I heard an interesting comment after the Outback Bowl from William Gholston.  A reporter was asking William about the success of Spartan Football this season and the culmination of winning the Outback Bowl.  The subject turned to the future and what can be expected for the upcoming 2012-2013 season.  William, with a small pained frown, made a brief comment about the Spartans winter conditioning program knowing what the Spartans were about to go through. 

 

As a past high school football coach I knew exactly what his face grimace was referring to and what the Spartans would be very soon going through.  That is the time of the year, the off-season, where games are really won or lost.  

 

That is the time of the year that is so important to any athletic program.  The Off Season Conditioning Program is NOT FUN and that was the reason for the frown on William’s face.  It is work, grueling work.  However it is maybe, in the modern college athletic era as important to the success of a football program as anything related to that program. 

 

If you remember the speech Kirk Cousins gave at the B1G Media day in Chicago, Kirk talked about a 1000 unseen days that go into the making of a successful football program.  Kirk was referring to this off-season program.  The time all the Spartans spent running, lifting weights, film study, individual skills work, and coming together as teammates too. 

 

This takes place under the watchful eye of Coach Ken Mannie.  It happens without Coach Dantonio and the position coaches being present for the most part.   It happens in the very early morning hours while most of us are sleeping in our beds with the Spartans running sprint after sprint.  

 

It happens during the hours and hours spent lifting in the weight room with Coach Mannie and the time spent in film study with teammates.  It happens with the get-togethers of the players, which develop trust, unity, and friendship off the field that is all so important to have on the field.  Group meetings by individual players and captains, calling these meetings and communicating with fellow players, keeping everyone on task and focused on one goal.  All of this is done in the off-season in preparation for the upcoming fall football season. 

 

Why is an off-season conditioning program so important? 

 

First there is a time factor.  In college football the coaches and players have only 20 hours per week during the season for actual physical practice on the football field.  Installs of the offense, defense, and special teams, which changes weekly, have to be done at this time.  

 

Individual skills work has to be practiced as well as reps for as many possible players in game scrimmage situations.  Take into consideration that there are about 105 football players on the field and one can see immediately that there is no time to waste with conditioning.  Simply put, show up in August in shape and ready to play because there is no time to do that during the limited amount of practice time.  That is also why schools are allowed the two a day sessions at the beginning of fall camp. 

 

Time is just so precious; practice is used to improve technique and to educate.   To maintain strength, the Spartans do lift weights before field practice begins but there is limited running of sprints scheduled during practice as the intensity of the movements maintain that conditioning.

 

Second, all football programs have an off-season program to increase their players size, strength, stamina and as importantly, the players mental toughness.  Not enough can be said about the development of the mental toughness through this conditioning period.  On each individual snap in any football game, a player’s strength, the knowledge of the position he plays, and his determination or his mental toughness is challenged. 

 

The conditioning programs push players to limits they ordinarily would not know they could reach to meet that challenge.   In the off-season they become bigger, stronger, faster, and mentally tougher.  In season their individual technique, team concept, and football intellect is more the focus of the field coaches during practice.

 

Third, the benefits of the conditioning program are many.  Strength and stamina are achieved through the lifting and running, creating mentally tough players.  Think back to the many game situations in which an opponent needed to be stopped or we desperately needed to score and the team came through.   That just does not happen on its own. 

 

That toughness, which led to success, was forged in those many workouts in which the players are pushed and pushed and pushed again. The players will tell you they are victims of strength coach Ken Mannie.   

 

Coach Mannie has the responsibility of forging Spartan Iron and building up the level of strength and toughness of each Spartan Football player, and he is exceptional in doing so.  Each player will tell you Coach Mannie kicks their butt in these workouts and each will tell you that much of their individual success is due to him.  He makes them strong and confident and that translates into wins on the football field.

 

Fourth, I believe, strength training and physical conditioning, can lessen the degree of an injury that a player may incur and allow the player to heal and recover faster.  Some will disagree with that statement saying that limiting of the severity of an injury cannot be proven. Maybe not.  However, it sure makes sense to me that if a player has developed his physical strength to such an extent and is in the best physical condition of his life that his physical conditioning should cause the injury to be less serious.  If a player’s physical conditioning reduced the seriousness of the injury, then the recovery time will be reduced and the player will be able to return to the field of play with less time lost.

 

It’s been a great year for Spartan Football and much of the success past, present, and in the future will depend on the time and effort the Spartans put into these off-season workouts. 

 

As winter workouts continue to ramp up the Spartan Nation is fortunate the man nearly every NFL team covets and every major college football program desperately wants still resides in the Spartan Nation:  Ken Mannie.  Pat Narduzzi remains and everyone should be thrilled about that.  What people don’t know is that Mannie is more sought after than Narduzzi and his return for another great year is good news for Michigan State.