Don Decker has been a head strength and conditioning coach for a dozen years on the SEC level.
He has many experiences to draw on for comparison sake, so when he calls the offseason summer program the Rebel football team is currently in the midst of "special," you feel some adrenaline in the room.
"We still have three more weeks to go, but so far this offseason has a chance to rival any I have ever had as a strength coach," said Decker, who was at Arkansas with Houston Nutt for 10 years. "The 1998 summer was the benchmark summer for me. It's still the one that defines a great offseason to me. It's the one I can measure other offseason efforts with. While we still have some time left and work to do, this offseason is very similar to that one."
Decker explained why the efforts of the 2009 Rebels and the 1998 Hogs are alike, with one major caveat.
"In 1998, summer workouts were mandatory and you, as a coach, could take disciplinary action for tardiness or for missing a workout or not giving ultimate effort," he stated. "Now, workouts are non-mandatory and no disciplinary action can be taken for players who don't do the work.
"That's a big difference, but the 1998 kids and the 2009 kids I have had the pleasure of working with have been special."
It's as much about a philosophy and an attitude as it is lift numbers or times.
"This year's theme for us has been two-fold. One, accountability and dependability. Who is accountable for their actions and who can you count on? That encompasses attendance, effort, getting better, togetherness, teamwork and so on," Decker noted. "And when I say effort, I am not talking about just putting the time in, I am talking about maximum effort and making the most of every workout. If players are accountable and dependable, a major character question has been answered before the season starts. These kids have shown that accountability and dependability.
"The other philosophy we are gearing toward is a saying. 'The harder we work, the harder it is to surrender.' That kind of speaks for itself and they have lived up to that mantra as well. There is nobody cheering them on at 5:30 in the morning or in the hot afternoon when we are running stadiums, but they have worked hard and have not surrendered. All of that goes hand-in-hand with the team motto of 'unsatisfied.' It's been exciting to be a part of those philosophies and seeing them fulfilled."
The by-product of that type of effort has been another intangible that cannot be measured, as Decker attests.
"We were running stadiums the other day and one of our players was not going to make it in the required time, if at all," Don recalled. "Two of his teammates flanked him and virtually carried him to the top of the stadium.
"That is what team, unity, togetherness and family is all about. Those kinds of things have happened repeatedly this summer and it's pretty special. Things like that don't just happen - they have to come from the heart and be sincere. Numerous times we have had a kid who didn't make his time and had to run some extra. The ones who did make their times are either running the extra with them or cheering them on. That is true unity and true leadership. You can't put a number on that. Passion, work ethic, unity and consistency add up to a special summer."
Decker even takes his approval of the offseason performance a step further.
"In athletics, not every day is going to be perfect," he continued. "But even when I have had to push kids really hard, I have seen no sour looks. To a man, they have responded to the best of their ability even when they were having a bad day and we were riding them hard. That shows me they have pride, that they want it, that they want to be as good as they can be and that they want to be coached. That is when coaching is fun and you see maximum results."
The first six weeks of the offseason, the Rebs lifted three days a week and ran one day a week. The first two weeks of the second half of the offseason which lasts five weeks - the Rebs lifted four days a week and ran stadiums on Friday. The final three weeks of offseason, they will lift Monday-Tuesday-Thursday and run Wednesday-Friday and include some "strong man' events in their workouts.
"At the first of the summer, we wanted to get stronger. The second half, we have targeted more conditioning while still looking for strength gains," added Don.
Decker obliged when asked to share some information about the efforts of some of the players who "jumped off the page" to him this summer.
RS Frosh TE Ferbia Allen - Now weighs 244 pounds and is shooting for 250 before August. He has gained "a great deal" of strength and now weighs 20 pounds more than when he reported last summer.
Sophomore TB Brandon Bolden - "We don't time 40s, but we do 10s and 20s and he has gotten significantly faster. In every session, he is in the Top 5 on the team in 10 and 20 times. His acceleration and speed are daylight and dark from when he first got here last summer. It's noticeable."
Junior SS Johnny Brown - A goal for Brown was to get more flexible. He has done that and as a result has also gained a significant amount of speed. Again, as Decker said, it's noticeable.
Senior CB Marshay Green - He's improved himself in every aspect he was asked to, but he also became one of the vocal team leaders.
RS Frosh OLB Lakenwic Haynes - Reported last summer at 203 pounds. Now 222.
Senior RT John Jerry - Besides establishing himself as one of the main leaders of the team, John has done a major overhaul of his body. For the first time since high school, he's about to get under the 340-pound plateau. Last year, he played between 350 and 360.
Juniot DT Ted Laurent - "Ted has worked hard to become more flexible, faster and gain more lateral movement. He's unlocking that raw natural ability and has become a much better athlete."
Senior FS Kendrick Lewis - Besides being called a "phenomenal leader," Kendrick has gotten faster and stronger in the offseason, which were his main goals.
Junior DE Kentrell Lockett - Tipping the scales now at 256 pounds after playing most of last season in the 238-242 range.
Senior WR/RB Dexter McCluster - #22 is in the Top 5 of all running drills every time tested and has added strength and some bulk to his frame. He's also showing leadership ability.
Junior CB Jeremy McGee - Jeremy has also landed in the Top 5 on the team some of the time in speed drills.
Sophomore DT Jerrell Powe - Jerrell keeps working hard to reach his target weight of 320. Last week, he weighed in at 329.
RS Frosh Gerald Rivers - After reporting to the team last summer at 222 pounds, Rivers is now at 242 with a target weight of 245 by August.
Junior QB Jevan Snead - Last season, Snead's shoulder got "beat up" by the end of the year. He has regained all the strength in his shoulder and his overall strength levels have risen.
Senior Center Daverin Geralds - Another player who has shown leadership qualities and has worked hard to improve himself.
Sophomore LT Bradley Sowell - He needed to get stronger and has done so, according to Decker, "substantially."
Senior DE Greg Hardy - "Greg is now 272 solid pounds and has a totally different body from a year ago. He's also trying to become a senior leader, which is good to see."
Senior OLB Patrick Trahan - Has had a "solid" offseason and has his body strong and fit at 235 lean pounds.
Senior DT Marcus Tillman - Another recognized as one of the vocal team leaders.
Senior LG Reid Neely - Will enter his final season more fit than ever due to his offseason workouts, Decker predicted.
Sophomore RG Rishaw Johnson - "Rishaw had a very average offseason last year. This year, he has turned it on. He needed to get more tuned in and focused and he's done just that."
Freshman LB D.T. Shackelford - "D.T. jumps right off the page. He's a ripped 230 pounds and is very mature in his approach and with his work ethic. He is not a typical freshman by any means."
Decker acknowledged he has not had ample time to take an extended look at the rest of the newcomers (D.T. was here first semester of summer school), but he likes what he sees in "raw material."
"Guys like (QB) Raymond Cotton, (RB) Rodney Scott, (LB) Joel Kight, (WR) Terrell Grant, (WR) Patrick Patterson, (RB) Tim Simon and several more have the look, but we have not worked with them long enough to know much yet," he closed.
Offseason update -
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