Kelly Price, Mississippi State Athlectics

Q&A with Bulldog Football Strength Coach on Summer Squad Work

Nick Savage couldn’t have hoped for a better job audition. Obviously results preparing the Bulldogs for their blowout victory in the Belk Bowl were impressive enough, too, to remove the interim label and complete promotion to head Mississippi State strength coach.

“I’ve always taken pride in my transition, my development where if the opportunity presents itself I have to be ready,” Savage said. “That was obviously a good end to the season for everyone.”

And the more-or-less beginning of Savage’s tenure in charge as he succeeded Rick Court. “I was confident in my skills and my abilities. It was more about if it was the right fit for Coach (Dan Mullen). But at the same time I knew inside of me I’d developed the way I thought I needed to.”

Savage, 27, is readying for his third Mississippi State season having arrived with Court in early 2014. Make that readying for the pre-season which gets going August 1. He sat down Thursday for a summer state-of-State talk on how the Bulldogs are working here in mid-July.

And, Savage said, how he and his staff both full-time and student are doing their jobs. “Right. I tell my staff every day to evaluate themselves and their performance, and I do the same. Because there is a never-ending process of development and learning new things.”

“I don’t know everything, none of my assistants know everything. And the field today is so changing because of the generation of kids, because of different exercises, new research coming out. So my number-one goal is give the best to our student-athletes. At the end of the day we review, we meet, we cover what we did, what went well, what didn’t.”

“Fortunately for us we start preparing our programming six months in advance. So there’s countless hours of myself and my staff meeting on what is going to be best for our kids? What does our team need, what do these athletes need? Because not every year is the same. That’s a lot that goes into it.”


What size staff do you have? “There’s five full-time counting myself. So there are four assistants, then we have four interns give or take. They’re obviously in intern role and can’t do too much.”

“I tell my staff I don’t need five Nick Savages, or five of my other assistants. I want us all to be different. Because with the number of kids we see sometimes I may not reach home to everyone. My assistants all have different personalities, we come at different angles. If they have five Nick Savages maybe they get turned-off, know what I mean? I don’t want all the same people, I’ve got to have variety because I want to provide the best experience for not only the program but everyone that steps through that door.”


Though this is not a whole-new transition from Coach Court, do you have your own touches and tendencies? “Yeah. I give much credit to the mentors I’ve been around, both as strength and conditioning or other people in my life whether it’s a high school coach or just football coaches in general.”

“You see a lot of what works, OK? But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, they always say. What we do here is very similar to what we’ve done in the past. But at the same time there a ton of different tweaks. I don’t want to say completely new, but we’ve brought some different approaches on physical development.”

“Any working kid is going to get physically developed. In our opinion, our ways, what we believe is going to give our student-athletes the best is the mental development. The mental toughness aspect and coaching them on that.”


If we had watched a year ago and then again today, would anything about workouts stand out as different? “The intensity is going to be similar. You’d have to really remember some exercises and things like that. It’s not like it wasn’t here before, that’s the standard and culture Coach Mullen started. He’s the one that sets the tone and then I deliver it every single day to the kids. He has that standard set and our athletes know when they step in that door that bar has to rise.”

So the accountability is between player to player, not just coach to player. Saturday I’m not on the field with them so I want kids to feel comfortable, to hold each other accountable. Because when adversity strikes how are we going to respond? And it’s guaranteed it will strike. It will probably strike sometime in tomorrow’s workout.”


What is your overall evaluation how the strength and conditioning work has gone with this team? “Through the off-season and spring ball I thought the kids trained to the highest of levels. they really did a good job. A great job. And heading into the summer there are still some things people in the whole program wanted to see, not just my staff but the coaches as well. We put a heavy emphasis on this summer, it’s going to dictate the future of this team.”

“We went day in and day out through June. We had a little discretionary week last week with academics, and came back and hit the ground running. It’s been phenomenal, from every aspect of body weights to recovery to conditioning to strength. Every day that standard has risen.”


Have the players been hitting their targets for weight, either losing or gaining? “Everyone is built differently genetically. So everyone always needs some different touches here and there. Some young guys come in, they get a different type of progression making sure that they’re moving along the way they need to.”

“But your older guys, especially your seniors, know what is expected out of them every day. They all have a weight goal and a weight range they have to meet every single day.”


You have been given three brand-new players for July (Reginald Todd, Osiris Mitchell, Cameron Dantzler), how do you handle them? “It’s just like any other new freshman coming in. They’ll kind of have their own progression to what we do. They’ll be in the fire but I’m going to be right next to them most of the way. Because I can’t expect them to do all of what our guys are doing. The human body doesn’t work that way.”

“Make no mistake, they’re going to get pushed and progress as they develop. And a lot of these guys come in a little untrained, the training age so to speak is low, so that development happens quick once they get in this culture and get around the physical and mental activity we do.”


No matter how good their high school program, is it just that big a shock to new players or even junior college transfers? “Everyone. Because we do it different. That starts with Coach Mullen and the culture he’s set here. And the standard of my staff, too, and how we coach the players every day. It is completely different. I’ve never seen one high school kid come in and demolish everything. It just doesn’t happen that way. Because the tempo we work, how hard we go, the different movements we do, there’s nothing to really prepare. You can be in better shape than some but to say you’re ready for what we’re going to throw at you? Everyone needs work.”


You do have a good-sized senior class this year? “It helps out in the aspect of guys that have played a lot of snaps for us, and being comfortable around each other. Everyone knows we’ve had some alpha-dog leaders the last couple of years and they did a great job. Some people on this team weren’t really forced to do it because they did such a great job.”

“But ever since the off-season to this point today those guys have taken more weight on their shoulder and taken pride in being labeled leaders. You can really see some people develop, not only themselves but bring others with them.”


Are you comfortable naming any of the leaders? “I don’t know if I want to put any so-called alpha-dogs out now. There’s some guys that are excelling. It’s more of a group, collective kind of team leadership. Before, everyone knew who we had, that was expected not because guys weren’t good.”

“But now you can see more of a team approach, guys always picking-up. If it’s not this kid one time it’s another kid another time. It’s always someone somewhere making sure our teammates are held accountable.”


Guys with spring injuries, Fred Ross, Donald Gray, Jamal Peters with the hand, how are they doing? “Everyone is doing great. Everyone is moving along the way we intended. The progression is right on track to where it needs to be, and most of them are exceeding other kids on the team. Because that’s who they are and what they hold themselves to. They know what has to get done and they’re definitely exceeding some of those expectations.”


Do you expect to have everybody ready by August 1? “Yes, we’ll be good to go. And we’re going to continue to keep guys healthy, make sure we prepare their bodies so when August 1 comes they can hit the ground running.”


After heavy strength work in pre-spring, does the summer bias to conditioning? “Yes. How I break that down is June to us is kind of a mini-off-season. Because we’ve still got some time. We’re running all through summer, June and July, that’s day-one. And that’s through the season, in some aspect we’re running and conditioning.”

“But summer you’re getting those legs back, you’re getting the lungs back, making sure everything is where it needs to be. So when August 1 comes they’re ready to exceed expectations in front of the coaches.”

“In June weights are still kind of high. July comes, now we’re still training hard in the weightroom but the volume gets cut-back because your running has to increase. And towards the end of July we start our camp prep phase, making sure when kids show up for camp they feel fresh, healthy, ready to go.”


Did you test for max weights or repetitions this summer? “We do some tests at the end of spring and then we’ll do some at the end of summer, depending on what it is and everyone’s progression through the evaluations. Making sure with the movements and exercises everyone is progressing the way they need to.”

“The thing coming out of spring is, you just got done with spring ball. If we want to evaluate a movement or an exercise you have to take into account that aspect. Most are tired and kind of beat-up a little bit. So summer will you give a little bit better (test) in some areas. But to us, I’m never going to test before spring ball because the last thing you want to do is have a kid tweak and lose them for spring ball. It’s what is best for the kids. You take into account what they’re coming off of.”


It’s well-known you are the only coach allowed contact with players in June-July. So do you have any input into the drills they do, give the receiver or linemen things to do? “We call it skills and drills. And it’s player-run. Players run it, they know exactly what to do. They do their own thing, I’m not involved in it.”

“All I tell them is like every young athlete developing what we’re doing here helps translate certain movements and attributes onto the field. It does. But how do you get better at football, is practice your skill. If you squat more it doesn’t make you a better back-pedeler. So it’s all a technique-based thing. If I increase your attributes and your practicing your football skills, you’re probably going to be a better football player at the end of the month, year, day, whatever you want to break it down as.”

“But that’s strictly player done. And everyone is out there. I don’t even have to look, they go. They know exactly what needs to get done. They have a goal in their mind, as a team, and that is what drives them every day.”


What is it like coming to work every day knowing you are going to train a Brandon Holloway one hour and a Nick James in the next? “Well, I tell people all the time there are a lot of things in the profession you can’t prepare for until you experience them. Fortunately for me I like to think my personality goes well with the players, no matter if you have a Brandon or a Nick like everyone on every team.”

“But you have to have personality down here. And we try to keep hard work as fun as possible. So we have juice and enthusiasm, the way you walk and things like that. Everything has a purpose and that’s been every breath you take, every rep you take, everything has a purpose.”


You’re too young to have been listening to the Police when that song came out? “Yeah, I’m not good with music to begin with!”


Your predecessor was in charge of the music, but you turned it over? “Well, yeah, they’ve got that nice new thing called Pandora! I know the main guys they want to listen to, I put it on those channels and we go with it.”


More Allman Brothers, please.

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