When Aaron Ausmus took over the football strength and conditioning program two years ago, seven Rebel football players were able to power clean the base superlative weight of 300 pounds.
27 reached that number last week when the Rebels tested and "maxed."
Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron told us when he first came here that Southern Cal was always in the 25-30 range of 300-pounder cleaners when they were in the process of winning consecutive national championships.
That doesn't mean the Rebels are about to make a run at an NC, but it is a significant measuring stick toward needed progress in that direction.
And it is indeed a testament to the job Ausmus and his staff are doing with the Rebel football team in the S&C program.
"We had a lot of question marks coming into the offseason. This was the first offseason for the freshman class and we wanted to see how they would respond and test," Ausmus began his general comments on the offseason. "We also added a bunch of new walkons who were going through their first offseason workout session.
"We saw a lot of good things from guys who needed to gain weight gaining some and guys who needed to lose some weight losing it. Overall, we saw the guys - as a group - get better in the cleans, the squats and in our movement. We are getting from point A to point B faster as a team. Overall we are seeing the things we want to see, especially from the young guys."
Ausmus had most of the true freshman on board last summer, so they were already indoctrinated to the rigors of offseason work, but it is different work in the summer and spring.
"In the summer, we work more conditioning, more running. In the spring offseason, we pushed more weight," he continued. "The ones who played last year, guys like Kentrell Lockett and Greg Hardy, etc., learned from experience how important strength is. Their eyes have been opened on how crucial it is to be strong when you face the LSUs and Alabamas and Auburns of the SEC.
"Consequently, they worked really hard in the offseason, knowing they needed it to improve their performances in the season."
Aaron - whose wife Andrea is expecting their second child in six months - was particularly proud of the aforementioned power clean numbers.
"I am big on the power clean because it is an explosive lift, more akin to football movement than the bench or the squat," he explained. "We had 27 guys reach the magic number of 300 pounds in the clean and some of them were freshmen (newcomers). That's good to see.
"Jonathan Cornell, Ashlee Palmer, Daverin Geralds, Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman all went over the 300 mark in the clean."
With some newcomers to the S&C program and the various lifts, it's all about technique - combined with strength.
"We just hired a new strength coach, Brian Wiseman, from Sam Houston State. He's excellent with Olympic lifts and he's helping us tremendously with our technique. I already thought we were good with our technique, but he's showing me some things we can get better at," Aaron commented. "To get the most benefit and gain from olifting, proper technique is critical - a must. Brian has already helped us a lot.
"That also applies to running technique. A lot of young kids run incorrectly in terms of arm position and swing. They have also lifted wrong. We brainwash them and reteach them. They look at you a little funny at first, but when they listen and do things properly, it shows in their tests and they are elated."
Frosh WR Dexter McCluster is a prime example. He did not believe getting stronger would make him faster, but he did what Ausmus told him to, put on roughly 10 pounds and tested faster last week.
"When it, improvement, starts happening for them, that's when they buy in totally and you don't get that strange look from them," Aaron smiled.
Coach O - as is the case with practice and injuries - guards test numbers fairly closely, but we "wrangled" a few from Ausmus via O's permission.
"A couple of examples I can give you is that Center Corey Actis went from a 242 clean a year ago to 310 this year. 310 is not great, but it's plenty strong and that type of improvement in one year is very rare," Ausmus noted. "DL Peria Jerry benched 440 pounds and was at 400 last year. The remarkable thing about that is he pushed 40 more pounds this year while doing so pushing off one foot. Due to his rehab, he wasn't able to do the other lifts, but he proved his strength with a one-leg bench, so to speak.
"TE Robert Hough also had a nice gain in the bench. He did 225 pounds 21 times this year. Last year he was at 16 reps. WR Marshay Green - at 170 pounds - benched 315. OG Reid Neely went from a 290 clean guy to 315 this year. OL Coach Art Kehoe told me he was the most improved OL this spring. The fact he was one of the most improved in the weight room reflected in his play and that's what it's all about.
"OT Maurice Miller did a 575 squat. He probably could have gotten over 600, but you risk injury then. He did 575 with a deep squat, good technique and not risking injury. That's pretty strong in my book."
The schedule now for the Rebels is to take some down time "most of May." But Ausmus was quick to point out it's not time off, it's time tapering back some.
"They still need to do some minimum work in May so they don't fall behind strength and conditioning wise. They need to maintain what they have gained," he explained. "You need to rest, but you can't completely take off. The best way to get in shape is to never get out of shape.
"In the summer, we will focus on conditioning and getting better technique-wise with our lifts. Great conditioning and being better athletes naturally equates to being a better football player. We will have roughly 35 workout days in the summer and our job is to make sure the 35th workout is the same as the first one. The challenge is to work hard consistently and to motivate them to do that. I feel we have established a theme of the way we are going to do things and the guys know if we don't do things correctly we will stay there until we do. I don't have many problems with players not doing things right. We don't repeat many movements any more due to the players' attitudes and maturity."
Overall, Ausmus is never satisfied, there's always more to do, but he was pleased with the effort and results of this offseason.
"We have twice, or three times or more, as many players reaching the 300 clean, 500 squat, 400 bench than when we first came here. We have a running back - BenJarvus Green-Ellis - who can bench 400 now. We have players at other positions besides OL and DL making these numbers. That's when you can tell you are getting stronger and better," he closed. "Almost all of our OL can bench 400 now, which is where we need to be.
"We have at least 10 who can squat 500 or more. Those are solid team numbers, and our movement tested better as well."
As Aaron said, the Rebels are not a finished product, there is work to do. But he's encouraged with the offseason results and Aaron Ausmus is not easily swayed into false optimism.
Offseason update -
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