An Interview with MSU Strength Coach Jim Nowell

Dawgs' Bite, Powered by did an interview with Mississippi State head strength coach Jim Nowell recently. Coach Nowell talked about the summer workouts he has planned for the football team, dramatic improvements he has seen in a few of his players, and the new weight room and the equipment in it.

Coach Jim Nowell, once spring football practice ended, what did the players do as far as strength and conditioning?
"We went back to our five-day workout program, which consists of three days lifting - Monday, Wednesday and Friday - and two days - Tuesday and Thursday - of speed, agility and quickness sessions. We continued that for two weeks. Then, (two weeks) ago we tested on certain parts of strength and conditioning and speed. We tested the bench press with a one rep max, the squat with a three to five repetition max, a one rep power clean max, vertical jump, broad jump, timed them in the forty, the three-cone or L-drill and the short shuttle. We also measured their flexibility. We'll use their maximums to set up their summer programs."

Do you like doing the max tests?
"While it is important, I don't really like testing that much, to be honest with you. It takes up an entire week of training. But it gives the players feedback and the coaches feedback as to where they are at. That allows us to target where each player is at and what needs to be done to help them improve."

From last year to this year, how much improvement has there been overall?
"There has been a lot of improvement. Some of that improvement is going to happen due to maybe the players not doing as much lifting as they should have been doing. Because of that, gains will happen very quickly. Plus, last year, a lot of it was teaching. And anytime you start out, it is hard to teach when you are using heavy weight. There is a progression you have to go through. We always tell our players it is technique first, then weight second. Anytime technique breaks down, then we take weight off the bar."

It sounds like what you are saying is comparing last year to this year is really not a fair comparison?
"It's not. If you look at the numbers from last year to this year, you see some big jumps. Michael Heard, for example, had an old squat max of 450. He maxed out the other day at 510. He ran a 4.65 forty. He's made some big strides. I looked back to see how much he weighed when we got here (in January, 2004) and he was 239. Now, he weighs about 260. His maxes are pretty good numbers, but I don't really get caught up in the numbers. I've been places - and I won't name them - where you have assistant strength coaches spotting the players and helping them lift the weights. The player can't really lift that. When we are doing it, we aren't touching the bar. We want our testing to be accurate. Off the top of my head, I think we have three guys who can bench over 400 pounds. Chis McNeil benched 450, (backup offensive lineman) Dio Herrera did 405 and (defensive lineman) Avery Hannibal did 415. I saw those three guys do that two weeks ago with no one touching the bar. You may hear of other programs that say they have 20 or 40 guys benching 400 pounds, but I was at LSU for two years and we won an SEC championship. And when I left there, I think we had 3 players who could bench over 400."

You mentioned Avery Hannibal. He seems to have really physically matured the past year.
"He is probably the most powerful guy on this football team. He is almost 6-1 and weighs 260 pounds, but he is very, very powerful and explosive. If you saw them in the board drills in the spring, it didn't matter who he lined up against. Against Johnny Wadley, he was giving up 70 to 80 pounds and he could come off the ball and pop his hands in Johnny's shoulder pad and kind of stalemate him or drive him back sometimes. Avery power cleaned 335 and almost had 350. He attempted 350 twice and didn't quite get it, so I shut him down. He benched 415 and squatted 605 to 610, ran the 40 in 4.88 and vertical jumped 34 inches and broad jumped 9' 10", which is very powerful and explosive for a defensive lineman."

How has Jerious Norwood done over the course of the year?
"Jerious, in January, 2004, weighed 188 pounds. I don't remember what his tests were when he maxed. This year, a year and a half later, when he maxed, he weighed in at 207. And he was timed in 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash on (NFL) pro day on the turf. His vertical leap was 40 inches and he power cleaned about 290. He squatted about 500 and benched 325. He did 225 for 15 reps (on the bench)."

Based on those numbers, you and your assistant strength coaches seem to be doing a great job.
"It's not rocket science. I think we do have a good program, but I think we do an excellent job of keeping our players motivated and holding them accountable for doing the things that champions do day after day, week after week and month after month. I have a good staff in John McCallister, my assistant head strength coach, and my GAs Chad Rhodes and Cody Upton. We have another grad assistant coming in in this fall. And we have several volunteers such as Doug Jones and Blake Holliman. We have several interns like Yaw Baidoo and Luke Washburn. Without all of those guys, we wouldn't be as successful."

What will the players do between the end of the spring semester and the first summer session?
"They have a month of May workout that consists of three days of running and three days of lifting. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they lift and run after they finish. Then, our summer program will begin June 6th. I think we will have 55 to 60 players that will be enrolled in the first summer term. I know all of our offensive and defensive linemen will be here. And I think just about every starter will be here. Then, the entire team, included the freshmen, will be here for the second summer session."

How will the summer workouts be different than the spring workouts?
"During the spring, we don't have any games to play, so the things that we are really focusing on is creating more body mass and more muscles. We are trying to improve their explosiveness and speed and quickness. Then, as summer gets here, and we get into the month of June, our focus shifts to preparing for the football season. Conditioning becomes more of a goal as the season approaches. We will still have three days of lifting and two days of speed, agility and quickness work. But we will also add in two days of speed and endurance work as well as one day of Karate. The same guy who taught it last year, Don McDonald, will do it again this year. The guys really responded well to him last year."

You are now in your new weight room. How do you think it's going to help the football program?
"Obviously, the new facility has a lot of the modern type equipment in it and everything we have in the new weight room is new. When you walk into our weight room now, we have what I call a "Wow" factor, like so many of the other SEC already had. When you walk into this weight room and all the lights are on and the platforms are sparkling, it looks great! With our new facility, I don't think we will lose an athlete due to not having good facilities. We have a very nice weight room, a brand new training room that is state-of-the-art, a brand new locker room and a players' lounge that is second to none."

What kind of weight equipment do you have in the new weight room?
"The meat and potatoes of our program are the olympic lifts and squats. We are able to do those because we currently have 12 self-contained, power platforms. It is a big advantage to us to have those 12 power stations. We can do power cleans on them. Then, if we want to do squats, we move the benches out of the area and moved the bar holders up to a taller height. It's very simple and very efficient. Just imagine if you had everything separated. Think of the room you would need if you had 12 incline benches, 12 bench presses, 12 squat racks and 12 power clean platforms. And we are getting 4 more platforms in July. The thing I really like about those is it is very important from a team concept that they be doing things together, even when it comes to lifting. I like to look around and see all the Bulldogs doing the same thing at one time. We are all together."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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