Editor's Note: We normally don't reprint articles from our magazine, but there are a lot of Ole Miss Spirit subcsribers that don't take the online service and the magazine. We felt this article should be read by all Ole Miss fans. For those who have already seen it, our apologies. For those who haven't, enjoy.
When the average Ole Miss fan watches a Rebel football game, he sees a bunch of underclassmen trying to win in the Southeastern Conference, which is a daunting task.
When Rebel Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Ausmus looks at the same bunch, he envisions the future and what those youngsters, who are cutting their teeth this year, can physically be. He licks his lips in anticipation of the future with these players.
What Ausmus sees, imagines and forecasts is "unlimited potential" in how he can mold their bodies and minds into SEC fighting machines.
"Right now, our freshmen, other young players and newcomers are playing without all their weapons fully developed," Ausmus noted. "After they have been here a full year or two, you will see a major difference. They will be going into games with a full arsenal and it should be something special to see.
"Look at what some of them have accomplished without all their bullets. Just wait until we load their guns."
You might ask why Aaron feels so adamant about the hoped-for metamorphosis.
"Most of these guys came in this summer and some of them knew they were going to play this year," Ausmus explains. "Our focus was on getting them as ready as possible for the 2006 season. They reported early, which is a huge advantage, and came in here with a great attitude.
"They hit the ground running, doing whatever we asked of them with their heads down and their minds determined, just like the veterans. They learned early on about finishing drills, being on time, starting fast, lifting with proper technique – just a basic framework of doing things correctly to get the most gain and benefit from the time they are with us in the weight room. They came in here with an attitude of respect toward the veteran players but with the thought of taking their jobs. They helped amp up everything in terms of the intensity level because the veterans liked them and respected their work ethic, but they also knew they had to keep their eye on them. They taught them and took care of them, but they also knew they had to work hard themselves to stay ahead of them.
"Now the young guys know proper technique and tempo. We don't have to teach them that in the next offseason. Now, we can just coach with energy and without having to take a lot of time instructing."
Aaron knows what he's looking at and knows where they are right now in their development.
"Have they caught up to the competition in the SEC? Absolutely not. Will they get there? Yes. Their potential is mind-boggling," he noted. "The body frames they have and the speed they already possess, I envision them blooming into special athletes.
"We've seen guys growing during the season, even though they are playing and not getting to work out as much in the weight room like a player who is redshirting would. Most of the time, guys who are playing in games don't gain strength or size. Almost every week, I can see most of these young players gaining weight and strength even though they are playing on Saturday. As they have learned proper lifting techniques, you can see strength gains and slight body weight gains. That is very encouraging and is proof of my enthusiasm about their futures."
Even though Aaron knew this was a special group of newcomers, he is still surprised with the number of them who are playing.
"I knew they were talented, but you still don't expect that many to play or start or contribute," he stated. "Now what's going to happen is next year people are going to look at the roster and see we are playing a lot of sophomores. They will get a sense that we are still a very young team, which we will be age-wise, but we won't be experience-wise. Our sophomores will be experienced sophomores and that will be a big help in our success next year."
Aaron gave us his vision for quite a few of the newcomers. Some insight on what he believes some of them can and will be in the future. Our apologies to those newcomers left out of this interview. We will catch up on them later.
Junior C Corey Actis started most of the season after coming to Ole Miss as a JUCO transfer last spring.
"Corey has gotten better and better every week in the weight room. His technique has gotten better and you can see his body changing before your eyes. His neck and shoulders are bigger and his belly is shrinking. He's one who has picked up on the tempo we have and has enjoyed the success of our program," he said. "He will only get better as he continues to reduce body fat and put on lean muscle."
Freshman LB Jonathan Cornell is said to be the heir apparent to MLB Patrick Willis.
"Jonathan came in here at about 203 pounds in the summer. Now, he's in the 215 range. By the end of the year, he'll be 218 or so. By next season, he can easily be 225-228. He's very fast and explosive, but with the added weight, he will improve those areas because he is lean and will put on good weight. He will just add muscle because he's lean to begin with," Aaron assessed. "I think he is a lot like Patrick in that Patrick was a 210-pound guy when he got here and now he's in the 240 range and it's all muscle. They have the same body type. Cornell can follow that path."
Tailback Cordera Eason played mostly on special teams his true freshman year, but behind the scenes he has changed his body for the better.
"Cordera was a little heavy when he got here. He has lost about 10 pounds since he has gotten here and has lost some baby fat, as we call it," said Ausmus. "He is very strong in the lower body. His upper body needs strength, but with a running back, I'd rather start with a strong lower body and work the upper body in time. Cordera sees the big picture and sees how strong BenJarvus Green-Ellis is. He sees what the strength program has done for Jason Cook and he wants to duplicate those results. He's really got his light turned on and has everything figured out – what he needs to do. He's focused and has a great attitude and work ethic. He's licking his chops waiting on his time to come."
DL Cecil Frison and DE Kentrell Lockett are kind of in the same boat. Great frames, good speed, need body weight.
"Cecil has actually lost a little weight during the season, but he's gotten stronger and will gain weight in the offseason. He needs a lot of strength work. He's not weak, but he's got to get stronger. Cecil has a great frame and weighs about 240 now. He can certainly be a 265-270 pound guy," Aaron noted. "Kentrell is about 220 pounds right now. A good weight for him next year would be about 235. He's got great movement and a great motor, but he needs a million reps of core work to get an overall strength base."
One of Ausmus' favorites, because of his work ethic, is OL/DL Daverin Geralds.
"Daverin is already 300 pounds and is pretty strong for a freshman. He has a great work ethic and has a light in his eye. He loves to compete when he comes in the weight room," Ausmus noted. "He looks at the record boards we have up on our walls and says all the time ‘it won't be long before my name is up there.' His attitude is tremendous. He's got a great build – solid. He's thick in the right areas – thighs, chest, hips. I think a lot of him."
WRs Marshay Green and Dexter McCluster are kind of in the same boat. They are on the smallish side and probably won't get a whole lot bigger, but they can get much stronger and even faster, according to Aaron.
"They will be slow weight gainers, but it will be real good weight and they will gain a lot of strength. Marshay put on 10 pounds real quickly, but the next 10 will be slower. He has a super high metabolism and is a high energy guy. He's burning calories fast. He will probably top out at about 180-185. Any more than that and he would probably start holding fat and losing speed and he doesn't want that and neither do I," said Ausmus. "Dexter is a lot like Marshay. Dexter already had a somewhat finished body out of high school. He knows how to run, his lifting form is very good and he's a quick learner. Being as polished as he was coming out of high school, his gains in everything will be a little slower, but he'll make gains. His strength gains will not be as substantial as some of the others because he's already pretty strong, but as he improves little by little, it will show in his play."
DE Greg Hardy emerged as one of the freshman favorites of the football team, for good reason – production.
"Greg came in here about 245 and really wasn't very strong. His lower body is strong, but he needs upper body work," Aaron continued. "He has really been challenged with the techniques of weightlifting, but when he gets on the field, he's very coordinated and tenacious. In a year, he will know how to do the lifts, he will get stronger, he will be 260-pounds or more and he will move much better on the field. His speed should pick up a lot. He should become a lot more explosive. Greg's a very good player now and his body doesn't know how to really fire right now. He plays with a great motor. When he starts hitting on all cylinders – strength, speed, explosiveness and knowledge of the system – he will be very, very good."
SS Jamal Harvey has played some and has been a part of special teams. Ausmus likes his progress already.
"Jamal has already put on 10 pounds since he showed up in June. With his frame, and his natural strength, I can see him playing at 218-220 next year. He's about 206 right now. He's got a lot of room to grow. He's tall and has broad shoulders and has a ton of room to grow into his frame," Aaron stated.
QB Michael Herrick's physical development has been a hot topic since he stepped on campus. Actually, since the 6-0, 185-pounder was signed.
"Michael is very, very determined to get bigger and stronger. He does everything required and comes in a couple of times extra a week on his own. He needs to get more physical in every aspect of his body. He's about 185 now. We have a plan for him to be over 180 by the end of the season and about 190-195 by the time August rolls around next year. That is realistic for him," said Aaron. "Michael knows he has a lot of work to do, but he is very determined and asks a lot of questions. He will get it done."
Ausmus said WR Shay Hodge is like WR Kendrick Lewis and CB Markeith Summers – wiry and plenty of room to grow and mature.
"Shay is explosive, but not strong yet. He will fill out. Shay, Kendrick and Markeith will put on 10 pounds and you won't even notice it. They will still look lean. They are like greyhounds – a 70-pounder and an 80-pounder look the same," Ausmus explained. "They will be stronger, bigger and faster next year, but you may not notice it until they put on the next 10-15 pounds. They'll hide the first 10, but you'll be able to see they are better, more mature athletes in their movement and how much more physical they will be."
QB Brent Schaeffer will only have one offseason with Aaron and the S&C crew, but Ausmus feels there's plenty he can do with the talented signal-caller to help make his senior year memorable.
"When Brent came in here, he was behind in his conditioning and everything. He's trying to catch up, but he is behind. What we are hoping for is that he will take off in the offseason. As athletic as he is, his body will really respond to what we are teaching him," Aaron allowed. "It's not too late for him to make substantial gains. A good offseason will help him tremendously."
Like Hardy, DT Marcus Tillman has also captured the imagination of Rebel fans, and Ausmus.
"Marcus is about 260 pounds, but he's not as strong as we thought he'd be. Now he has the technique foundation down and he's competing in the weight room like he does on the field," Ausmus evaluated. "Being around some of the older guys like Peria Jerry and Jeremy Garrett has shown him the way. His attitude is very good and his upside is tremendous. He can easily be 275-280 by next year and much stronger. I think he will be."
Free Safety, maybe a future LB, Allen Walker is similar to Harvey – he's wiry and thin and needing a year in the weight room.
"Allen is about 200 pounds right now and is a good lifter technically. He has form issues we have to correct on his running – he's a little tight in some of his movements. He realizes all this," Aaron said. "He's a great competitor and athlete, but he needs fine-tuning. He could easily be 215 or 220 next year. He will be better in every aspect by August."
Ausmus saved "the best" – the most fun to talk about in his department anyway – for last. RG John Jerry.
"John is playing so much for us now – starting at right guard, that we can't lift him like we'd like to," Aaron closed. "We'd like to lift him like we do the redshirt guys and guys who only play a little, but we can't. Even with that, he's amazing to watch in the weight room. For a big guy, he bends his knees very well and is natural with the lifts.
"It seems like whatever weight we put on the bar, he can lift it. Peria is like that too, but John has even more natural strength than Peria. We just get excited to go into the offseason with a guy like that. I have never seen a guy who is that naturally strong and that big. I've seen some 5-10 stumps who are real strong, but never anyone that big. We haven't even tapped in to his aggressiveness in the weight room yet. He can smile and bench press 400 pounds. Maurice Miller holds a lot of our lift records right now. I told Mo that he better take a picture of that record board now because his name will be gone by next year. John will break all his records. There's no doubt.
"John is about 345 pounds right now. After a great summer and offseason, we'd like him at about 338 and moving better and in better shape. But I don't think he'll ever be a 320-pound guy. He's just too naturally big. He's leaner than you think right now. His body will change, but I don't think it will get much smaller. He could be on of the strongest guys I've ever been around. Strength-wise, he's freakish. Amazing."
As you can easily tell, Ausmus is sold on the 2006 signing class, not only right now, but his vision for them in the future is off the charts good. It will be fun for Rebel fans to watch these players reach for Ausmus' vision for them.
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