VELTKAMP: A Championship Mentality

NC State Strength and Conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp discusses the mentality within the program heading into fall practice.

Things didn't look good after eight games last season.

NC State was 4-4 overall and on a four-game losing streak with a matchup at Syracuse looming. The Wolfpack could go in two directions: continue to struggle or step up and get Dave Doeren's first ACC win.

They did the latter, and it sparked the Pack to an 8-5 record while winning four of the the final five games.

That finish was huge for the program says strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp.

"To finish the season the way we did, that's always a big motivator going into the next year," said Veltkamp. "I thought we had a great winter, and I think they even stepped it up in the spring. Now I feel like we took another step forward in the summer.

"I like the mental toughness and perseverance of this group."

Veltkamp and his staff spent all summer preparing the team for what's about to start on Tuesday: fall practice. Through various drills, competitions, and workouts, it was their job to have the players as prepared as possible.

"We tried to throw them curveballs," said Veltkamp. "We try to throw chaos at them because in the game of football things happen that you don't have control over. As you build the team physically, you look to also work on the mental aspect because it plays a big role in the game.

"We've tried to keep them off-balance and make them react to things in the summer, especially in our conditioning program. They just did a great job in it, and I believe that's always kick-started by how you finish the previous season."

Head coach Dave Doeren and his staff now have three recruiting classes on the roster. The majority of the players have been recruited by the current staff, and they seem to have bought into their philosophy. However, Veltkamp believes the heart of the team is still the upperclassmen.

"A big part of the praise goes to those top two classes, those guys that have been here four and five years," he said. "We're not going to be where we want in 2015 without the Mike Rose's of the world... Hakim Jones, Juston Burris. The guys who have been here for a while.

"They do everything asked of them, and they've stepped it up. They've been vocal leaders and are 100% all in for us. That's the way it has to go, and that's what is happening. It helps to have a core of guys you've recruited, but the guys that are remaining are all in and that's awesome to watch."

You saw the signs of that chemistry and leadership last year during practices. Upperclassmen were competing with younger players for starting positions, but that didn't prevent the older guys from teaching and developing their "competition." That type of interaction is pivotal in developing a program.

"You'll never win a championship until your kids understand that we have to be nine-strong," Veltkamp said. "We have to be strong through the three-deep. You need scout team players that go as hard as they can... the fourth-teamers have to be contributing.

"We always talk about closing the gap in the summer time. We have to reach back and grab the guy who is struggling and pull him with us. It doesn't matter if he's the five-star kid or a walk-on that's trying to make the roster. We have to pull him up with us because we can't have a gap. We need layers of guys that can come in and get the job done."

Why is that depth so important? Well, it's a long season.

"Injuries happen in football," said Veltkamp. "The guy behind you has to be ready to come in and play. It doesn't matter if it's just for a series, a game, or six weeks. He has to be ready.

"This team understands that. They want to win a championship and the way to do that is to help the guy behind you. Even though you're competing with him, make him a better player and make that third-teamer a better player. They do a great job mentoring each other."

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