The summer is all about gains.
What was the top-of-the-list most important goal this offseason? Get bigger, faster, stronger.
“We were nowhere near the team that I wanted us to be last year. Not even close, in a lot of different areas,” head coach Scott Frost said at Big Ten Media Days last week. “And that being said, by the end of the year, we were playing, beating or having a chance to beat the best teams in our league.”
But if you remember from the end of the season (not many have likely forgotten, it was one of the most-used, most-talked about, most-hate-liked quotes of last season), Frost said other teams were just bigger. He’d look across the sideline and see teams that were bigger. Going from being a decent team competing to win to being a great team expecting to win was going to take another commitment Zach Duval in the offseason.
“Last year we had Zach Duval, but he’s doing more (this year),” senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis said. “We may do a workout and then we’re going out and running. We’re just doing more, more than we did last year. The theme at the beginning for strength and conditioning was ‘One More.’ We were just doing an extra rep. Coach Duval just wanted us to do more.”
Senior linebacker Mohamed Barry says now the Huskers have the size to compete with the traditional powers of the Big Ten.
Frost says now he sees a confidence in the team because they’re doing things in the weight room that two years ago they never imagined they’d be able to do.
“If you just walked in and saw our team right now compared to where it was a year ago, some of the kids don’t even look like the same kids,” Frost said. “We’re starting to look like a Nebraska football team’s supposed to look.”
I had Tom Osborne tell me the exact same thing on Friday.
So, in what appears to be becoming an offseason tradition, let’s look at the actual gains made on the media guide. Nebraska’s roster has been updated and, just like with last season, that means a slightly clearer picture at the results of another year in the weight room with Zach Duval.
(An important caveat. These are never exact numbers, but they’re close enough. Quarterback Adrian Martinez’s listing is right on the dot. But, for example, with a guy like Barry, he told me he played at 225, sometimes 222 last season and now he’s up to 235, almost 237 this offseason. So not exact, but still informative.)
If you look at what’s happening in that table for guys who are now in their second go-around with Duval, it’s pretty interesting. In Year 1, Nebraska made massive weight gains across the board. You look at someone like Brenden Jaimes who went from a 250-pound redshirt freshman to a 300-pound sophomore in one offseason, or a guy like Ben Stille adding 35 pounds of muscle. A lot of that was just getting the team to a baseline standard for a football team.
That sounds harsh, but Nebraska’s strength program, as has been mentioned a few times since this staff’s arrival, was nowhere near where it needed to be. Last year was about just adding sheer size and getting guys into football shape.
It seems this offseason was about getting dudes in Frost Football Shape.
A lot of skill position guys cut weight. Jaylin Bradley dropped 10 pounds (he looked huge in 2018 and noticeably slimmed down in the spring) while Jaevon McQuitty and JD Spielman and Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard all cut weight.
It’ll be interesting once fall camp opens to talk to guys about their body fat percentage; I would venture to say that was an area Duval targeted this offseason. Guys probably still added muscle while cutting five or so pounds because they dropped fat.
Then there are guys like defensive linemen Casey Rogers and Tate Wildeman, neither of whom went through spring ball last year and got their first taste of winter conditioning this offseason. They’re both up 25 pounds after a year.
Because he doesn’t talk to the media, it’s hard to really know the philosophies and specifics behind Duval’s weight room wizardry. But Frost trusts him wholeheartedly and the results are speaking for themselves.
“He’s elite at what he does,” Frost said. “I think he’s taken the Husker Power approach and made it more scientific, more current, more up-to-date. He does a great job planning out what our players are going to do and motivating them.
“The biggest factor is he’s the voice of our staff more of the year than the coaches are the voice of our staff. Our players are around the strength coaches more than they’re around us. Not just him but Andrew [Strop] and Jasen [Carlson] and the other guys in the weight room do a great job of being on the same page as us and carrying on some of the same approaches and ideas and even sayings and characteristics. … He really is an extension of what we’re doing.”
At his first Media Days appearance in 2018, Frost talked about his time at Oregon. He talked about the frustrations he had when the Ducks would get out-muscled, because that was the only way a team could beat their scheme. He talked about going to Central Florida and wanting Duval on his team because he thought if he could “marry Husker Power with Oregon speed,” he wouldn’t lose a football game.
And when Year 2 rolled around there, they didn’t.
He said the same line again this go-around in Chicago. Duval is the key.
How much closer this Husker team is to the physically dominant Husker teams Frost knew will go a long way in determining what Year 2 here will look like.
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.