JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As Florida coach Dan Mullen addressed a crowd of several hundred fans at EverBank Field on Monday night, the discussion turned to the Gators’ offseason strength and conditioning program.
Mullen recalled with pride one player’s reaction to the team’s grueling St. Valentine’s Day workout earlier this month.
“I think it’s been shocking for them, the offseason program,” Mullen said. “I had one of them the other day, we had our St. Valentines Day workout, he’s like, ‘Coach you guys are sick, you’re demented with how you come up with these things.’ He’s saying it as he can barely walk.”
“I kind of smile and they tell me they’ve never been through anything like this before,” he said.
Mullen pledged in his introductory news conference back in late November that he would ramp up the Gators’ offseason workouts, following a model he used to elevate Mississippi State’s football program over his nine seasons as head coach there.
That has been music to fans’ ears after the most vocal and frustrated supporters of the program bemoaned the Gators’ physical preparation and readiness as things went off course with a 4-7 season last year.
Before speaking to the fans, Mullen talked for almost 20 minutes with a group of reporters and said he’s been pleased so far with the players’ buy-in to the offseason program and new director of strength and conditioning Nick Savage.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve been most pleased with because you don’t know how they’re going to respond,” he said. “They’ve really bought in to what we’ve done. There’s been very, very little resistance. Our strength staff’s done a really good job of building them up, pushing them to levels they haven’t been pushed, but also building them up with confidence while they’re doing it. I think that’s important.
“You can come in and you see a lot of these with these programs, guys come in and go to a workout and guys are injured and this is happening and that’s happening. Nick’s done a great job of building guys up of what they can do, what they can handle, but also pushing them to the extremes that they’re not able to cruise through any of our workouts, I can tell you that much. But our guys have really responded to that, and I think they’re starting to see the improvements — both physically and the mental toughness that they have to complete the workouts.”
Savage is just 28 years old, but he wowed Mullen when he took over as Mississippi State’s 26-year-old interim strength coach leading into the Bulldogs’ bowl game after the 2015 season.
The position had come open and Mullen saw something he liked in Savage.
“I see guys that kind of have a factor. And with a guy like Nick, he was an assistant for me, he knew my standard within the program and what it was, and when given an opportunity he took advantage of it,” Mullen said. “To be honest, when I hired him, it was right after the season, we had a strength coach leave before our bowl game, I said, ‘Hey, for the next month you’re the head strength coach here and it’s a month-long interview for you to show me that you’re ready to take over this program.’ And he did an excellent job. But the thing to me that’s most impressive to me about him, as a young strength coach coming in, to see his growth from one year to the next to the next to the next to become one of the top strength coaches I think now in America is pretty special.”
Mullen reiterated that high praise in his session with fans as well.
As Mullen said, though, this is only just the beginning. The first step was establishing a new way of doing things in the offseason, a foundation to build upon into the future.
So far, so good, he says, but the process is only getting started.
“I think they’re getting bigger, faster and stronger on a daily basis right now, and they’re learning how to compete in everything that we do. We’ll see with the gains that they make,” Mullen said. “You know, we just had one offseason, so a lot of it is just getting them to be able to train at the level we want them to train. I’m excited going forward to really see the type of gains we can make in the summer now that our guys are kind of caught up to what our standards and expectations. Now they’re in shape, now they can actually do the workouts to see now the gains they make over the summer.”
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