Balis Fires Bulldogs Up For Spring Program

The title ring true, because Matt Balis didn't name that special period ‘Hell Week' just for the heck of it. "It was hell!" he confirmed.

No, the Mississippi State strength coach made sure that the past week, the third of his spring semester program, lived up to its label. Balis and staff put returned, redshirted, and mid-year enrolled Bulldogs through a particularly grueling few days of extra efforts. Sort of a shock to their system, as it were, to get MSU mindsets serious about the spring's regimen.

Now that Hell Week is completed the Bulldogs are settling into the real routine of this semester with more normal weight and work periods. 2012's schedule is different for Balis, too. The last couple of springs saw practices begin in late February, pause for the semester break, then resume for a few weeks prior to the Maroon-White game. This time around, Coach Dan Mullen has pushed practicing back to cram all 15 sessions between March 22 and Super Bulldog Weekend.

Meaning that Balis has undisputed claim on all players until then. Which might make this a pretty infernal spring for all involved.

Q: How did Hell Week go? "It was hell! It was good, it was a good way to see our team, see what we have, challenge guys, see what kind of fight we have, who is all-in. We borrowed Hell Week obviously from the Navy SEALS, they're the ultimate fighting machine along with all our military, we look up to them. So we try to teach our kids a little bit of what their team is about and how to fight together. And just mentally fight through things. Along with physical, but the mental aspect is really, really important."

Q: How much cleaning of the stadium was required? "Well, you don't really know! But I think it's more the mind part even than the physical. Because our guys are in pretty good shape so it is hard to get them physically sometimes because they are in such good shape and they are good workers. But what we do mentally is tougher on them than physically sometimes."

Q: What kind of mental challenges do they face during that week? "The early workout times are hard, things you have to do together. We had some team-building things together that I think were positive, and hard. Competition, competing. Any time you throw competition in there when you're tired that makes things a lot tougher because you're going to go harder. You never want to lose in front of your peers."

"Just the different schedule, the whole team had to get up early for the entire week. That's very tough with all the other responsibilities they have with school, tutoring, and what-not. All that combined made it just a tougher challenge."

Q: What kind of things do they do during the week? "There's running, we have certain interval runs we challenge them with, and during interval runs they're doing calisthenics/ One half is doing the interval run while the other half is doing calisthenics. So that's tough because you have to make your run time plus during your rest time you're doing calisthenics."

"Part of the Hell Week was also to go to the stadium, and complete a stadium deal in a competitive format. While all this was going on you still have to come and get your lift times in. So those workouts in itself are hard enough, when you throw the lifts on top of it you're really pushing the body, pushing the mind past what it normally is used to. It's not something you'd ever want to start with your first week, because you're not ready for it. But week-three we felt they were conditioned, they had two weeks to get involved in the program, get in shape, get their bearings."

Q: How was it for the five mid-year guys? "It's hard for them. So what you try to do with them is get an individual strength coach with them and kind of slow things down. Because there is no way from a technique standpoint they're going to learn the technique of all your movements right away. So they have to learn the technique, they're not going to be used to the tempo we train at. So that takes time."

"Whether you're a mid-year guy, junior college or a freshman, you still probably haven't done anything like this. So you have to have a couple of days at least to get your bearings underneath you. Your junior college guys are older so they are going to be a little bit better. A little bit But there is still an adaptive period for them as well."

Q: You always talk about leaders, is anybody stepping up? "Guys are trying. John Banks, Cameron Lawrence are definitely trying. Corey Bromfield, Devin Jones, Gabe Jackson, Tyler Russell."

Q: How good is it to see the carry-over from year to year? "It's awesome because you get to see them mature and take ownership of their team. It's really awesome."

Q: Some guys seem to enjoy the results, like Chad Bumphis' twitter handle of being Balis-made. They seem to embrace this? "I think any time you're able to conquer a challenge, something that is really, really hard you feel proud of yourself. And part of what Coach Mullen wants is he wants our team feel we're the most invested. So when a guy goes through our program they feel like ‘yeah, I've conquered, I've achieved something really great. So there's no question they feel really proud."

Q: Have any of the newcomers stood out so far? "I think they're all talented guys. I'm really excited about them. You look at Denico Autry, I think he's going to be really good, he has all the tools to be a really good player. We just have to get his feet wet and get all-in and learn how to do everything. But we're definitely excited about him. I mean all the kids, Quay Evans and Siddoway and Holley, Justin Senior, the upside for those guys is really good."

Q: Is there any more pressure on getting these guys up to speed? "You want to do your best with all of them but you don't want to take shortcuts with them. So even though you have to get them in shape as fast as you can, you don't want shortcuts. You want to do it the right way. So pressure or not you still have to do it the right way."

Q: Do you take the same approach with them. "No, any time you're new there is a certain protocol you have to follow so you learn it the right way."

Q: Do you have specific goals for them? "Yeah, we have physical goals that every guy is challenged to achieve when we start the off-season. We'll do rep-max testing, vertical jump, forty, we'll do all that stuff. Even after spring ball we have goals that we give them to try to hit based upon what they did last year. I think every person needs goals, we make everything competitive, Coach Mullen loves the competitive aspect of training. That brings out the best in everybody."

Q: What size staff do you have working with you on this program? We have three full time strength coaches, one grad assistant, so that's five. Then we have three interns that are kind of off-and-on, so really five."

Q: How are the injured players doing, Nickoe Whitley and Tobias Smith? "Good. They're both coming along pretty well. I think those two guys are such big parts of our team that I'm really pleased with how they're coming along, how they're working. And their attitudes most importantly, their attitudes are great."

Q: How much are they able to do right now? "They can do a lot of the stuff. There are some limitations, Tobias is coming along; Whitley is slower than Tobias. But the process of getting back is different for everybody. But they're both attacking."

Q: Who are some of the guys working to get ready for combines? "Our combine guys, that's Fletcher Cox, Vick Ballard, Quentin Saulsberry, Charles Mitchell, Jim Carmon, Sean Ferguson, Damein Anderson. They're all in there working together, I think four days a week."

Q: What do you work on with them? "They're more focused on the (scout) tests, honestly. The speed, the forties, the tens, the change of direction drills, the pro agility, the ‘L' drills, the sixty for you big skill. We do some other regular conditioning drills. And we still train them in the weightroom, upper and lower. But we're emphasizing obviously the bench press because that's a test they're going to take. The vertical jump and the broad jump as well."

Q: We heard Fletcher is testing very well? "Yeah, he's awesome. And he's gifted, he works hard and takes it very seriously. And I think he's going to be a great pro. He doesn't talk about it, he lets his actions speak. He's special. He's blessed, but also when he flips the switch you see all his tools at another level."

Q: The last couple of years spring practices began in February, this year it is late March. How is the workout plan for spring adjusting? "We meet with the coaches and they put together a plan where a certain aspect of it is just training. In that, the first phase was Hell Week. Now we're in our competitive phase so a lot of what we're doing is competitive. As we finish that phase we go into a more football-specific phase as we approach spring ball. The way we set the schedule up for the longer break I think is awesome."

Q: With the NFL season over you get a lot of those guys back here, what is it like? "It's great when you have a Pernell McPhee, K.J. Wright, Kyle Love, Jamar Chaney, Anthony Dixon, all those guys back when our guys see them. Because it is everyone's dream to play at that next level, and when they see them come back and want to be a part of what we're still doing it makes them feel like ‘wow, this is what the best do. You know, credibility towards our program. More than that, it's awesome for them to see great role models that got to the next level because they worked hard. Obviously they're very talented, you can't play at that level if you're not gifted. But they were all very hard workers, and I think that's the biggest thing our kids will see is, how they work and wow you really have to work hard to be at the next level."

Q: How many come back to work with you in the off-season? "We've seen them all. Obviously K.J. and Derek (Sherrod) those guys just left. But Chaney has come back a few times, Pernell is back, Kyle came back last year. I want to say all of them at some point come back. Now they all have their programs from their strength coaches from their professional teams so they have to stick to those plans. But they just want to come back and get around the guys, be around us. It's huge for us."

Q: What feedback do you get on their regimen? "Every strength coach is different at the pro level. I always ask how are you doing, they always say it's going great, what we did here really prepared me for what we have to do there. Because there are unique challenges at the pro level, those guys are really good at what they're doing. So they challenge them in a lot of ways physically and mentally, so I feel what we do here helps prepare them for that next level."

Q: Do they compare how tough what they do now is to what they did here? "Yeah, just the grind. There is such a longer grind, the mental grind of it is harder. Now the better part there is obviously they're not in class so they have more time to spend in recovery. But they all love it and are having a great time, which is most important."

Q: Will you tell Boobie anything about his new hair cut and color? "Yeah, when he was here we made a comment. But you love Anthony, he is his own guy! The best thing about Anthony is he goes as hard as he possibly can go and doesn't pace himself. He just goes."

Q: Have you sent the workout plan to all the new signees? "Yes. It's a good size!"

Gene's Page Top Stories