Southern Miss football fans, your Golden Eagles are in good hands this summer with Head Strength and Conditioning Coach SaJason Finley running the show.
Last spring, we got to know the new man pegged to replace Zac Woodfin and all the outstanding things that he did with the program. Woodfin came in and had a goal of culture change, which he accomplished with Coach Monken in just a few years. Now, with the strength program has been turned over to SaJason Finley, the goal is to simply build off the pillars that have been laid in place.
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Coach Finley made it clear that he is not trying to reinvent the wheel with the conditioning program. Both Woodfin and Finley have the same mentors, background, and philosophy, and not much is going to change about the way things are done in the program.
For example, the 4 pillars that Woodfin introduced to the Southern Miss athletes (Mindset, movement, nutrition, recovery) will drive everything the program builds on. Also, Finley knows that strong relationships with the players are what give them the avenues into their development. That's why he has been known to have BBQ's at his house and other opportunities to get to know the players on a deeper level.
In short, any concerns about a change in philosophy in the strength program can be laid to the side with Finley at the helm. SaJason Finley is knowledgeable, passionate, and every bit as competitive as Coach Woodfin is.
In his first summer, Finley feels like everything is on the right track.
"Things are starting off great this summer," he told GoldenEaglePride.com. "There is a lot of retention with the guys, and they are working hard to make sure everything they've built is continued along.
"We are seeing leaders step up and new leaders emerge. The guys have tasted success the past two years and are very hungry to take that next step and win a Championship."
It all starts with the grind of the summer work-outs, which begin long before many of us wake up each day.
"We have different groups that come through, starting with a 6:30 group, then an 8:00 group, a 10:00 group and a 1:00 group," he explained.
"A lot of those freshman and newcomers are in that first group. My thought process with those guys is that I want to start their college off on the right track and getting in the habit of getting up early for class, and building habits that will get them successful. So, I wake those guys up a little earlier than I do our older guys who have earned the right to sleep in.
"They do some form of conditioning just about every day to build that work capacity up for them. The newcomers lifts are very basic, our belief is that we want to slow cook them and build them up the right way and make sure their movement patterns are right.
"If we throw them into a front squat or a back squat, or what some might call an easy lift, we pay great attention to it. Their tempo is so critical as well as the time and attention to everything they are doing. Those guys are coming out of there like 'man I've never done anything like that before.'"
The older, more experienced players (those in the intermediate and advanced tiers), are coming in later and often staying later to get some extra work in.
"Each group has about an hour with their lifts, and we roll them in and out," Finley said.
"They will come in, go to class, then they will come back and do 7 on 7 on their own. Some days they meet with Coaches and watch film. Some days, they will hit PRP's (player run practice) on their own which is fun to watch them put into practice what we have drilled into them. They push each other and they really challenge each other."
Another key element to the success of the program is the element of competition. The players compete for awards such as lifter of the week, most gains of the week, attitude award, and leadership award. Last week, it was Darian Yancey who held the title of lifter of the week.
"We just want to acknowledge those who are doing especially above and beyond and those that are bringing a great attitude everyday," Finley added.
"We are encouraging the guys to bring each other along. We want to make sure we acknowledge those, and what it does is makes every player want to be that guy.
"All of this just creates competition among the guys which is how they push each other and how you get better as a program."
The vocal leaders for the upcoming season are usually made in the dog days of the summer, when the grind gets tough and the will is challenged. Coach Finley acknowledged a few who are taking up those roles in the early goings.
"It has been fun watching Ito Smith," he said. "He has really stepped it up. In the past, Ito was a quiet guy but now he's developed into a vocal leader as well. Not only is he lighting it up on the field every day, but he's using his voice to lead the guys and guys respond to him.
"Keon Howard is another one who is leading and it is fun to watch that.
"Isaiah Jones is having a heck of a summer right now and I'm just so impressed with his work ethic and focus. He has been a new guy this summer and I am just so excited about what he has been doing. He has led in the weight room, and has come in early and is doing those minute details that make the difference between winning and losing."
In part two with Coach Finley, he will discuss individual player development as well as go into more detail on how they are bringing along the newcomers and freshman that join Southern Miss.