With spring ball less than a month away the entire USF football team is in the heart of the winter conditioning program. Most of the players have been through it and have learned to push their bodies to the extremes. Just like during the season they have to find the balance of being a student, getting in the weight room and then going out and practicing on the field. It's grueling and many are going through it for the first time.
"Many of the first timers are in survival mode and just trying to make it through every day," said McKeefery. "At the same time a guy like Quinton Washington struggled to get through it as a freshman, but this year is competing in the drills, and he and Jerome Murphy are pushing each other."
This is an exciting time of the year for the Bulls strength & conditioning staff coaching who have seen the players since they arrived on campus, and how they've progressed.
"You can really see the changes. A guy like A.J. Love came in as a skinny freshman, but after a couple of off-seasons, really blew up and has developed into a player. Matt has had one of his best winters ever, and George Selvie is keeping his weight and pushing hard. A lot of the guys are making some big moves with good effort."
The Bulls lost a lot of the weight room leaders in guys like Tyrone McKenzie, Taurus Johnson, Ben Williams, Matt Huners, and Jarriett Buie, but the great part about college football is every year there are guys who step up and this year has a whole new crop of weight room leaders emerging.
"You see guys like A.J. Love & Dontavia Bogan, who is really developing as a leader and pushing. Guys like Jerome Murphy, Sampson Genus, and a lot of other guys that are all trying to find their way as far as leadership goes, and part of my job is to help them find their way."
A time to grow
The winter is where most of the guys make their biggest gains, and that's accomplished through a combination of strength and conditioning that is laid out in a somewhat grueling schedule. Last year the week started off with a Monday 5:00 am agility session and then lifted for 4 consecutive days and this year the team starts off with four consecutive days of lifting and finishes with a 5:00am agility session on Friday.
The Bulls Mon-Thursday routine starts off at 6:30am with is the team coming in groups and has three stations, a dynamic warm up, foot speed, and a core routine. Then the team goes into resistance training, training the neck and grip. After that, they'll go into combinations of workouts focusing on different areas daily, and work one aspect of strength and conditioning every single day.
"Every day we're working on either making you a better football player or a faster football player," said McKeefery.
During the winter program the team has a speed development session twice a week, but also works on foot speed on a daily basis.
"We take pride in being known as one of the faster teams," said McKeefery. "So everyday we're going to work our speed technique."
Overall the program is comprehensive, working on strength, power, speed, agility, and coordination. The Bulls work-out schedule is intense and changes throughout the week to maximize performance.
Monday, that's their heavy bench press day.
Tuesday the emphasis is on power clean and also squat assist exercises like lunges and hack squats.
Wednesday is incline day and bench press assist exercises.
Thursday is heavy squat day
Friday is the 5:00am agility session.
"Every day the team works arms in some way. On our pushing day, bench day they work triceps. On our pulling day we work biceps. It's very complex, but to simplify, it's basically an upper/lower split routine."
Just like conditioning, the strength section of the Bulls program also increases throughout the winter, and it's broken down. Micro cycles are a week, and a macro cycle is a phase, which is a 4-week block. The team starts off with less intensity and more volume and then progress to greater intensity with less volume.
"By less intense I don't mean it's any easier of a work out, it's just the weights are lighter but we're doing more reps."
The team meets in the morning, for an hour of intense weight training. At this time, it is about gaining size and strength as well as developing a football physique. The guys then go to class and return in the afternoon for agility, but keeping the guys motivated isn't an easy task.
"One of the challenges of strength and conditioning coach is that you're pushing for eight months out of the year without a game to play for. During the season you're working out in preparation for that particular game, but in January/February the games seem far away but they're really not."
With no opponent and to face and no games to play, McKeefery and staff found a way to keep the competitive juices flowing during the grueling winter months, the annual lifting competition.
Check back later in the week with USFNation.com for more on the annual lifting competition, and the continuation of our inside look into the Bulls off-season strength and conditioning program.