TT caught up with new football strength and conditioning Coach Rick Court last week for all the latest from the Terps football weight room, under his watch now the first six months or so, as one of head coach D.J. Durkin's most impactful hires thus far.
Court has all the current Terps football players on campus working out and in summer school session one, as well as the new crop of freshmen, the majority of which arrived last week.
"You know, 'big picture' we had a plan to create the culture that we wanted to create. As with everybody with their own twist, we came in with the pedal to the ground, said this was the standard, and we're not coming down, you guys have to come up everyday," Court said. "We, in terms of a strength staff, we took the approach to basically suffocate...I mean, and for lack of a better word, come in and strangle the guys every day and not let go. But they understood where they needed to go, and they have done a great job with that, a great job."
Court said every player has gotten better as far as work ethic, attitude, and enthusiasm, "and the buy-in was quick (back in the January), and it's still there. So we are just continuing to go as fast as we can in terms of our energy every day to keep pushing. It's been consistent, both our energy and the players. So "big picture" was the culture we set out to get, which we have."
Court only wanted to discuss in generalities what had to change the most in the transition last winter out of respect for the former staff.
"When you haven't won big in a while, and I am not talking five or six wins, I am talking win games, like every game you go into thinking you are going to win," he said. "I think there is a lull, there is a complacency thing. And I am not saying anything bad, I am no one to judge anything before. But I know what we did and what we want to see, we wanted a passion and energy to just improve every day. And if you bring that every day to the building you got a shot. So we wanted to show our way, to embrace everybody in the building is here to help the kids out, from the strength coaches to the nutritionist, and that it was an atmosphere they [the players] wanted to be a part of."
When asked of more specifics, Court said "we are not a big numbers-driven program," when asked if any new program records had been established on his early watch, but that "all of our guys are strong and in shape. And the guys know it."
Court said they obviously have strength standards for where they need to be to compete in the Big Ten, etc., "but if you have a mental capacity to go be tough, and to go and strain, all those things take care of business. So there is no one number that is great or astonishing, as we have a lot of really good things going on with numbers like players that are stronger than they have every been in one exercise or whatever. But in the weight room and conditioning, I knew we are in a great spot. And they know what they are doing is obviously working."
Like many strength coaches, Court did not want to give many numbers or dole a lot of individual sugar. But he did reveal some pace-setters in the weight room ("But at the same time, I don't want to jump on any guys' boats because we're still not even at the halfway point of summer.")
"But Will Likely's leadership, the way he goes about his business every day. If I am a player on this team, I'm trying to latch on to learn how he goes about his business and I want to mimic that," Court said.
Court also mentioned OL Mike Dunn, DB Alvin Hill, QB Perry Hills and RB Wes Brown among "top five material."
"And the good news is there are not many guys I would say 'hey, these guys are bad.' But they all know pats on the back from me come when we win. So I am not jumping on too many bandwagons, I want to see what happens on Saturdays when it comes with the W's."
As for units, and while he would not give out group figures/increases there either, he singled out the defensive line and its progress since he took over as a top unit.
"Their energy has been outstanding. They effort has been really good. And their weight room measureables, the way we do it has been great. It is a strong, well-conditioned group that stands out to me each day I see them."
Also, as far as a Terp that has come the furthest under his watch thus far, that would be linebacker Jalen Brooks, who has long been a long and rangy type, but has now put on some significant size and bulk.
"Jalen, and he would attest to it, he was very poor in the weight room. Just in terms of numbers. But now he has done over and above in terms of training. He still has room for improvement, no question about it, but he has done a great job."
Meanwhile, the freshman class is on campus working out and conditioning, including a 6 AM morning team run one day last week.
"My first impression is they are willing group that is excited and passionate to get to work in the weight room," Court said. "They are excited and eager to learn to get in the mix as fast as possible. They are competitive, and that's what we are looking to get, competitive players."
Court also said he has worked with fifth-year senior transfer receiver Teldrick Morgan for five days, and he has been "a very solid addition from what I have seen in a week."
Court did not want to get into any health/injury issues, or trends since taking over, deferring any such questions to Durkin, who is the only coach allowed to comment on injuries and the like.
And while Court watches the quick progress across the street at NuCole, site of Maryland's future indoor facility, Court is busy re-tooling his own staff and house as well. He hired a full-time nutritionist for football last month, and then last week hired a sports performance coordinator/sports science guru (and former military ops guy), Mason Baggett, who arrived from Illinois.
"With the NuCole Field House coming up, we just want to make sure we are a forward-thinking environment, on the forefront of what's going on out there, and what we can possibly do to enhance our players' ability to not only play football, but just have energy throughout the day to do the other stuff you need to do with college academics and rest and recover appropriately," Court said.
But all in all, the project across the street has everyone buzzing, especially down in Court's court.
"I just couldn't more excited. I have been involved in a lot of the meetings about the building, and the weight room as same as the building. But the weight room specifically is going to be one-of-a-kind, in terms of square footage, in terms of our cardio-vascular area. In terms of some of the technology...I have seen what the specs look like, the technology...all I know is the flow for the athletes, how we are doing the nutrition, the academic part of it, the training room, and recovery and players lounge, there is no corner being cut in terms of this project. These guys are going to have every single tool from every aspect of the program to develop into really, really good football players."