Before spring drills even started, a number of players showed some noticeable changes. Some faster, some bigger, some stronger.
Asked to mention a few players who stood out to him, Pitt strength coach Ross Kolodziej did mention a few names.
"The amount of guys that come to your mind, there's probably eight or nine guys," Kolodziej said. "I'm excited about a guy like T.J. Clemmings. He's a guy who's doing a lot of those things (Donald) did. He's doing that extra flexibility work. He's getting on the foam rollers, doing the core contrasts. Manasseh Garner, Todd Thomas is a guy who has really bought in. He has done everything we've asked him to do, done some extra stuff. I could go on and on. Artie Rowell does a tremendous job, (Matt) Rotheram. Those guys did a tremendous job in spring ball. Those guys come in and get extra lifts.
"Tyler Boyd has been surprising, with the season he's had, he comes in and he's grinding. He senses the opportunity with what he could do here. James Conner is a guy, pound for pound, had some of the biggest gains throughout the winter. I could go down the line. Every single guy on our team has gone above and beyond what they asked them to do."
Clemmings was one of the top overall performers in spring, and he capped that off by being named the Most Improved Player on offense for a second year in a row. Thomas already has an accomplished career, but was named Most Improved Player for Special Teams.
It wasn't too lengthy of a process to get these players to where they are now. Kolodziej had a couple of months to work with the players prior to the spring. Though it's only part of the plan, and only the beginning--he mentioned the upcoming summer plan as a big building block. But, the changes were evident entering the spring.
When Kolodziej took the job, he gives himself no credit. You can get an idea of the kind of orders Paul Chryst gave him, in getting the players ready for the spring. From there, Kolodziej really gives the credit to the players for simply putting the work in.
"We have a high-quality group of kids," Kolodziej said. "That goes back to off-the-field recruiting. As Coach Chryst says, you go after smart, tough, dependable kids. I think that makes everyone's job a lot easier, when you have high-quality kids that are committed to the program."
Manasseh Garner--who was in the weight room on his own as this interview was taking place--went from 235 to 215, in moving from tight end to receiver. Garner is just one example of a guy who transformed himself in a short time.
But is the workout between January and March the same for a Garner, as it is a lineman like Artie Rowell, or even a defensive back like Lafayette Pitts? Kolodziej talked about how the groups are separated.
"In the winter, it starts, two big groups," Kolodziej said. "The linemen are together, the skill guys are together. Those are the groups that compete against each other on the field. We try and keep the group together, we'll have five stations geared to the work each day.
"A lot of stuff we do in terms of developing strength, we're developing strength of position. When we move to the field, we go more specific to volume. The intensity should never change. Some guys (skill guys) will run 12 miles a day on the field, whereas linemen might run a half-mile that day."
Nutrition is another big part of it. Kolodziej says that well-known nutrionist, Dr. Leslie Bonci, comes in to do seminars with the players. While there are certain parts he can control, a lot of it is on the players, too.
"Really, its a lifestyle," Kolodziej said. "Some kids have pretty good lifestyle habits. Some kids don't. We try and minimize that. Leslie Bonci has come in, taken a lead. Nutrition is a big part of it. Same thing with sleeping, managing your time."
Kolodziej made mention of the upcoming summer period. New rule changes state that players have a mandated eight hours per week of conditioning. For Pitt, the breakdown will by Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for two days a week. Film work can also be included with that eight hours. However, most players look to do film work on their own time.
The same goes, for example, quarterbacks and receivers. Chad Voytik even made a point last week, that him getting together with the receivers, in his words has to be on their own, separate from the conditioning sessions. Position coaches have certain time allotments they can be on the field with the players, if they want to. For the most part, any route running or organized 7-on-7 time, the players want to take up on their own.
A couple of recent graduates, have never left the program. Aaron Donald and Tom Savage are not just the talk locally, as they get ready for the NFL Draft. Kolodziej says he has seen both in the weight room, still working as if they were still in the program. It's not the only reason that Donald is in consideration for being a first-round pick, Savage possible an early second-round pick. But, in looking at what these two are doing now, it's not a surprise as to why NFL teams are considering these guys.
"Aaron Donald would be the most recent example of someone who transformed his approach," Kolodziej said. "Aaron is in here at 7 am as if he's getting ready for a combine. He's still watching tape. I think that's where his growth was the biggest. You get really excited about following his lead. It's still great to see him come in here. The general approach of a lot of (NFL prospects) is to take a vacation. That speaks volumes for the type of character guys that are on this team. That's what's exciting.
"I thought Savage was great during his time here. He's really worked hard to get in the best shape of life. I'm excited to see what happens. He's got a big arm, he's a smart kid. All he needs is an opportunity, and the right person to believe in him. If he gets that, he'll be fine."
The upcoming summer session will begin on June 2 for the returning players. The incoming freshmen will begin on June 20.
There's also a plan for expansion of the weight room. An entire wall will be knocked down, where part of the current locker room of the facility will make way for an additional 1,400 square feet in the weight room.
"We have a great group of kids," Kolodziej said. "Now that they've taken the bit on it, they've taken some ownership on it. It's no longer about getting their attention. Our guys have seen the reason why. Now, they want to take the next level. That's what's exciting."