Ole Miss' junior Center Thomas Eckers believes the Rebels are ready for the rigors of August based on offseason and summer results in the weight room and in conditioning.
"We've paid the price. We knew what was facing us in the offseason and summer," he began. "We came out of spring knowing we had a lot of improvement to make and the only way to make it was hard work.
"As a team, we've all had really good offseasons. On the offensive line, only one guy didn't make his 16 110s (running requirement), and he didn't miss by much. Last year, we had about 50% of the guys who didn't make it. That's a huge improvement. A well-conditioned athlete is a better athlete, no doubt about it."
Eckers worked on his body diligently and got the desired results during the summer.
"I weighed 302 in spring. My goal was to drop some body fat and get leaner and stronger," he continued. "Now, I weigh 294 and I'm a lot stronger. I feel more explosive with less body fat and more strength. This is the best summer I've ever had.
"I worked really hard on the power clean, the explosion lift. It went from 301 pounds to 314, which is a pretty good jump. I can feel the difference in my explosion when I am coming out of snapping the ball."
Eckers attributes his summer success, and the team's summer success, to one thing.
"Focus. I can feel the focus of every player in workouts and in the weight room and in running drills. Everyone is serious about improving and we are together in that mission," he explained. "During drills, we are focused on what we have to do and nobody is talking about the heat or being tired or anything negative."
Eckers said the offensive linemen are aware of what the media - and some fans - are saying about their unit, but he says they can't be swayed by those negative evaluations.
"The media is going to say what they are going to say. We know what they are saying - that the OL will be a weakness - but we can't worry about it. It's up to us to prove them wrong," he explained. "Nobody knows, but us, what we have been doing since January. I can understand how someone on the outside would feel that way based on last year, but this is a new year with a new coach and a new attitude. It's like night and day.
"We were in a learning curve last year. That was a whole year ago. Now we have more experience and we know what to expect."
A lot of Eck's enthusiasm is based on who's coaching the Rebel OL now - Art Kehoe.
"He's one of the greatest guys I've ever met. He keeps football fun," Thomas stated. "He keeps us with a smile on our faces. If he gets on top of us for doing something wrong, we know we deserve it and he's always going to come back with something positive after he gets on us.
"When we make a mistake, he's going to tell us about it, he's going to tell us how to fix it and he's going to give us a chance to fix it and a chance for us to prove we aren't going to make the same mistakes over and over."
Kehoe's treatment of the OL has paid dividends in their response to him.
"He's a father figure to us. He gives us respect and we give it back to him," Thomas noted. "It's a blessing having him here with us."
Individual improvement? Check.
Team attitude? Check.
Being in synch with your coach? Check.
Better performance is bound to follow, Eckers closed.
"The difference between last year and this year is like night and dsay. Our fans will see that this year," he ended.
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