Nor will it stop, or even slow down much at all. Mississippi State's strength coach and staff are the only Bulldog mentors allowed to work with the Bulldogs this part of the college calendar after all. So Court and assistants are taking full advantage, running (and lifting of course) roster members who are on campus for summer sessions. Four weeks into the June schedule, Court sat down with Dawgs' Bite for an update on how this ‘off' season is going.
Sure, spending 15 minutes with a writer was one more addition to his day's list, but Court actually welcomed the chance to talk about his first six months on the Mississippi State job. It'S Friday and players had already run through their morning session after all, and if there is one thing Court doesn't care for it is being bored. "I like to have nine things to do in an hour!"
Oh, and for someone so relatively new to this program, Court has already made one mark. He is the first Mississippi State coach of any year, any sport to use ‘dullard' during an interview. No, it was not aimed at the interviewer.
Are you satisfied how the first six months have gone? Coach Rick Court: "I couldn't write a better story on how they've gone. My staff is great, my relationship with the strength staff has been great. My relationship with Coach Mullen has been awesome. And the football coaches and all the support staff involved with us. And then most importantly the players, it's been phenomenal."
"They're training hard, they're exceeding expectations that we set for them daily in my opinion. But, we're still not where we need to be at. But I couldn't be happier at this point."
How do you set expectations for a team you're still learning? "It's pretty simple. Wherever I work the expectations are going to be to win championships. So it's not very difficult. When I come here my expectations are to win the Division championship, win the conference championship, move on into the new playoffs. That's my goal, so that's my expectation with the players. My job is to make sure they can see that vision and work up to the expectations physically and mentally in the weightroom. That all needs to carry into practice and so on."
You've said every team has a personality, have you learned this team's? "This team's personality is a ‘grunt work' team in my opinion. They kind of bring their lunch pail and they work daily. I don't feel like we're trying to find times to ‘hide'. I mean we're grinding right now into the fourth week of the summer and my staff and I are coming at them; and they're coming right back at the workout."
Is that part of having a team with so many veteran players? "Oh there's no question that the veterans are sticking out and keeping the team doing that. Because their actions are contagious to the other players. Honestly their actions are contagious to my staff and I, I mean it gets us excited to come and train these guys. Because we know group to group, week to week, they're coming ready to work. It's an awesome situation when you can come in and be excited to train those kids."
Players sometimes take time adapting to new coaches and systems on the field, is it the same with strength programs? "Yeah, there's an adjustment period for sure. Terminology might be a little different. Maybe not a chin-up is a chin-up, a bench is a bench, a squat is a squat; but I might want hand placement different, or get deeper on a squat."
"The main difference is learning what my personality is and then maybe the way I want my staff's personality to be overall. The way my staff has been, it's been nothing but positive in terms of a great addition to the team and to the program in my opinion."
Did you do post-spring testing of the players? "We did some evaluation stuff. More in the winter. I don't do anything specifically like today is test day. It's just part of our plan to work out. We record everything we do every day and the goal is to get stronger; you'll never hear me say in season we're going to maintain strength or maintain skill level. You always try to get stronger, so every day is a test to our guys. That's all part of the expectation, every day is to get better. Guys are right where they need to be at this point whatever today is, June 27."
Does that fit into Coach Mullen's philosophy that everything done here is competition? "Yeah, I mean everything is competition. We're at the point now I don't tell the guys hey, this is competition; everything just is. The competition is I told you to get this many reps, get it or exceed it. You did this many chin-ups last time, get one more. All of our running is either on a stopwatch a beep timer and you have to go beat those times whatever it may be. Without having to say everything is a competition, everything is built-in because of the mechanisms we use when we train them.""Number one, we have to make sure our guys have a great competitive spirit. If you don't, you're not going to be very good anyway. Now, I think when I talk or with the energy of our staff they know that it is going to be competition and you have to go win this right now. There are levels to everything, a first place team and a last place team. In everything you want to do you'd want to be at the upper echelon, your classwork or weightroom, the strongest on the o-line or d-line. I would think you'd want to be at the highest level all the time."
When we talk about strength programs it is always in a team sense, but really this is a tailored approach to individuals? "Yeah, we do different things (such as) with o-line and d-line in terms of maybe more the running distances they do, the times they have to make. But the one thing people need to realize about strength is just because you may bench 400 pounds that doesn't mean you're football strong. I've coached plenty of guys that were very strong in the weightroom but they might not have ‘contact courage' to actually hit people. They might be tentative in that nature."
"And on the flip side I've coached guys that have good weightroom strength but they are so football strong; their hands, their violent mentality on the football field that's their genetic make-up. I think if you ask a strength coach or a football coach, you want to have that. Now if I can train that kid to be a 400-pound bench or squat or whatever and they have that mentality, well, you're going to make for pretty good success as an individual."
What stage are you in on the calendar? "The way it is for us right now, June is like a mini-winter program. It's a grind, get stronger, get in great shape, work on speed. It is a mix of all-encompassing parts. In July we'll really start to key in on making sure they have enough time in the day to do their football skills. Some of our running will be more patterned to football-specific movements and football positions. Like DBs back-pedaling, opening up their hips; and the receivers doing more position movements that they will do in August camp."
"We're going to continue to get stronger but we might not do as many sets or reps. The intensity will be high at all times but I'll dictate the difference in volume of the day. The running and conditioning will be upped a little bit more and we'll pull-back on some other things. July is when I want to try to get in complete football shape, as best as we can. Because you're never going to be in football shape until you go through the camp. That's football."
What have you seen from the summer freshmen? "My impressions have been great. As a whole they are hard-working, good kids. I think they're handling it as best they can handle it as a freshman class."
How do you tailor summer work for somebody just fresh out of high school? "Because of their academic daily schedule, study tables and all that, I train them just as a group. So they are by themselves. Within a team setting and team run once or twice a week so they are with the full team. But we start off slow with them. It is an integral part for me and my staff to teach them exactly how we want stuff done, from what they wear in the weightroom to how they do the bench, how they squat, how they train their neck, how they use this machine. We're able to really dial-in and take them through in small groups with my staff so there's a lot of coaching. The music is a little bit lower."
"As the weeks go on we add more sets, more reps, the music gets higher. Really after three weeks is when we engulf them into the full program. We take baby steps on them because if we lose them early we'll lose them for four months. If we can get them to get into how we do it early it gives us more time to develop them."
I saw the sign on an office wall, ‘only strength coaches allowed to touch the music'. Seriously that is much a part of the atmosphere as anything else? "My personality is high-tempo, high-energy. I don't like boring. I like noise, I like to have nine things to do in an hour. With the music going on and we go from this drill to that drill, as much ‘organized chaos' is going on, I think you feed off that. And I want that to be part of our personality. Obviously it's your toughness, but it is high energy, it's loud, it's enthusiastic. I don't know a lot of people that wake up every day and want to be around a dullard. You want to be around some energetic people and excitement. That's what winning is and what the game of football is, so we have to nurture that in the summertime."
Since the NCAA began allowing freshmen to come to school in summer, when do players—not just freshmen—get a break from all the things demanded of them on and off the field? How do you get them rest? "Huh, that's a great question! A couple of things we do here, they will have a little bit of time off between summer sessions. Some might be up here, some might go home, but they will have some time off. We give all our freshmen big brothers, which is obviously a veteran on our team or a second-year guy who does a good job. Part of their job is not hold the hand of but just guide."
"The one thing with our sport is as soon as you come on campus you have 80, 90, 100 potential friends. We'll dictate not only the position group of that player but we'll give them a big brother that can be there for that person. Hey man, I'm getting a little tired or man I've got study hall…they've all been through it so they can maybe help them create a calendar or daily or weekly plan. Because they have so much going on throughout the day. That's a big deal. I lean on my staff for ideas and different things, where a freshman will be able to lean on an upperclassman."
Who are some veterans you might want to say are setting a tone for the entire team? "Man, honestly there are so many of them. I would be doing too many guys an injustice to say. Probably everybody you guys think of, who people are anticipating out of. It's not one position, there are so many people I wouldn't be fair if I just singled out ten people."
Every honest strength coach will say nothing they do is magic or special, there are no gimmicks; they are as good as their material. How do you evaluate the material that Coach Mullen has assembled here? "That's a great question. Very simply put, when you see these kids and when you talk to them and their eyes are on you and I can see if they're coachable…that's the number-one attribute to me. A team that I think can have a chance. If they're coachable then you're going to have a chance. Because that means more than likely all of the other skill-sets are going to be pretty solid."
"From the way thy work to the way they watch film, how they listen to their academic people and advisors on campus. With good, coachable kids you're going to have a chance regardless of four- or five-star, they're not going to be here if they don't have a physical skill set. That's a given. So it's a coachable skill set."