No such thing as an off-season, part two

If you've ever been to a Steve Sarkisian practice then you know you'd better keep your head on a swivel, or you're liable to get run over. They run everywhere and change fields so much that they actually accomplish some conditioning by running back and forth between Husky Stadium and the east field.

There is always a lot of rapid-fire activity in this system and you know that these kids are now in better shape because of it. You can also see that they are noticeably stronger. It takes a lot of hard work and coordination of staff to properly condition a team, and it obviously starts in the weight room with coach Ivan Lewis and his specific staff of football conditioning trainers.

Lewis and his assistant, Scott Gadeken, head up a staff of eight, whose primary area of responsibility is the sport of football.

This is the exact same approach that Alabama is currently undertaking with their weights and conditioning, and it's been working pretty well for them. Nebraska has been doing this for decades and the current Washington Athletic Director, Scott Woodward, fully understands what it takes to be competitive at this level of football. I also know he realizes what a great job is going on in the weight room.

This team could easily have been an 8-win team last year had they beaten Arizona State, Notre Dame and UCLA, all games that they essentially let get away. Regardless, they were all games where the Huskies battled right to the last play. When you're in better shape, you've got a lot better chance of being the winning team. They proved that the last two games of the season when they shut out Washington State and rolled over California.

This was the one of the most noticeable changes in the program as a whole; they're in better shape. They battled all the way through games and were tougher for it. They were in it in every fourth quarter. That's what conditioning is all about.

The philosophy of 'bigger, faster and stronger' has never changed for college football, and everyone in the game realizes that these vital improvements take place off the field.

To get faster you have to practice it. You need to learn how to run, how to start, how to burst and stop, and then accelerate all over again. That's all part of the Husky winter conditioning program. There is no kid too fast that they can't make faster. Proper stretching, mechanics and running drills, along with the standard power weight training lifts, are the bulk of the winter work program.

Ivan Lewis and his staff have designed the winter program to work the shoulders, hips, back and torso areas. These areas comprise the power source that is so critical to football. This is definitely the time of the year to get bigger and stronger and there have been some tremendous gains throughout the team. Even though they work out four days a week (at 6 am in the morning for the linemen), everything is done on the go. I think it's all part of the Sarkisian philosophy of making everything fast in practice so that things slow down in games.

When spring drills roll around in April, they will shift to "in-season" conditioning mode, with an emphasis on maintenance. Then in May, it's back to drills. This time around they work specifically on combine-like skill drills and testing.

Summer drills can also include group activities, like 7-on-7, and these and all other activities have to be supervised by the conditioning staff for liability reasons. Full-time coaches are not allowed to watch.

Around the first of July, the incoming freshmen enroll in the summer bridge program and receive an introductory class to the Husky Weight and Strength Program as part of their daily curriculum. Meanwhile, the varsity kids continue their summer workouts on roughly a similar schedule that includes morning workouts, classes and studying.

Having position area trainers enables them to do specific drills with different position groups. Linemen actually do a lot of karate or hand drills on both sides of the ball, as well as medicine ball tosses and punch and slap drills. These are in addition to their body movement and quick burst drills.

Skill level kids can work ball drills, as well as grip and strength development in hands and feet. Drills that relate to each position are often the best form of workout exercises because they simulate the actual physical motions used to play the game.

To have workout assistants who are ex-NFL players like Kenechi Udeze and Grey Ruegamer working daily with the linemen is an added bonus. They know what it takes to get there, and even though the odds aren't great, most players still dream of the making it in the NFL when they get to college. It also gives Udeze and Ruegamer the opportunity to start their own careers in coaching.

I know having Marques Tuiasosopo around Jake Locker and Keith Price has been a positive for everyone involved. To have someone who understands what it takes to get your body ready to play a whole season and then how to maintain yourself for peak performance has been invaluable to Jake, not to mention all the footwork drills and mechanics of the position that requires constant repetition.

Husky seniors Donald Butler and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim represented the Huskies well at the NFL Combine this month by posting great strength and explosion numbers. It is a nice feather for the strength program, but it is really a tribute to both young men and the great work they did their whole careers, but particularly in their senior seasons at Washington. Those two made great gains under coach Lewis and his staff and it showed at the combine and their pro day.

Once upon a time the Washington Weight and Strength Program was well known throughout the game of football, and it was one of the major reasons why there were so many Huskies in the NFL at the time. It finally looks like that program has started to come back, and with it there will be more wins on the playing field. There is such a correlation between the two that it is easy to see when one suffers, the other does too.

For five years what happened on the football field was a direct reflection of what happened or didn't happen in the weight room. I know it's more complicated than that, but from my perspective, it was that obvious. It was so obvious that it was the first thing coach Sarkisian addressed when he was hired his staff, along with recruiting.

All the various parts make up the whole, and truthfully, in the area of player strength and development, the Huskies had slowly lost it over the past decade. They are getting it back now, especially in the weight room. They are still very thin depth-wise for this spring, but that will allow for some of the younger kids to develop.

I would estimate that there could be close to eight or so players missing spring drills due to injury rehabilitation, most following some kind of surgery. This will really hurt their numbers and hinder the amount of work they can do simply because of their shortage of linemen. Of course the incoming class of seven offensive linemen will fix that come fall, but for now they will be lucky to have three full lines on either side of the ball.

One thing you do know is that this team has been working hard for the first three months and will be excited to apply it to their positions at full tempo this spring. There is such an emphasis on movement now and being able to play on your feet.

Of course we have to wade through spring ball, summer workouts and fall camp before we even get to the season. But when we get there I'm confident their conditioning and training will help them show up in the left hand column.

No such thing as an off-season - part one Top Stories