . . Maurice Greene and Larry Wade and all those guys from HSI . . . and I've been to their training sessions and weight training is definitely a mandatory part of their training. And that's across the board with any type of quality strength and conditioning program; the coaches must stay on the cutting edge of technology and terminology if they want to compete nowadays.

CN: Now, I know you're a proponent of teaching speed and in talking to the players, that's one of the things they've been most excited about. In fact I spoke to a former player who mentioned that he was faster as a high school senior than he was when he left Iowa State, and this was a guy who was a star. And so when I mentioned to him your philosophy for teaching speed, he was very excited. But how is the teaching of speed and explosiveness coming along with these guys? Have you been able to see marked improvements in their speed and explosiveness?

KS: Oh, absolutely. The guys shock themselves. When they get out and run and normally they see their 20 times, or the 40 times, and just basic conditioning has increased with the philosophy that I have put in place here. But the main thing is once again getting those guys to believe that what they're doing is going to work. Across the board some people believe that the bigger you get the slower you get. That's incorrect. . . that's incorrect. Guys here have gained 10 to 15 pounds of muscle and dropped seconds, you know, two- and three-tenths seconds in their 40. So, if you train properly in the correct manner and technique, it is possible, and I know that from experience, to get faster, to get explosive.

CN: Now I know body fat is something you monitored on these guys. What's that looking like in terms of the physical changes?

KS: We do a Bod Pod analysis; that's where have a body fat analysis . . . it's a cylinder we put them in and it measures the body mass index, the amount of muscle, fat and water that they have in their body, it gives us a readout, and guys' body fat has dropped tremendously and muscle mass have increased. And we're getting ready to do that here in a day or two, so guys can see that their muscle mass has increased and body fat has decreased. And of course you can see that, you know . . . but I want them to see it on paper, that what they're doing is working, and it's going to pay off. And my thing I preach to them all the time is the harder you work now, the easier it's going to be during the season. So that's one thing, and then seeing the progress that they've made by working hard now, so it's automatically going to be easier as far as the physicality part of it. And I say, "Now, you still have to do your position work, study your position and your keys and things, too, but as far as the physicality part of it, it won't even be a challenge."

CN: So these guys are ready for two-a-days.

KS: Oh yeah.

CN: Now in terms of two of the units, and I've always believed this: Football is won in the trenches. Where are we seeing the offensive line in terms of their development, and the defensive line in terms of their development, and with the offensive line I know there were some things like hand-eye coordination, foot drills and things like that that you-all were focusing on. How have those things come along over the summer?

KS: Those guys have progressed to the point where they have amazed themselves, and I call those guys the foundation of the offense and the defense. Everyone loves to use the term ‘won and lost in the trenches' which is true, but my thing is, you know, that's the first line of defense, whether you're on the offense, you're defending the quarterback, or you're on the defense, you defend the offense by not letting the opponent score. It's a different philosophy down in the trenches now, and those guys are aggressive; they attack the weights, and it's more of an aggression, each and every time they come up against an obstacle . . . so those guys have worked hard. They're still my big guys, but they're more explosive, they're faster, you know, and they're ready to go.

CN: When I interviewed Coach McDermott, he talked about educating some of his guys on how to eat . . . guys like Jiri Hubalek and some of them who he felt needed to put on some weight. What kind of nutritional or dietary program have you introduced these guys to, not only since being here, but particularly since spring ball?

KS: Well, in their summer training manual that I give them, it has a nutritional section in there that tells them . . . gives a caloric breakdown of everything they put in their mouths, the amount of calories, the fats, the sugar, the carbohydrates, the proteins, and I've sat down and structured and showed them how to eat and what to eat. I mean, the fast food . . . and one thing about fast food, it's accessible to them, but it's not necessarily the best thing and I just say if you can just control that desire to eat immediately, and then go and get something a little bit more healthier, you'll see your body fat decrease. And that's what those guys have done. We've got guys that have lost 10 inches off their waists, you know . . .

CN: But have added muscle and speed and strength.

KS: Yes. Yes, just by controlling what they eat.

CN: See, and now this is the kind of thing that's exciting to me as a business person. A lot of people don't realize this but we already know our magazine's schedule for the next 10 months. And to me winning doesn't just happen because you're physically gifted, but because you put in the work, and you have the plan.

KS: Preparation . . . that's exactly right.

CN: So, how much are these guys now buying into preparation as a fundamental component of what they need to do to get to that next level?

KS: They've bought into it 100%, as far as the guys who have a desire to go to the next level. And I tell them the next level is not the NFL. The next level is in your conference, representing your conference. Then from that point, going to a bowl game, and winning. So there's three levels that I talk about before going to the NFL. I say, "Win here first; you'll learn how to win, know what it feels like to win on a consistent basis, and then . . . if you're fortunate enough to go to the next level, professionally, those same traits and characteristics that you've learned here, on the collegiate level will transform or go with you over to the next level on a professional basis."

CN: Do you think that too many athletes don't realize that winning improves their stock?

KS: All they have to do is just sit down and look at the winning programs . . . and coming from the winning programs through my career, your exposure , just from coming from a winning program is enough to get you a look. Even if you aren't the best at your position, coming from a winning program is going to get you more attention than you normally would get if you . . . wasn't coming from a winning program.

CN: Now, a lot of our focus has been on the guys who were on campus, but there are a lot of newcomers. I had a chance to talk to Coach McFarland earlier. Give us your impression of the newcomers, and then who are some of the newcomers that have really stood out, so far, in the summer conditioning program?

KS: Well, all of our newcomers are in, those guys have came in in decent shape. There's nobody that came in out of shape, which shows a certain amount of commitment on their part. You know, those guys came in and they're taking classes and coming to training and have become a part of this team. You have some guys that come from a JUCO, like Chris Weir . . . him and Mr. Bell and those guys have come in that have a couple of years . . . or a year of playing under their belt on a level past high school, and that's going to help us out tremendously. Plus we have athletes that have taken it upon themselves, after they signed with Iowa State, to come in in top condition, and that shows us their dedication and that they want to play immediately. They don't want to redshirt. So the jury, if you would, is still out on who's going to play, who's going to help . . . but it remains to be seen.

CN: There are some guys that our people want to know about. First, some of the newcomers . . . if you could just make some statements about each of these guys. On offense . . . J.J. Bass, Wallace Franklin, Collin Franklin, and Cameron Bell.

KS: What I notice about those guys that you've mentioned . . . their hunger. You know the way you can look at a guy and tell that he wants to be good; he wants to play. I can see that every time I look at those guys. Every time they come in here in the morning to get their conditioning and get their weight training completed, I can see that once they step inside the door a transformation takes place and it is hard work the entire time that they're in here. They don't want to redshirt; they want to play. Which is good; that's exactly what we need because we told them, "We didn't bring you in for you to sit on the bench." If they couldn't help us, we wouldn't have brought them in.

CN: On the defensive side, you mentioned Bell . . . Weir . . . a guy that Coach Farrar was really high on, he had recruited him out of Mississippi, was Bibbs. Talk about what we're looking at in some of the defensive newcomers.

KS: One of those guys . . . is Bibbs. He has come in and his body looks like he's been under my tutelage for a year or so. He's taken it upon himself to come in in shape. He wants to be the best and he kind of has stepped up as . . . kind of the leader of the freshman class. He keeps the guys excited; he gets the chants going; he breaks them down. He asks, can he break them down; can he do this; can he do that. Which lets me know he's going to be a leader, which is great. That's exactly what we need.

CN: One of the things that's exciting in looking at the spring session . . . and I think that Coach Chizik had an advantage in some respects in being able to say to guys like Jamicah Bass and Wallace Franklin, "You guys have a chance to compete right away." But we've also heard about some of the physical gifts of these guys. We know that you've built speed; we know that you've built strength and size. But talk about your impression of some of the physical gifts of the players here, now that they're starting to develop their talent. Do these guys have the physical gifts to compete at the highest levels of not only Big 12 football, but college football. You've been around some great players, so you have that insight.

KS: Yes, like I tell the guys every day, it doesn't matter what color that we play, what color the uniform. No one can measure your heart. No one can measure your desire to be the best, your desire to win. You don't have to be the biggest; you don't have to be the fastest. But nobody's going to out-work you, and that's mainly what it comes down to. . .who puts in the most work when it comes down to work time? And that's during the pre-season training , summer training, and during the games. Who puts in the most work? And I told the guys, "You know, our opponents may be larger than us, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to win, that they're going to beat us down." I say, "Trust in me. You can see that the hard work you're putting in is going to pay off."

CN: See, one of the things in the past that was frustrating about Iowa State . . . the second Saturday in September, they would go up against a perennial Top 10 team in Iowa. And for five years in a row they beat them and then they alternated their victories and losses. So here's a team that was capable of beating consistently a Top 10 team, a that went to New Year's Day bowls . . . won some New Year's Day bowls. But then they would get into the Big 12 and all of a sudden struggle against the Baylors and struggle against the Kansases and . . . and blow leads. And that spoke to attitude more than aptitude or ability. So then, do these guys now realize that they can compete every single week of the year?

KS: Absolutely. My thing, and I preach to them all time, is we will perform in the fourth quarter like we perform in the first quarter. That's the type condition and mental preparation that I've taken the guys through. So just as fast, just as tough as you are in the first quarter . . . you're going to be the same way in the fourth quarter. So the game is going to be your fun time. That's why we're working so hard now, so when the season gets here, it'll be fun time . . . it'll be victories coming our way. So that's the thought process, that's the mental mindset that I've established for them and nothing else is acceptable.

CN: Now just a couple of last questions . . . There are some guys that I think our people want to hear about. We know that the Blythes and the Meyers have gotten a lot of the attention, but Jason Scales, R.J. Sumrall . . . some of the guys who haven't necessarily gotten the accolades. How are these guys looking, particularly Scales and Sumrall, during the summer?

KS: These guys have transformed so much as far as the confidence and their physical ability. And I tell the guys all the time, particularly those two, "Trust your training. Trust your body. Don't be afraid of anything, any opponent, any weight, or any task." And that's the mindset that I've preached since I've been here. You know, it's alright to fail but don't be afraid to try. Try as hard as you can, and if you fail we'll live another day to try again just as hard. And I train these guys to be the best that there is.

CN: How is Jason Scales' health?

KS: Great. He is ready to go. He's strong; he's like a big muscle, if you would. He's healthy and ready to go.

CN: Well, that's good news. We followed him here in Des Moines during his high school career, so it's good that he's healthy and going to get a shot.

KS: Oh, yes, definitely.

CN: Well, Coach, is there anything that we haven't covered that you'd like to share with our listeners and our readers as we wrap this up?

KS: Well, I just want to thank the fans and the community for their support, because everywhere I go people are excited about Cyclone football, which is great. And in my community that I live in, the neighbors are so excited that every time that I'm out in the yard or drive up, somebody will come over, or somebody will stop at the fence if I'm in the backyard and talk about how excited they are about Cyclone football . . . welcome to the neighborhood . . . and they're looking forward to the season. So my thing to all the fans is thank you for your support and come out. Come early, be loud, and stay late and support the Iowa State Cyclones.

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