Back from Break
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Back from Break, Back to Work

March 26, 2018

Mick Stoltenberg’s spring break plans didn’t include any beach-front hotels or ski-lift rides or cross-country road trips. The senior defensive lineman went home to spend time with his family in Gretna and keep his nose in the Huskers’ new playbook. “We are really learning a new system, just making sure things are kind of dialed in for when we get back here,” he said.

He expected the rest of his teammates to have similarly uneventful weeks, “or at least they should.”

The Huskers got their toes wet two Fridays ago with a practice before the team was released. They’ll get back to work on Tuesday. Head coach Scott Frost said after that first practice his only message to the players was to be smart; they’ve made progress since strength coach Zach Duval took over and he wanted them to “make sure and not give all that back.”

But just how much progress? Defensive end Ben Stille added 20 pounds of lean muscle mass. End DaiShon Neal tweeted about new squat and bench maxes. Even junior-college-transfer wide receiver Mike Williams is in on the #WarDaddyUp train and has added about 15 pounds of lean muscle mass (Duval said he started at 160 pounds, his Husker profile has him at 175). In total, the Huskers gained almost 450 pounds of muscle, lost 389 pounds of fat and an average of almost 3 percent body fat during winter conditioning.

You’ve seen that Husker video from workouts, right? You know, that one where defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun flashes the craziest crazy eyes in the history of crazy eyes?

“Everybody’s been lifting really heavy,” Akinmoladun said. “Like heavier than I ever thought of. I’ve lifted more weight than I probably have ever imagined. … Recently I probably squatted, I don’t know the math, but seven plates. That’s a number I thought I was never going to see, I never thought I was going to be able to put that on my back.”

The senior did 675 pounds after one winter with Duval.

When winter conditioning began, Duval broke down everything — doing these workouts for these reasons to get these results. If someone didn’t understand, Duval’s door was open. "They always explain how it is going down in football, you’ve got defensive linemen doing defensive lineman-specific drills, offensive line doing offensive lineman-specific drills,” Stoltenberg said of the workouts. Duval came at things from a player’s perspective and the team responded.

Six o’clock morning workouts were set aside for the offensive and defensive lines. There was a 4 p.m. workout and a 6 p.m. workout for the other position groups later in the day, but Stoltenberg said both lines took pride in getting up before anyone else to go to work. Carlos Davis, a fourth-year junior, called this winter “the best offseason I’ve had.” 

And that’s great, but the Huskers weren’t just getting in shape to get in shape (which feels slightly counterintuitive to say, but given the way things deteriorated in 2017, there was a small element of simple reinvigoration that needed to take place). Like everything else, it’s all part of the larger plan. Frost goes fast. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander attacks fast. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters strikes fast.

“You can’t play fast if you’re not in shape,” Walters said. “Coach Duval has done a great job and his staff has done a great job in the last months of just getting those guys in shape and conditioning where they can stay up with the tempo.”

Walters says Nebraska will mix up its tempo similar to the way a pitcher offsets his fastball with a change-up or a curve; getting used to that fastball will be a crucial part of spring ball. “We’ll grow throughout the course of spring and get better with our tempo,” Walters said. With Stoltenberg back from Gretna and the rest of the Huskers along with him, that process starts back up Tuesday.

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