Ivan Lewis likes this USC team. Likes the way it competes. The way it wants to get better. The way it reminds him of those Trojans teams that won three straight Rose Bowls and Pac-12 titles when he was here the first time around.That's when he was assisting strength and conditioning boss Chris Carlisle, who's "at the top of my list," Lewis says of the inner circle of coaches he admires and calls on.
"Speed kills," Lewis says repeating Carlisle's mantra, one that Lewis, the national S&C Coach of the Year in 2013, believes in wholeheartedly.
That's why he likes this Trojans team as much as he does. "I think we've really gotten their conditioning level where it should be," he says of the work that started in January.
His job right now isn't to get this team ready for the 2014 season, "I'm getting them ready for training camp.". It's just one of a number of steps that he and his five-coach staff ("I really do think it's the best in college football," he says) have moved through in seven months.
The first one took some time: Explaining in great detail what they were going to do, why they were going to do it and how exactly they wanted it done. That takes a personal connection, Lewis says.
"I'm a big 'feel' guy," Lewis says of the way you have to combine the expanding science of his specialty with a feel for the players you're coaching.
"When you've been around them, you really get to know them." You get to know when your stars are dragging and that tells you your whole team is -- or maybe when the player with sickle cell doesn't look right.
"You can tell a lot when guys are warming up," he says. You just have to know them -- and where you want them to be.
For example, with all the running coming up, they'll ease off on hamstrings. And that ankle and knee work they did early on explosive starts in the winter, well, that was for then. Now it's about having fresh legs, Lewis says.
"I like the idea of fresh legs -- and teapering off." But there's a limit to easing up.
That's where the art comes in. "A lot of teams are off right now," Lewis says. USC isn't. It's why he and his staff are in at 6 a.m. every norning. And the players' schedules show all sorts of individual activities in just the first eight minutes of their daily work.
That will change over time as Lewis plans out how many days, and what time of the day, each player will work out during the season. Starters will lift twice a week -- after practice. And quarterbacks will get special attention from him, especially for their leg strength that translates into throwing power because they don't get that in the normal conduct of weekly prep work.
But if you want to get Lewis going, ask him about some of his guys. Leonard Williams is a great place to start with BLW now up to 305 pounds -- "Maybe 310," Lewis says with a grin."He's such a joy to coach," Lewis says of an athlete "who's just naturally strong -- football strong. With great leverage. He does things effortlessly. And he loves to play football. He's such a joy to coach. With a guy like Leonard, you don't have to worry about how much he squats. You just want him to be as strong as he can be."
Then there's this team's prize pupil, another D-lineman, Claude Pelon, who "really has come farther faster than anybody," Lewis says. "He's at tremendous levels right now. But when he got here, he just wasn't ready even though he thought he was. He said he'd been doing three-mile runs but he didn't have to be doing that." The 300-pound Floridian needed to be doing the USC plan for him, it turns out.
Both are coming back after surgery but the emphasis this year will be to prevent those kinds of injuries as much as possible. "You have no control over broken bones, those things just happen," Lewis says, "but soft tissue injuries and conditioning, you do."
That's the plan, anyway. Or one of a number of them that will play out as this team plays on.