Unable to spend much time with their position coaches during the off-season, the players are in the hands of U of L strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp during the winter months. Veltkamp and his staff drew praise from Steve Kragthorpe during his Thursday press conference.
"I'm impressed by our strength staff," said Kragthorpe. "Jason Veltkamp and his staff have done a tremendous job for us this off-season by taking our players and continue to develop them as athletes. They have done a great job getting those guys ready to play.
With the strength and conditioning staff remaining intact following the coaching change, the players have enjoyed having no change in their off-season conditioning process and expectations.
"It's been a really smooth transition," said Veltkamp. "Coach Kragthorpe is really easy to get to know. He's very personable and he's a big believer in strength and conditioning. When you have a coach like that it makes it easier. If you have a head coach that is going to put his full backing behind you, then you get done whatever you want."
"The kids have had a great winner," said Veltkamp. "These guys were apart of a program with a coach that won a lot, but they also see that coach Kragthorpe went into the smallest I-A school in the country and won a ton of games, so the bottom line is that the players want to win and they will do what they need to do to win. I think we have some of the most coachable kids in the country."
The goal of each player during the off-season is always the same - bigger, stronger and faster - something U of L has excelled at under the direction of Veltkamp.
"Our winter program has a big focus on speed and that didn't change," Veltkamp explained. "In the weight room we do a lot of things to grind them down and compete and we always finish the day off with some kind of competition."
As they prepared to start practice this week, the players have been tested in numerous categories, such as 10-yard and 40-yard runs, pro agility, bench press and squat.
"We ran on Monday and we had some huge individual performances," said Veltkamp. "Harry Douglas ran in the low 4.3's for the (NFL) scouts. Lamar Myles actually ran in the mid to low 4.4's and he's as big as he's ever been at 219 pounds."
Myles, who totaled four starts as a sophomore last fall, is often compared to former Cardinal linebacker Robert McCune.
In addition to impressive performances by Douglas and Myles, two offensive linemen have also had a strong week of testing.
"There are some other guys who have had a great week of testing. On the offensive line, Eric Wood has been outstanding. He's been a great leader for us, but he also came out at 300-pounds and ran a 5.0 on Monday. All his testing and strength scores have been through the roof. He's just having another great off-season and continues to get better."
"Breno Giacomini had a great winter. He'll probably end up being an offensive lineman full time, but that will unfold during spring ball, but he's another guy that scores through the roof."
"Anthony Allen - at 235-pounds - has run some great times this week," Veltkamp said of the sophomore running back. His pro agility time (Wednesday) was 4.16 and for a kid that big, that's outstanding. That's a time that Michael Bush would have never touched. Latarrius Thomas has scored well on all of our running tests and Peanut Whitehead had a good squat yesterday and has ran well."
Freshman wide receiver Josh Chichester enrolled at U of L in January and has done nothing but impress since joining the team during the off-season.
"Chichester has been outstanding this winter," said Veltkamp. "He's put on about 18 pounds since he's been here and you can't see it. He's all arms and legs and he bends really well. He has good speed for a 6-foot-7 kid, which means that by the time he's done here that he'll be outstanding."
Entering his fourth year as the program's head strength and conditioning coach, Veltkamp has created an atmosphere that breeds hard work and improvement.
"We've tried to instill an attitude that this is what it takes to be great," said Veltkamp. "The older guys let the young guys know if they aren't training hard enough. Every year that torch has been passed. When the older kids hold the younger kids to that kind of training standard you get the type of attitude you want and you see them grow and mature."
He's also noticed their excitement for practice grow as the start of spring practice neared.
"I feel really good about them right now," said Veltkamp. "By this time they can't wait to get on the field. This week during workouts I've been telling them to work safe because on Friday they get to go sort everything out on the field. Every time that I have said that they all get big smiles on their faces because they can't wait to get out on the field again. They‘re excited to get out there."