Midnight Matness!

For the past few weeks, players were running on a minimal amount of sleep and waking up at the crack of dawn. But they were not doing so to head to class. That would come later. They were on their way to mat drills, a series of drills run by the coaching staff to ensure that everyone stays on top of their game during the offseason. With spring football just around the corner, the annual "Midnight Matness" was held at Dempsey Indoor Arena to cap another year of these wonderful little exercises.

11:17pm – We arrived at Dempsey Indoor Arena with all of the players gathered in the south end zone preparing for the final day of mat drills. All the coaches including Rick Neuheisel, Keith Gilbertson, John Pettas, and Dan Cozzetto are walking around the field and discussing the game plan for the evening. Players are joking around, sharing stories about their days and such but in a matter of minutes, the laughter will no longer be as loud and all of the fun will begin.

11:20pm – Enter Randy Hart, the man who players love to hate this time of the year. Coach Hart has his game face on as he walks through the doors and is silent. Perhaps he was saving his voice for something more important. Not too far behind him is Steve Emtman

11:30pm - As the first whistle blew, the players took off for a warm-up lap around the field and met back at the south end zone to get set for the warm-up drills. The man who set the pace with the whistle for the players was none other than Emtman as the players did a series of skips, hip flexors, high knees, and back peddles to loosen their bodies for the grueling workout to come. With Metallica's "Enter Sandman" running loud through the speakers, Husky players lined up in a cube and performed the "Husky Jumping Jacks" to conclude their warm-ups.

11:40pm - After a brief talk pep talk from Neuheisel, the players broke up into their groups and departed for the three stations of drills set up by the coaches.

The "MASH" unit included the likes of Marquis Cooper, Joe Toledo, Chris Massey, Sam Cunningham, and Rich Alexis. Brad Vanneman and Josh Miller also sat out of the drills due to a broken foot and a nagging back injury. All would not participate in the physical drills and instead worked out on their own around the indoor track for the duration of the time.

Each unit spent about 15 minutes at a station. For those 15 minutes, they belonged to and were at the mercy of the coaches. Emtman and new grad assistant Reggie Moore led a drill where the players would have to go over and duck under hurdles and then proceed to work on their footwork running around two rings set up adjacent to the area. Afterwards, they ran through the ladders and ran over to the long jump pit where Pettas was waiting for them and had them do anything and everything while rolling around in the sand pit.

Over towards midfield, Tim Hundley and Gilberston manned the quickness drills, where players worked on the speed of their footwork by doing all sorts of drills such as recognizing directions and games of tag by using their speed to get past defenders in an isolated area. Over on the mats were Cozzetto, Cornell Jackson, and legendary drill sergeant Hart.

The linemen hit the mats first. Players lined up in groups of four as they would spring to the center of the mat and then kept their eyes on a coach's hands. They were to shift to whichever direction the coach had signaled. The first group included Khalif Barnes, Terry Johnson, Jerome Stevens, and Manase Hopoi. "Tank" was sporting a custom made T-shirt that read "Come on Coach Hart, Is that all you got?"

The players hit the mats really hard and had to give the coaches everything they had. If it did not look good enough or if one player messed up, they went to the back of the line and had to do it over again until it was done correctly.

One could not help but notice the huge vein popping out of Coach Hart's forehead just a mere four minutes into the drill. All the rumors about Hart being one of the most intense coaches are true. Hart barked out orders with so much fire and intensity that he was sweating almost as much as his players.

Coach Jackson, who had been silent for the majority of the night, was next as he took on the role of the director. Jackson did not let the intensity slip one bit as he lit a fire under the players and demanded hustle and concentration on his drills. Jackson has the classic "mean-look" that could strike fear into any player.

Even Cozzetto got into the act. The new offensive line coach must have raised a few eyebrows with the fire that he brought to the team. The "hello, how are you?" routine must not have lasted too long with his new players as he was every bit as intense as the coaches who have been here since day one.

The group of Barnes, Johnson, Stevens, and Hopoi was very impressive. They rarely, if ever, made a mistake during the drills and were the most vocal one in the group. They yelled out encouragement to players who were struggling and were cheerleaders when they were not in the drill themselves. Dan Milsten, Jordan Reffett, Brandon Ala, Clay Walker, and Donny Mateaki were all very impressive as well. Speaking of Mateaki, he has definition for muscles in place that I did not even know existed. He is a physical specimen that will surely make an impact sooner rather than later.

11:55pm - The horn went off and next to the mat were the receivers, running backs, and defensive backs. Everyone was in attendance including Reggie Williams, Charles Frederick, Derrick Johnson, and Sterling Brown. Sterling Brown? Yes, the same Sterling Brown who was last seen as a member of the Huskies basketball team last season is now hoping to land a spot with the football team.

Williams was obviously still in tip-top shape. Participating in track has really helped him stay in shape for the winter. Frederick, who was participating in his first "matness", looked like he had been doing this stuff for years.

This was the first opportunity I had to see Kenny James and Jordan Slye up close. Slye looks like he could turn out to be a safety that can make an impact soon at Washington. But I must say that James is as good as advertised. James did make some freshmen errors (and he definitely heard it from Hart) but the positives clearly outweighed the negatives. James had bursts of speed where he made some of the veterans look bad, and at 5-11 and 210 pounds; he looks to be ready to make an impact in the spring. Ty Eriks looked impressive this evening as well. Why he does not see the field more often is beyond me.

Another promising item of note was seeing Roc Alexander and Jimmy Newell out on the mats. Both defensive backs are coming off of season ending injuries and looks to be fully recovered.

12:11am – The last group to come to the mat were the quarterbacks, linebackers, tight ends, and even the kickers. Cody Pickett showed some nice moves on the mat and so did Casey Paus. But the showstopper was Isaiah Stanback. Stanback's athleticism is second to none and only James rivaled his quickness this evening. Whether he plays quarterback, wide receiver, or safety, Stanback will find some way to see the field this season.

Joe Lobendahn was in phenomenal shape as well as he showed tailback like quickness at times. Cory Jones was also very vocal and had to run the drills many times because he was in a group with mostly new players.

Another player that caught my eye is Ben Bandel. How could anyone miss him? The guy is absolutely HUGE. Jon Lyon also showed what he is capable of. With Toledo out this spring, Lyon will have a chance to showcase what he is made of during spring ball.

By this time, Hart's voice was almost gone, veins popping out from everywhere and his shirt was absolutely drenched in sweat. However he did not let up as he was just as intense as he was 30 minutes ago. Even the kickers could not escape the wrath of Hart as Evan Knudson, Jeffrey Clay, and Ricardo DoValle were all thrown into the mat drills.

12:26am – The horn blew once more and the players all huddled up at midfield. After a quick talk by Emtman, the players lined up in a cube once more for a quick set of pushups and sit-ups.

12:30am – The final drill was reserved for the freshmen and new players. With the entire team circling the mat, all of the youngsters had to go through the mat drill for one last round. After they got through Gilberston, Jackson, and Cozzetto, all they had to go through was just one last coach.

Enter Randy Hart.

As soon as all of the first-year players got through Hart, this season of mat drills would be complete. But Hart would not let them off that easy. It took about five minutes before one set of players even completed their drill correctly with Hart throwing every trick he had up his sleeve to confuse them. At times I did not know whether or not the upperclassmen or Hart himself was having more fun with this drill.

12:40am – Finally all the players got through and the upperclassmen gave them a round of applause. With Neuheisel calling all players to midfield and having them take a knee, he congratulated them for getting through another season of mat drills.

After some brief team announcements the team gathered up and was broken down by Todd Bachert, who put the exclamation point to Midnight Matness with a "Beat the Buckeyes" chant and everyone was excused until the first day of spring practice.

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