When Boyd Epley was holding court inside the Nebraska weight room, the Huskers were cutting edge and innovative. Strength training in football took on a new identity, one synonymous with Husker Power.
“I still want to get back to a day when we tested Nebraska,” current Husker head coach Scott Frost said last year in Chicago during his 2019 Big Ten Media Day appearance. “I remember that. It was in your guys’ papers every year, twice a year when we tested in our 40, agility run, squat, clean, vertical jump, all of those things.
“It was competitive. It was impressive. It was a big deal.”
The results held up against any other program in the country. As NU tried to go more West Coast than Husker Power, the numbers stopped coming out. When Frost got to town in December of 2017, there was consternation about where the program was at from a strength training standpoint.
“I don’t think Zach [Duval] felt like we were in a position where we could make that public yet,” Frost said then.
In an interview with Husker Sports Nightly in November of 2019, Duval, the team’s strength coach, said Nebraska was trending in the wrong direction when he showed up.
“We were increasing fat and decreasing muscle mass, and you want to do the opposite of that,” Duval said. “We put them through the Performance Index Testing, and it was nowhere close to where it needs to be. … Year one was very interesting. We flipped the script 100% on them.”
Nebraska might not yet be in a place where it wants to publicly share those results, but both the head football coach and the head strength coach want to get there. “That is probably one of the best ways of increasing competition, and competition increases everything,” Duval said.
So, until we start seeing quantitative data, curious Husker fans should look no further than Duval’s Twitter feed.
On Saturday, Duval shared a teaser of things to come with a short clip featuring tight end Travis Vokolek.
Vokolek sat out the 2019 season after transferring from Rutgers. He has two remaining years of eligibility.
On Monday, Duval provided a look at the continued transformation of former tight end and current starting center Cameron Jurgens.
Jurgens is a third-year sophomore.
He also shared true freshman running back Marvin Scott III.
Scott is a freshman, in case you missed it. A first-year player. Nebraska might be closer than we thought to a return to those days of Epley dominance.
Scott’s participation also clears up one thing: the remaining summer-arriving members of Nebraska’s 2020 signing class are now able to participate in official team activities.
Logan Smothers (QB), Alante Brown (WR), Turner Corcoran (OL), Jordon Riley (DL), Blaise Gunnerson (LB), Eteva Mauga-Clements (JUCO LB), Jaiden Francois (DB), and Tamon Lynum (DB) all enrolled early and participated in spring ball before it was shut down. Riley specifically drew rave reviews from his peers.
Now the rest of the class—including Scott, wideout Omar Manning and 12 others, as well as the 2020 walk-on class—can participate fully in team activities. Husker walk-ons who took part in this weekend’s Shrine Bowl game will have to complete quarantine before being allowed to join. Australian punter Daniel Cerni is the only scholarship player who has yet to make it to campus.
Monday morning marked the official start of formal summer access to players. It’s the first step in a modified preseason training schedule the NCAA approved last month to try and help mitigate the setback a lost spring period caused in season preparation.
Nebraska has been holding voluntary workouts on campus since June 1, the earliest date allowed by the NCAA. For the next 11 days—until July 24—programs around the country, unless otherwise mandated by their leagues, can have up to eight hours a week of supervised weight training with strength and conditioning staff and film study with coaches. Film work is not to exceed two hours during any given week.
Beginning on July 24, and lasting for two weeks until Aug. 6, players can participate in up to 20 hours a week of team activities—up to eight hours of weight training and conditioning, up to six hours of walkthroughs that can include a ball, and up to six hours of meetings and film study. During that time, players must have at least two days off each week. With Nebraska currently scheduled to begin its season on Sept. 5, the Huskers are set to begin fall camp on Aug. 7.
(The schedule might be subject to change, though, with the Big Ten canceling all nonconference games for the upcoming season.)
Nebraska is holding out hope for a season as its neighbors grow pessimistic with each passing day. The state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lincoln is certainly less tenuous than other places. As of Sunday, the state is reporting less than 100 hospitalizations for the virus.
Getting back to workouts Monday is the first step of what Nebraska hopes will be several on the road to football in the fall.
Tuesday (July 14) Update:
Duval shared a few other clips Tuesday afternoon, this time of guys on the defensive line.
First it was freshman lineman Nash Hutmacher, the man they call The Polar Bear, who certainly looks like he’s spent the last 34 years of his life living in the arctic.
And then came a video of senior defensive end Ben Stille.
He also shared junior Chris Walker on the bench.
And one more look at what appears to be Jurgens.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.