Balis Has Bulldogs Ready For Spring Ball

Sadly there is no sign in Mississippi State's magnificent new weightroom proclaiming it ‘Balis Mall'. If the coach himself has his way there won't be. Because the largest single portion of the Seal Football Complex is just fine as is. "It's a beautiful place," Matt Balis said. "It was three years in the making, we spent three years designing it, going back and forth. We're awfully proud of it."

Speaking of ‘in the making' though… This week all can get a look at the Mississippi State spring football roster which Balis has spent most of three months now preparing for practices. Camp opens Thursday afternoon for Coach Dan Mullen and the spring squad, all just back from a semester break. A break the Bulldogs surely welcomed because it came after Balis and the strength staff did their annual pre-camp testing.

Balis met with media Tuesday morning to go over general results of the semester so-far. "We had about a seven-and-a-half week program, we finished right before spring break. And we thought it went really well. We met yesterday as a strength staff and discussed some of the things we liked, the positives of our program. We thought a lot of our younger guys stepped up, and had some of their better off-seasons that they've ever had. Which is really good for us as a team."

"In terms of numbers, we always strive to overload each week to get stronger in some way, to get improvement. Whether it's through heavier weight or through more repetitions. But again as a whole, one of our goals was our younger guys had to step-up and get better. And I thought they did that."

Looking at a guy like a Preston Smith, what have you seen from him getting bigger? "His size has been pretty good lately. He's a true junior, I think he's athletic, I think he's explosive, he's strong. He can run for days, he's really a conditioned guy. So I think he's got to be a great player for us, and I thought he took the steps necessary to do that this off-season. You know, he's still developing because he didn't redshirt; if he redshirts he's a sophomore only. So even though he's a junior he's a guy who is still developing and getting better and working towards the maximum he can be. He's about 255."

How do you determine who can develop into bigger guys? "It depends a lot on their genetic potential. We try to do a great job nutritionally with our ‘breakfast clubs' and our training tables, especially the first couple of years of staying on top of their meals. Because that is a big deal, too, is how they are eating and how they are recovering."

"It's based on genetic potential, of what his body can handle and still not lose the ability to be at his best on the field. How do we know? You really don't know until they start training and start eating consistently and those kind of things."

Where is Quay Evans at now with his weight? "He probably goes back and forth. He'll carry his weight well, then he'll get a little bit heavy, and carry it well. He battles with weight in terms of he's going to be a big kid. He's going to be a big, explosive kid, he's still young in learning how to maintain that consistency in terms of body weight and where he needs to be on the field. I don't know if he's exactly sure yet where that is, we're still developing it."

How have the four early enrolled players been? "They're doing well, they all have great work ethics; Justin Cox, Kivon Coman, Artimas Samuel, and Jeremy Chappelle. Chappelle is doing well, he has a great work ethic. Cox, Kivon and Artimas, he's a little bit younger. I mean they're all developing, but I was pleased on the whole with all those guys. Because it's never easy just coming into a new program at any level, let alone ours. We go so hard and we throw a lot at them in terms of toughness and effort. It's Coach Mullen's main deal in our off-season program, relentless effort. So that's the expectation every single day. But I thought they did a good job."

Do you have an idea of any guys who might have a breakout spring because of off-season workouts? "I thought a lot of our young kids picked it up. We expected and need them to have good springs. You need all those kids to step up and play, because we don't have very many seniors as you know. So those juniors and seniors all have to come through for us. Based on what they did we expect it to be really good."

Who are some who stepped up? "I think Jamerson Love did a really solid job. He's got to come up and fill in for two phenomenal players as you know. So I thought he stepped up and made his presence known, which we have to have. Preston Smith is another guy that did that. Ferlando Bohanna is a guy that stuck out to me. You know, we've got a lot of great linebackers right now with Deontae Skinner and Benardrick McKinney who is a young guy, he came band and attacked it again. So the linebackers I thought did a really good job this offseason."

"And those DBs. Like I said, they're young. But Love sticks out to me as a guy that came; Jay Hughes is another guy who did a really good job."

Do you see the big jump from year-one to year-two? "You do. Because now they know they've got an opportunity to get some reps and to really be a factor. So the importance of what they're doing in the off-season becomes more important to them."

A lot of guys redshirted, after a full year what do you see? "Those are a talented group of guys. And those are good, hardworking kids. They're all kids I think that will do real well here. Coach Mullen and his staff did a great job recruiting great, talented players. And in our program because of the demands of effort, the demands of toughness, and what we do with their bodies, pretty much either they're going to get better or they're going to get worse. You're not ever going to stay the same in our program. All of those kids have gotten better, they're all on their way I think to great things. I know our coaches really think the same thing. They're all talented, they're all willing to work, they're all willing to get after it."

You're working now in a brand-new facility? "And from day-one we've felt so honored to be in here and really humbled by it all, the weightroom and the whole building, when you look at where we're sitting right now. We just talk about giving back and being able to appreciate this facility, to treat it the right way, to take pride in it. I think guys look at training in the new facility as kind of a neat deal, day-in and day-out its an experience. Because its so big and it flows so well, it's a great place to train. I mean, we're always going to train hard and always going to get after it. But to have a place like this to train in is a great feeling of pride, too."

For players who might change positions is this a key time to change their bodies? "It just depends on again how they're going to be able to play and how their bodies react while they play. What we do, we're a lean-body mass type of program. What I mean by that is we want to keep lean-body mass on the guys. We're not looking to lose muscle, we're not looking to increase weight just to put weight on. So if you're changing to a position that requires you to be heavier then we want to make sure we do that with lean body mass. If you're moving to a position that requires you to be leaner then we don't want to lose muscle, we want to lose body fat."

"So those are the things that we talk about with guys now. And when they go out to spring ball and they compete then they'll come back and say yes, this helped me. The lean body mass I gained was effective for me, I can still move, I'm still explosive, I still feel strong. The weight I've gained didn't affect my speed or the weight I've lost didn't affect my strength."

"It's a hard balance. Because any position you put weight on a person, you have to make sure you're not taking away from their talent, taking away from their ability to move and be explosive. That's a big thing now for spring ball, I watch and evaluate. Our job as a strength staff is to communicate with our coaches during practice and really watch and monitor and see how they move."

"And injury prevention is number-one. If they're not on the field then we didn't do our jobs. So that's a big part of it as well."

How have the new position coaches worked in? "Oh, I love them. They've instantly kind of bought into Coach Mullen's staff and to Mississippi State, they've been great with the guys and been great to work with. It's been fun."

How has Michael Carr been working? "You know, he's always been a good worker, I think, consistency and sticking with it. I think he's in better shape because he's been more consistent. Where you've seen him really improve is the consistency in his conditioning now. I think he's going to have a really good spring."

How has Nick James' weight settled, has he met the target? "He's on his way, developing. He's potentially a star, a superstar. He's just got to continue working, keep getting better. And he is, he's shown improvements. Before we left he was in the low 340s. He's a big guy, he's explosive, he moves well. His thing isn't so much weight as it is being in shape and lean body mass. The weight will come."

After three, four years it could be easy for guys to level off as seniors, have you seen any of that? "No, no. They've picked it up. They've done a great job. Like I said we don't have a lot of them so the expectation of them is high. And they've all done well in terms of setting a standard and being leaders. Maybe not as far as vocally all the time but as role models and by action."

Who would you say has stepped up as leaders? "Deontae Skinner, he's a guy that day-in and day-out come to work. Which again he's setting as standard for all the linebackers. Denico Autry is a guy we thought he set the standard at times with his work ethic, it's just really important for us. Gabe Jackson, tremendous off-season and set the standard with the o-line. And the offense, Tyler Russell hard-working guy who set the standard. LaDarius Perkins. These are all guys that had to have great off-seasons, and they did."

Is it a good sign everybody you mentioned is a starter? "Those seniors, if they're not having good off-seasons that's not good for us. And they know that, they've been with us a long time and understand that. And I wouldn't expect anything less."

How was the feedback from young players who know they go into spring competing for jobs? "Yes. There are a lot of spots open. That's partly why you probably had such an increase in those young guys' work ethic and attacking it. Because of their foresight into OK, this is my chance to get on the field, this is an opportunity for me. And I think they understand the expectations of our program better now, they've been with us longer. That's maturity as well, and maturity as a young man."

Did you adjust anything for this off-season from the past, with the small senior class? "I think our big goal this off-season was get back to the basics. Teach things really well, spend more time teaching things first rather than just 1000 miles an hour and attacking. Because I felt we needed to kind of slow it down a little bit and get all our young kids on the same page. Even our older guys. And teach it really well; and then flick the switch when we needed to flick the switch."

"In terms of differences, that's some different things we did. There's always certain things we do that you have to do in a program, that you hang your hat on. But I thought the back to the basics of just being very technically sound and being able to go as hard as you can in certain exercises in certain times, we really stressed."

You mentioned injury prevention, what are some points to that? "It's muscular balance. In terms of hamstring to quad strength, making sure hamstrings are strong and trained right. Shoulder to back, making sure your posterior delts, your lats, your traps, are built up protecting their necks and heads. And making sure our necks are trained properly."

"The muscles around the joints are always a goal, you're always trying to prevent knee injuries and ankle injuries. We spent a lot of time training those muscles around those areas. Is there certain numbers you want to get to in terms of the weightroom, no. But we have a plan of how we're going to attack the training with balance. Which we feel if done properly the guys should have a better time on the field of lasting. Now I know it all starts with Coach Mullen and his expectations and his stress on the program and flexibility before the program, and recovery after practice.

"All those things from him, from the position coaches, to us, it's kind of a teamwork type deal. If we're the only ones preaching take care of your body and no one else is the importance isn't there. But when the head coach all the way down to position coaches is preaching that then the kids understand yeah, this is pretty important. Because it's a third training, it's a third nutrition, it's a third recovery. All those areas have to be hit upon so the kids have the best chance to stay on the field."

Is that a big area to stress to new kids because they haven't had a sophisticated program before? "Oh yeah. Because in high school most of the time they're better than everyone else, so they don't have to strain and go through all the hard things you have to go through in college. And in college right away you have to train at a certain level to get your body to make these gains and get better, and to do this recovery that is needed. Because basically when you train you're tearing everything down. So they have to learn that OK, I'm tearing it down but then I've got to take care of it afterwards. That is a battle because they've never had to do it before."

How is Nickoe Whitley? "Great. Really good. Doing much better."

How does the regimen change when practice starts? "Sometimes two lifts a week, sometimes three. It goes back and forth. And spring ball is very similar to an in-season training phase. Again, you're trying to keep them healthy; your strength levels you don't want to dip too much. But the biggest thing is on the field and being able to play at maximum levels, having maximum energy. Our goals in spring ball and in-season are just don't lose everything; but it's very hard to keep their strength up, especially in the spring because you're hitting almost every time you're out there. Whereas the in-season you're maybe not hitting as much as the season gods on. But it's going to be very similar to what we've done in the past."

"We did strength testing the last week of the off-season. It's a lot of rep-max stuff, not so much based on numbers but here's your body weight, here's your lean body mass, here's what you did; how close can we stay to that through spring ball? How close can you keep your weight to what it was as we get into summer time; and then your weight goals for the actual year."

Spring ball ends on April 20, you won't have a lot of time before summer with them? "No, we've got about a week right afterward, just cleaning some things up. Just doing some combine testing, some different training we don't normally have time to do. 40s and pro agility and ‘L' drills, things like that. And then they get some time off which they need to recover before we start the summer program."

How proud are you watching the seniors on Pro Day or in NFL combines, how satisfying is that? "Oh, you're very happy for them. You know every young guy's dream is to play at that level. So when you see guys do that, especially our guys who worked so hard. I mean they really work hard, the John Banks and the Darius Slays and Josh Boyds and Cam Lawrences, the Chad Bumphis. These are hard-working, great kids. So it's a great feeling."

With Dak out and focusing on getting ready for fall, what have you seen? "He's got to get healthy. He'll be OK, he just has to get healthy. He's an awesome kid, he'll do whatever it takes to make sure he's ready to go and we'll help him, and our trainers."

Did you have to be cautious with Russell as the only quarterback for spring? "It's similar to what we've done. We try to do some more things that are quarterback-specific. But we let him get after it a little bit. Then as we got closer to the off-season ending we tell him more just quarterback specifics. But nothing much different."

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