Nowell Pleased With Spring Strength Tests

With the semester wrapping up Mississippi State football players are focused on their final exams. In the classroom, that is. Because the Bulldogs have already been tested twice during the spring. First, during the four weeks of on-field practices. And just last week, during the tests administered by strength/conditioning Coach Jim Nowell.

This MSU staff prefers to keep the individual ‘grades' strictly between players and coaches. But Nowell was free, and eager, to discuss the general results of this spring's testing. At the same time he reminds that the real test comes in fall, in classrooms packed with tens of thousands of howling fans, where the only grade that matters isn't an A. It's a W.

Nowell gave an overview of the spring program Friday morning, even as a handful of Dogs could be overheard working out entirely on their own accord. This, the coach said, exemplified just where State's players have already become far stronger.

DB: After evaluating all the individual results from spring testing, what is your overview of the team's off-season shape?

Nowell: As a team we're leaner, we're more muscular, we're stronger, we're quicker. And more importantly, our attitudes are better. To give an example of what I mean, this spring I saw guys show up more not because we made them but because they wanted to. We had guys that came in and did extra. This was a discretionary week after spring testing, hey, the first day I look in there around 1:00 and there are 12, 13 players. Talk about feeling good about that! We've been grinding and hammering and pushing since January, they have a week where they don't have to come see us, and what do they do? They come in and to extra work on their own. It makes me feel good about the direction we're heading.

DB: Explain the spring testing process.

Nowell: We devoted a week to testing. On Monday we tested on power clean, bench press, and we did a flexibility test to see how many inches they could reach past their toes with knees locked-out. On Tuesday we did all our running events, which included the 40-yard dash, the 3-cone drill, and pro agility or the 20-yard shuttle. Wednesday we tested their height and weight, and did the vertical and broad jumps. Thursday we came back and did a squat-max and a 225-rep max, how many times they could lift 225 pounds.

I don't get into singling guys out because it is a team sport. But we had some guys run in the 4.4 (forty yards) range, we had several squat over 600 pounds, we had more guys power-clean over 300 pounds, we had some guys vertical jump 37, 38, 39 inches and more of them do it in that range.

DB: How do you interpret all those numbers at this point of the football calendar?

Nowell: What that basically tells me, it provides feedback to you as a strength coach. It gives our coaches feedback on how our program is doing overall. And it also provides feedback to your players. They can see they're getting better, look at what they did last year compared to this year, they're bigger and running quicker and getting stronger.

What it does is give you confidence. Any sport is about being confident in your abilities. If you don't think so in mind and heart and soul, it's not going to happen on the field of play. So as you begin to become more confident and believe you not only belong but belong with the best, hopefully you begin to play with the best of them.

DB: After camp, are you seeing retention of the progress made in January-February?

Nowell: Without a doubt. We still had players doing 28 reps at 225 pounds, or 24 and 23 reps. We had more guys doing it over 20 times. And more guys squatting over 600 pounds. And spring ball ended two weeks before! That's one way I like to measure our overall program, how strong and healthy are you after the season or after spring practices. You're not going to gain all your strength back in two weeks, so what it tells me is we stayed pretty strong in spring ball and came out pretty healthy.

DB: What is the general status of the players who were re-habbing or had minor spring injuries?

Nowell: I feel good about them. We get them in the weightroom and say ‘do what the Bulldogs are doing.' If the rest of the team is squatting today and I had knee surgery in December, obviously I can't squat. But we can do one-legged dumbbell squats or something along those lines.

We work closely with Paul Mock and his staff, and I have a progression I follow. If a guy has an issue, or a tweak that prevents him from doing something full-force that the rest of the Bulldogs are doing, then the first thing we do is lighten the load. If Paul clears it, let's see if we can squat but lighten the weight. If that won't work then we may try to limit the range of motion, lighten the load but don't go quite as deep on the squat. Then as a last resort we change the exercise. If he can't squat we'll do the leg-press, so on and so forth.

DB: Often injured or re-habbing players use their status to take it easy. This doesn't seem to be the case now.

Nowell: That's a great question. I tell players come in anyway. An injury never excuses you from a workout. Yes, if you had surgery today you're excused. But you don't just not show up. You show up with your own group, and we have an injured/altered group where we will work around your injury. In other words, I had knee surgery but I can still do the bench-press and other things, work my back and all this.

We will ‘mainstream' them, put them in the workout and do everything the Bulldogs do and work around the injury. But injury doesn't excuse you from anything. And I'll tell you, we've had players come out of injuries and step in like they never missed a beat. It helps that player feel they're still a part of us and doing what we do. Also, the other players say man, this guy isn't using that as excuse to get out of something. And we don't have guys missing workouts, our attitudes are better, we're more consistent, and we're doing it because we want to do it, not because we make them do it.

DB: Reporters and fans look at rosters for the biggest changes in listed weights, up and down. Are you more interested in the less obvious changes, since not all weight is the same?

Nowell: Right. And it can be so misleading. I mean, just because a guy puts on ten pounds it doesn't mean a good thing if it's ten pounds of fat. Now obviously if it's ten pounds of good quality weight we're all for that! But you're right. The smallest amounts of weight for a skill guy make a tremendous difference. If a wide receiver is carrying an extra 10-15 pounds of body weight, he might as well be running with a weight vest. He's not going to be as quick, as fast, or as productive as he can be.

Our players have made a commitment to get it off. One of our young linemen has lost 60 pounds! And there are a lot of guys that have really made the commitment to losing it. Part of that process is education, teaching them how to do it. You don't just starve yourself, that's the opposite of what we want. Good nutrition, staying away from fried foods and a lot of sugar. It's a lot of discipline and saying ‘no' to things.

DB: And isn't it true muscle weighs more than fat? So a guy can be in much better shape without the weight number in the game program changing much?

Nowell: Exactly. But you see his body change. You can just look at some of these guys. Like our freshmen last year, I took a picture of all of them when they first got here in shorts only. You can look at them now in the weightroom working out and look at them then, it's night-and-day some of the changes. But it's an ongoing process where I'll never ever be satisfied or get to the point where we've arrived and let's hold to what we've got. Maybe I'm a greedy guy! But I just want to be better.

DB: Once the spring semester ends, what is the summer schedule?

Nowell: I'm excited about our summer program and what we're going to be doing. We've changed some of our workout times around to make it better for our players. We're going to have lifting groups Monday and Wednesday afternoon, and an early-morning workout Friday. Tuesday-Thursday is going to be afternoon team runs. Also this summer we're going to implement a yoga class on Wednesday nights, we're going to focus on hip, quadriceps, and hamstrings, a lot of lower-body flexibility because in weightlifting if you don't ‘train' flexibility you can get stiff. It's as important as anything else if you want to be injury-free.

DB: So overall you're satisfied the objectives for this spring semester have been met?

Nowell: Right. And obviously the ultimate goal is winning games, going to bowl games and winning the SEC Championship. Until we do that our goals aren't going to be complete. But as far as the attitude changes, players improving every day, yes, I think we did accomplish quite a few goals this spring.

(Editor's Note: A feature on the upcoming June and July semesters' workout plans and goals will appear in the June issue of Dawgs' Bite Magazine. The summer conditioning program begins May 31, thus many true freshmen will not be able to participate until the second semester due to June high school graduations and the NCAA's Clearinghouse process.)

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