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With the Gators entering their second year under Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Nick Savage, you probably would’ve expected this off-season to have been a little bit easier and more comfortable for the players.
After all, they seem to be in much better shape than they were when Savage arrived, so the shock to the system of going from a more relaxed program to Savage’s intense and demanding program wasn’t there. The returning players should also have had a batter grasp of what to expect and how to prepare for it.
Well, that’s not exactly what happened.
Because the players were so far behind physically when Savage arrived at UF, they spent part of the 2018 off-season just trying to get in shape so they could safely transition into the more grueling workouts.
This off-season, they were able to jump straight in.
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“This year, I think the expectations were high,” cornerback CJ Henderson said. “Last year, we didn’t really know what we could do, but, now that we had a year under our belts, they really kicked up a notch. And, it really helped us out.”
Added receiver Freddie Swain: “You still kind of don’t know what to expect with Coach Savage. He’ll get you no matter if you’re a senior or you’re a freshman. His workouts are kind of different.”
With the offseason shortened by a week due to the Miami game getting moved up to Week Zero, the offseason program had to be accelerated, which made it even more challenging, Swain said.
Savage doesn’t just believe in maintaining strength. He wants the players to continuously get bigger, faster and stronger, so the Gators had to run more, lift heavier weights, do more repetitions, etc., this offseason.
“They know that we can do way more stuff than we did last year,” safety Shawn Davis said. “With us being stronger, they’re going to put more weight on our back just to see if we can do it and get bigger, stronger and faster and all that.”
Wide receiver Josh Hammond said one of his least favorite workouts is the stadium run. They don’t just run up and down one sideline and call it a day; they touch just about every single step in the Swamp. They have to do one stadium workout for each home loss the season prior, so they did two this summer.
“I told all the freshmen, ‘You’re going to hate it. If you don’t want to run them, don’t lose in the Swamp,’” Hammond said. “I think the big thing is just making sure guys know what to expect and leave the right legacy so that they don’t have to do punishment workouts.”
As a whole, the Gators look vastly bigger and stronger than they did two or three years ago. They might not be where they want to be quite yet, but they at least look like a team that could play teams like Alabama and Georgia and not get overwhelmed physically.
Several players in particular made incredible gains – and losses – over the summer. Freshman offensive lineman Ethan White enrolled at Florida going on 400-pounds. And, he didn’t look like a muscular, strong 400 pounds, either. He’s listed at 370 pounds on the fall roster. That’s only a 20-30-pound difference, but the reality is he likely is down 50-70 pounds from his high. He’s shed a ton of fat and put on some muscle, and he’s starting to look like an SEC lineman.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, defensive end Zachary Carter is listed at 263 pounds and looks like a monster who goes a good 20 pounds more. He resembles the type of defensive lineman you’re used to seeing at schools like Alabama and Clemson from a physical standpoint.
“Last year’s offseason, I was trying to figure everything out,” Carter said. “I would say I didn’t have my foot all the way in the door, but, this offseason, things really clicked and [I] took the strength and conditioning very seriously. It’s paid off, just not for me, but for a lot of people on the team.”
Some of the receivers, especially Jacob Copeland and Tyrie Cleveland, are not as lanky anymore. Defensive tackle Kyree Campbell and cornerbacks Marco Wilson and Henderson also look noticeably stronger.
“We’re in better shape, so guys are a lot stronger, guys are a lot faster,” offensive lineman Jean Delance said. “I can only speak for myself, and I can see other guys too, but just for myself, I see my conditioning, endurance got a lot better from last year.”
Hammond said the older players such as himself were able to lead a little more this summer. Last offseason, the strength and conditioning program was new to everybody, so it was tough for the veterans to bring the younger players along. While Savage made it tougher this offseason and threw in a few wrinkles, the veterans had a decent idea of what to expect and how to do things, and they were able to communicate that to the younger guys.
As Dan Mullen tries to close the gap between the Gators and the nation’s elite programs, strength and conditioning will continue to play a crucial role. So, don’t expect next offseason to be any easier.