Spring football is finally upon us, and there is a lot of expectation in the air as Southern Miss gears up for what should be an outstanding spring season with a new coaching staff.
Coach Monken is now an NFL offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he's left the cupboard full. In steps Jay Hopson to take the reigns of the program, and he's already hit the ground running.
Even with all the coaching changes, one major thing has remained consistent, and that's the Southern Miss strength and conditioning program led by Head man Zac Woodfin. There is no doubt, the hire of Woodfin was one of the most important the Golden Eagle football program has made, and his impact can be felt throughout Southern Miss athletics. Woodfin has brought about important wholesale changes, not just in the way the Eagles train, but in the way they eat, they recover, and the way they relate to each other.
In short, he's resurrected the culture of the Southern Miss football program.
With the spring football season about to kick-off, we wanted to get an in depth look at the successes from the off season winter work outs. In this three part series we will look into the new facilities, details of the work-outs themselves, and some players who made some particular gains. In part one, we will examine some overall thoughts on the winter work-outs and new facilities from Coach Woodfin.
With this being the start of year two for Coach Woodfin, he started by saying even through the coaching change and facility upgrades, they were able to hit the ground running.
"We really had the majority of our system in and a lot of our stuff and the way we do things were already installed so we were where we didn't have to do a lot of reteaching," Coach Woodfin told GoldenEaglePride.com.
"We did have some come in from ground zero and we progress guys in steps, but the majority of our guys have been with us a year and it was awesome to take that next step with them. It was a great eight weeks."
Creativity and trust in the staff were two themes Woodfin hit on as he talked about the challenges that faced the program during the transitions.
"We redid our training room so during those eight weeks we had to rethink how we did things," he said.
"I am so proud of our student athletes and the way they embraced it. We said from day one this was not going to be an excuse for us and we still expected to train the best in the country. At the end of the day it doesn't matter so much what type of weight room you are in, and obviously facilities help, but at the end of the day it is about attitude and the effort you bring each and every day. That is what really separates the best from the best.
"From day one, all our student athletes that had to train in different areas embraced it and got after it. It reminded us of the old Southern Miss saying, "anyone, anywhere, anytime." It doesn't matter where we are, we'll train in a garage, a basement, or whatever. The attitude we bring and effort we use, makes all the difference."
The players had to be shuttled all over campus so they could find places to get in their work-outs as the state of the art weight room was being completed.
"We were in three separate stations and I have to give our staff tremendous credit because I couldn't be in three places at once," he said. "So I sent assistants with one group to the the baseball weight room, another group to the softball weight room, and several to ours which was empty and we created something out of it. I was bouncing around, but it was the assistants that really made it go. We had to drive 15 passenger vans all over the place, but you know what? We embrace challenge."
The team did get to experience the brand new weight room, however, and the reviews are in.
"Now, we are back in our new facility and renovated weight room which is just awesome," Woodfin updated.
"I am very excited about the new floor. We have a state of the art flooring which allows us to have our lifting platforms plush and even with the ground which is important. We can do a lot of movement within the weight room and we don't have a 3-5 inch step up or anything like that. It is a very forgiving surface for training and jumping and lifting and I'm excited about all the new racks we have.
"We went from 12 work stations to 15 work stations which allows us to train more of our athletes at once. It looks a lot bigger because we tore down a wall and it just makes it look a lot bigger. I'm excited to have a first class weight room. It is awesome for so many reasons including recruiting. It is one of the nicest in the conference, but we tell them all the time that the new facilities will not win games for Southern Miss. How you use the facilities will win games for Southern Miss. We have to work harder than we ever have because the expectations are higher this season."
Speaking of culture change, Woodfin said that it has really settled in and he's noticing more and more of it happening during the work-outs. There is an air of positivity that wasn't always there when he first took over.
"You know it has really shifted when the coaches don't have to continually talk about being positive, but when we are going through a real challenging work out, it is the players that start to do the encouraging of each other," Woodfin said.
"They won't let each other start to talk negative, and they are the ones saying, "if you don't have anything positive to say, then don't say anything at all."
"When players start saying that stuff to each other and it starts being policed among the team, it is a sign the culture is moving in the right direction. We had some real challenging work-outs, and we've had guys step up and take the lead with calling each other out. Last year it was us coaches saying that, and this off-season I've seen the players take that role."
Overall, he said the team is chomping at the bit to get out there and start the spring season.
"Our culture is in a good place," he said.
"Our team knows we can never be satisfied and that we always have to find ways to do it better than we did it last year. Make no mistake about it, we want to take another step this year. We want to win a conference championship and we want to win a big time bowl game. To do that, we've all got to look in the mirror and ask ourselves how can we get better today? That starts with me and goes to every player on the team."
Spring practice begins this afternoon with the official start of the Jay Hopson era.