The July semester is something of a transition, as Balis explained, with emphasis shifting slightly from strength into conditioning. Specifically, a little less lifting and a lot more running. More than the work seems to be going good for the Bulldogs, because just in time for this transition the weather has also shifted. Instead of running in the sort of grueling dry heat seen here in June, they are outside in cooler and breezier conditions. That has further boosted Bulldog attitudes this week.
Balis met with media Wednesday to discuss the July plans as well as generally update the program. The talk began with a question about getting the true summer freshmen up to speed with the varsity.
"I think the key thing is the first couple of weeks letting them be on their own and getting used to training, working out, how to work out, the tempo of our workouts, the techniques making sure everybody is safe."
"This is our fourth summer so the guys that have done this for four years if you watch them train, they've adapted to what we do and are so far ahead that when you bring in the new kids to try to jump in there it's almost impossible to do that. Not only from a safety standpoint but just strength and conditioning, they're nowhere close to the level they need to be at. So the key this is those first two weeks to be separate, learn how to do the different movements that we teach, let them adapt slowly. And then slowly start to bring them in with the older guys. There's that, getting to know the guys. They're so young and got so many things going that you want to let them be separate for the first few weeks just to get their feet yet."
Q: Would a Xavier Grindle be separated as the latest addition? "We didn't separate because he's by himself. What I do is put him with a potentially great worker that we have, and I'll take him to the side and explain to him what we're doing. When it's just one kid it is manageable, you can protect him like that. But to have 19 like we have it's impossible."
Q: You say ‘potentially great workers', do you see those? "Oh yea. Like a LaDarius Perkins, you can put a Grindle, a young running back like that, with an older great worker. That's what I meant."
Q: Do you prefer to match positions or skills-with-skills and bigs-with-bigs? "You know everything is based on class schedule. So you have your schedule of guys, and whoever is the not only a good worker but also somebody that is going to can teach a young guy, put their arm around them a little bit. Because some guys work really hard but aren't great at "this is what you do". There has to be some verbal dialogue to teach them how to do some things."
"So you have to look at that as well when you're pairing the guys up. We pre-plan every workout, every partner, every set. Two guys, three guys, usually two, to see who's going to work best together. Because if you put two great workers (together) you're going to see some great things, if you have to guys that aren't great workers yet, that haven't learned it, you're not going to get anything out of it. So especially with the young kids you want to put them with guys that are experienced but also will teach them and push…but also are good enough to still get a workout themselves, not get slowed-down."
Q: Is the program the same this fourth summer or is it increased? "I think our template is similar. The philosophy is what we do. You can manipulate and change certain things here and there, but for the most part you're going to do a lot of the same things you know. You know what works and what gets guys in shape."
"You don't do the exact same stuff because it gets boring. We change that up, we add little things here and there. To say that we do more, I don't think so. I don't think you need to do more. The key is how little can you do and get the results you're looking for, so you don't over-train them. That being said, I think we do a lot of things to keep our work capacity up. We're big on mental and physical toughness. So we want the guys to move a good amount of weight but that's not our main focus. Our main focus is can we be stronger throughout the entire workout."
"So we might move some big weight in the beginning but we still want to be able to do that at the end of the workout. So we change it up that way. A typical workout might start out with something explosive, then go to kind of a multi-joint strength movement; then go to a single-joint or auxiliary movements. Sometimes some of the guys start at an explosive movement, some start at a multi-joint movement, some start at not exactly a single-joint but an assisted movement; then they kind of rotate that way so we can see OK, are certain guys still strong at the end of the workout in their ‘powerful' movements?"
"Because in a football game situation you don't just have to be strong for the first play or the first quarter. You've got to be strong for the second quarter, for the third quarter, be strong for the fourth quarter obviously, you have to be ready to play overtime. So we train that way."
"I think that's a big thing we're doing more of this summer. We're running first sometimes, not all the time; but when you run first you exhaust the body and have depleted some of the glycogen in there. The guys have used a lot of that energy fluid and the energy system is tired, their ATPPC from running. So you get them inside and say now OK, we're going to move some weight; well that's kind of like the second half of a game. You've already blown yourself out the first half glycogen levels are down, you're ATPPC is down. But that second half you've still got to bring it, so we train that way. If that makes sense."
Q: Have you seen any upperclassmen doing things in a different way? "I think our upperclassmen are doing a phenomenal job. Their attitude is as good as it's ever been, our seniors especially. They're really, really focused."
Q: What is it like from a coaching standpoint having a Marcus Green back? "Just great because there is nothing he hasn't seen, he's been through so many trials and tribulations, he's faced a lot of adversity. Nothing bugs him. He's a statue, there's nothing he can't do. He's tough mentally, he's a great guy to have for our young guys, especially our younger tight ends."
"I love dealing with our older guys. Leadership is everything, great leadership. Bad leadership is everything! And we have great leadership."
Q: How have you seen players respond to Tyler Russell as ‘the guy' and how has he responded to that role? "Very well. He's the guy. This is what he's been waiting for, he knows it, the other kids know it, he's excited. But we also have a young guy right there with him, locked in on his hip. So it's great, he's doing a great job leading, talking to the guys. He's really been fun to be around."
"He realized what was happening, he was developing, he had his role. And he's ready for it now. He's savoring the moment, I think. He just seems like he's ready to go."
Q: Is there any checklist for getting Russell and Dak Prescott ready for contact? "No, there is nothing we can do that is going to challenge them with contact. We can't do that. So we just try to make them as durable as possible from the bottom-up of the quarterback. The legs, the core, the back and the shoulders, the traps. Make sure they are in shape and mentally strong and can handle anything through all the conditioning you do. But you really can't do anything that is contact related."
Q: What are you seeing from Johnthan Banks? "He's a great leader for us, number one. He's put on a little bit of size and strength. Everything he does, he attacks. He's like working with a professional, he does an unbelievable job. He has to be physically ready to go. His body type, when he got here he was 155 pounds, 160 pounds. He's now 187 pounds, you'd like to see him be 190, 195 pounds and be able to hold that. That's the only thing, but he's a tremendous talent as you guys know."
Q: What level are the injured spring players—Tobias Smith, Nickoe Whitley, Archie Muniz—working at? "Pretty great actually. They're doing great. I don't know percentage-wise but they are doing everything, which is awesome."
Q: How much do you intervene nutrition-wise? "Well, we give diets and meal plans and all that. we give advice, we cater out lunch and dinner for their meal plans. We're sponsored by Gatorade so everything that is legal by the NCAA we try to help them out; OK, this is why you need to drink this, grab a shake here and there. You've got to have breakfast, here's what you should eat. We have a nutritionist on staff here. It's never-ending, that is a daily battle of constant teaching and talking about how to eat. Because you know how it is, most kids are going to go get whatever is available. And most people do! So if you get kids to understand nutrition is so important, that you can alleviate injuries by great nutrition and hydration. Just those two things can stop probably 50% of injuries."
Q: Have any of the new guys caught your eye? "Well, they're very athletic. You can tell it's a great class in terms of talent. They obviously haven't played a lick of football but just watching them run and move there are some guys that are impressive looking."
Q: How does Nick James look? "Very gifted. When you watch him move you're like ‘wow', how explosive he is for his size. It's really impressive. He's still a baby, the baby fat is still on there! He moves really well for how big he is. So once he gets some training under his belt and gets used to how to do things, get with the coaches and learn everything, he's going to be really special."
Q: How does the work change from June to now in July getting ready for preseason? "From June to July the biggest difference, you're going to increase your conditioning. The running emphasis kind of moves up a little bit and the volume of your weightroom stuff drops a little bit. More emphasis on football stuff, on football energy systems. You're going to start backing off on the leg work in terms of the weightroom so as you get closer to camp guys feel their legs under them, as strong as possible but still in top shape. You have a fine line that you ride up to then."
Q: Do you see from guys who've been in your system years an awareness of staying in shape, that you don't have to coach them as much? "Yeah. Coach Mullen is unbelievable with ‘take care of your body, be a professional, make good decisions'. All those things go into play. And when you're an older guy and start doing that, you can tell, you can watch and see the guys. Every workout Coach Mullen talks about you've got to have a ‘iron man' mentality where it's not just one day, you have to be great day-in and day-out."
"And when you're taking care of your body that way, as an older guy now that you've heard it all these years to do that you're able to do that."
Q: Do you have other sports coming to you asking how you do this? "All the strength people that we've hired, we talk. You want to have everybody be their own strength person and have their own creativity, I think it's really important to not say OK, this is what we're doing. But sure, we always talk and brainstorm together. I saw you do this? How do you do that? Can we do some of that, will that help us? There's definitely some of that, yeah. The competition aspect of it especially."
Q: Have you been contacted by people who say we see what you're doing at Mississippi State, how can we do that? "Sometimes when you go out and visit places. I'm one of these guys that I always want to try to learn more. I feel like we've just started. You want to keep doing the best thing for your players."
"So yeah, there are people who want to share ideas and talk shop, and that's great. But we don't have all the answers. We want to keep learning and keep getting better. We feel very confident with Coach Mullen what he wants us to get done. We love it and we believe in it. But we always want to get better. And if there are some people that might want to share some stuff with, we have no problem doing that."