Getting to the top requires more than talent.
Focus, dedication and determination prove to be just as important as God-given skills. Coach Gary Pinkel--whose practices are very intense and whose on-field mindset shows that same intensity--credited the return of Strength and Conditioning Director Pat Ivey for a revamped attitude among his troops.
"Our whole football team was there this summer and they worked very, very hard," Pinkel said. "There was a lot of leadership. Leadership provided the kind of work environment that you have to have to be here."
Ivey, a three-year letterman for the Tigers, spent time with four different NFL franchises after graduating in 1996. He was the Missouri strength coach for five years before moving to Tulsa, where he oversaw strength and conditioning for all 18 Golden Hurricane sports.
He returned to his alma mater in March, earning the same title with the Tigers that he held at Tulsa.
Ivey's impact is noticeable immediately. His most visible duty during practice is leading the stretching exercises, normally a dull period. Ivey has fashioned that time into an enthusiastic one for his players, with a little help from the outspoken team captains.
Beyond that, his contributions come in the weight room, where the Tigers continue to outdo themselves. Since the season has not yet started, it may be too early to judge the conditioning of the players. But the fire shown by the players in practices and scrimmages is likely a combination of Ivey's work ethic and a renewed focus on success this season.
Pinkel said the role Ivey now fills is very important, because of the connections that can be made between coach and player.
"I don't know of any coach that will touch the players more in the whole program than your strength and conditioning coach," he said. "Year-round, he sees them more than any one of us, assistant coaches or head coach."
How much of an impact Ivey makes will not be known until the waning minutes of a tight game this season. Already, though, Pinkel said he knows how important a quality strength program can be for a football team trying to climb the ladder.
"How critical that staff is and how critical that job is…I can't say enough about it," he said.
Check back tomorrow as our countdown continues with No. 8.